Originally created 08/07/99

Augusta broadcaster to be honored for 45 years of service



This is how "Mal the Pal" came to be.

Marion Cook was on the edge of a broadcasting career in the early 1950s, and he needed a name to match. He wanted to be "Marion" no longer.

He quizzed a classmate at Cambridge School of Radio and Television Broadcasting in New York -- How about Mal (after track athlete Mal Whitfield)? The name resonated with his friend, Bob Dichter, who came back with "Mal-Your-Pal" and Mal Cook was born.

Marion "Mal-the-Pal" Cook started broadcasting over Augusta airwaves at WAUG-AM in the Bon Air Hotel some 45 years ago. He will be honored for his long career at 4 p.m. Sunday at the North Augusta church where he was baptized in 1941, Hammond Grove Baptist.

Though he has cut back his air time, he still plays gospel and evangelizes with a light touch on his weekly show over WKZK-AM (1600) from 3 to 9 p.m.

When he first got into radio, he played both secular and religious music. An hour of Ebony Gospel Time was followed by an hour of Ebony Bandstand.

After he became a deacon 10 years ago, he decided to stick strictly to religious music, he said. "If you are trying to tell people how to save their soul, I wouldn't want them over there jumping up and dancing when I'm trying to win them over to Christ."

He has crossed paths with the likes of Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, for whom he worked for five years.

Mr. Cook played the singing star's 1955 release, Please, Please Don't Go, every night in hopes of persuading a certain nurse to stay in Augusta. Mr. Brown heard about it and called him long distance. Though the nurse left, the song brought the men together.

Mr. Cook was at the top of the ratings at WAUG from 1966 through 1968. Mr. Brown hired him as station manager at WRDW-AM (1480) in 1969. He left in 1974 to work for the Georgia Department of Labor but continued broadcasting on WTHB-AM 1550. Mr. Brown "always treated me fair," he said.

Mr. Cook said he thinks contemporary gospel music is wonderful. The newer sounds of CeCe Winans, Kirk Franklin and others attract younger listeners, though traditional gospel crosses generations, he said.

When he first came to Augusta radio, a station manager told him he would be popular if he played "race music," he said. "He was talking about the low-down blues."

He was confident he would be popular by playing Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, he said. "I found out that with people who like music, you don't have to stay with one thing. You are not limited to what you do -- it's the way that you do it."

Virginia Norton covers religion for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.