RALEIGH – In eastern North Carolina, Henry Hinton’s voice is familiar – a voice that families across the area have heard performing their favorite songs, calling plays for college sporting events, and interviewing major politicians since. decades. Now inducted into the North Carolina Broadcasting Hall of Fame and owner of several stations along the state coast, Hinton told the North State Journal about his lifelong passion for radio.
Even as a “country boy” growing up in Chowan County, a rural area in the northeastern state, Hinton said he spent as much time as he could around broadcasting.
“We had a small community radio station in Edenton where my mom would drop me off in the afternoon. I don’t know why, but I just liked music and radio, ”Hinton recalls. “I was just hanging around the radio station and helping the DJs out there, doing whatever they told me, pulling a copy of AP Wire or bringing them coffee, or whatever. And I just got bitten by the radio bug.
While radio was a passion, so was sports – especially University of East Carolina sports – and he always thought he was going to be a baseball or soccer coach. But the opportunities to get involved in radio presented themselves.
Living just below the Virginia line, the community also listened to WGH from Norfolk, Virginia. The station, as Hinton describes it, was big business at the time, and his radio personalities were the first heroes for him. While radio was a passion, so was sports – especially University of East Carolina sports – and he always thought he was going to be a baseball or soccer coach. But the opportunities to get involved in radio presented themselves.
“When I went to ECU, I got involved with a campus radio station and got hired by a local station in Greenville,” Hinton said.
But an even bigger opportunity presented itself after Hinton and his girlfriend visited his parents in Norfolk for the weekend. To pass the time, they went to a mall, and there was a showcase of the WGH radio station that he had grown up listening to. He noticed that a big star, Jeff Davis, was behind the microphone and didn’t want to waste his chance to meet him.
“Jeff Davis was on the air, and I slipped a note on the window that said, ‘I’m a disc jockey in Greenville, NC.’ Well, he invited me, which was against the rules, of course. But I got to know Jeff, and he wanted to hear what I sounded like on the air. So I gave him a tape and surprisingly like a week later I got a call from the station’s program director saying, “Are you interested in a job?”
Hinton says WGH was the biggest radio station between Atlanta and DC at the time, so it was not only a chance to connect with his childhood heroes, but also to network with many people who would become national stars. However, he was still in college at ECU, so he had to spend his final year traveling back and forth between Greenville and Norfolk to do his homework and homework at the Top 40 music station.
After school was over, Hinton decided to go study at ECU, he said he was mainly around his girlfriend, whom he married soon after.
“But then I ran out of money for my graduate school and ended up at the local station,” Hinton recalls, saying a friend and mentor, Danny Jacobson, owned the station. “Danny offered me a job and I needed to make some money, so he said, ‘Why don’t you work in ad sales? You can be on air and have ad sales.
Hinton said he realized he had a knack for selling ads and being on the air, so he decided to go all out on radio and forget about college or coaching dreams. He started by covering ECU sports on the radio and selling commercials for a local TV station. It was then that another opportunity presented itself when Chapel Hill radio legend Jim Heavner noticed Hinton and offered him a job with the WCHL, the Tar Heel Sports Network, as ” colored man ”by Woody Durham.
“My first show on the air I called Kenan Stadium ‘Ficklen Stadium’ [the name of ECU’s stadium], and I thought my career was over as a member of the Tar Heel Network there, ”Hinton said. “I remember the look Woody Durham gave me in Kenan’s stadium booth, and I thought, ‘Oh my God. “”
But he stuck around and got to mingle with people like Michael Jordan and Dean Smith. Smith and Hinton even went to church together and had their children play together.
Hinton said, “I feel like I’ve lived a Forrest Gump life because I’ve been around all of these influential people.”
Heavner bought a radio station in Burlington and moved it to Raleigh, and he wanted Hinton to run it. Hinton agreed and stayed at WZZU in Raleigh, known as 94Z, for a few years. But he started looking for a way to return to a small town in eastern North Carolina and resume coverage of college sports.
And he didn’t have to wait long for this opportunity to present itself. In 1989, his high school baseball coach Harry Land, who was a successful car dealership in the Triangle area, offered to help him buy radio stations in eastern North Carolina. In the end, they bought three together, giving Hinton the chance to return home and advance his career from on-air talent and manager to owner.
While all of the stations were music stations, they wanted to use at least one for conservative political discourse, which was hugely popular at the time. Unable to secure Rush Limbaugh or other big names, they partnered up with G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame.
“Gordon Liddy was really the reason I ended up getting into talk radio,” Hinton said, calling Liddy a “great, great human being” and a close friend.
Hinton added a few local conversationalists around Liddy, including his own show, but then, in 2003, they received an offer that was “too good to refuse.” Archway, a large Atlanta-based company, offered to buy its three stations, and although he hadn’t thought of selling, he did. Rather than keep the successful format Hinton built, Archway’s program director in Boston said they were turning it into a country music station.
Hinton continued his show on his friend George Beasley’s AM station from 2004 to 2007, but it was a single 50,000 watt station. As fate intended, Archway “crashed and burned”, giving him the opportunity to redeem his stations.
Don Curtis of Curtis Media Group in Raleigh, worked with Hinton to buy four of Archway’s five stations for $ 4.5 million, far less than the $ 9 million they originally requested after negotiations. Hinton and his son partnered with Don Curtis to own and operate these stations from 2007 to 2017. When the Beasleys also decided to liquidate their radio holdings in eastern North Carolina, Curtis and Hinton decided to buy again. Due to FCC rules, they could each own only five of the 10, so they separated them.
With those five stations, Hinton decided not to do as many Top 40s and sports as he had done ahead, and instead focus on the growing market for political talks.
“Somewhere along the way, I can tell you, we decided that we were going to get into the Conservative discourse. And I just wanted to have Rush Limbaugh. And after I bought out the Archway group, I ended up with two 100,000 watt radio stations. One that covered everything from the Virginia line to New Bern and another that covered everything from New Bern to Wilmington.
The rights to the Limbaugh show belonged to Premier Radio of New York, and they had given the local contract to a small AM station that otherwise played sports. Hinton thought he could convince Prime Minister Peter Tripi that his stations would be better suited, so he called him and made the pitch.
“Off the top of my head, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to be in New York in a few weeks.’ Which was a complete lie. And I said, ‘What if I come over and we go to lunch and talk about this, and I’ll tell you about the market and tell you what I think we can do to increase Rush Limbaugh’s brand in the east. from North Carolina? ‘ “
And he did. While meeting at an upscale Manhattan steakhouse, Hinton not only secured the rights to Limbaugh’s show for the area, but Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity’s as well.
“And talk radio was at its peak; it was just killing him, ”Hinton said. “And, of course, that made my show bigger.”
Hinton’s own show was now taking place alongside these national names and was well received. Initially, he was not sure that the people of New Bern and further south would listen, as he had not been so introduced to that area.
“I’m just very touched with the way this has been accepted throughout the eastern North Carolina area,” Hinton said of his show, which he says has gone from being primarily a show. regionally focused to state and federal news coverage.
Being the main product of discussion in the eastern part of the state has put it on a first name basis with politicians who want to reach its audience, which includes candidates from across the state for the Senate or Governor, local candidates. and even presidential candidates.
But Hinton is clear that he didn’t have all of these opportunities or that he didn’t get to where he is today on his own.
“No one is successful on their own,” Hinton said. He attributes three men in particular to his rise: Harry Land, the former baseball coach who bought his first stations with him; Heavner, the legendary owner of the Tar Heel Sports Network who taught him how to manage stations; and Don Curtis, his business partner in buying the latest stations, whom Hinton calls “such a good human being.”
“So these three guys are the reason I am successful, I think.”
As someone who has covered both sports and politics since the 1970s, Hinton also doesn’t think he’s in a good position right now. He said that in the Republican Party there is a dynamic of “Either you agree with 100% of the ideology or you become my enemy.” And in sports, he said he was “absolutely devastated” by the direction of college sports, saying that money and politics make everything crumble.
Radio, however, is something that Hinton says is still going strong and can be a unifying force for good for communities.
“The radio is not going anywhere,” Hinton said. “No other media, no other Internet media, no other broadcast media can do what radio does. He will always survive; it’s always going to be strong. Our stations are stronger than ever. Last year has been a challenge with COVID, but right now we’re back on a level playing field. We have record months. And the radio is part of the community; it is the fabric of radio and why it is successful and why it will be successful because we are part of the community and people see us in their lives. And we’re not going anywhere.