Herman Lee Reavis - Broadcasting Pioneer
Born in Reavistown, a small village in Grayson County, between Galax and Independence, Virginia, October 14, 1932, Reavis has been very influential in helping shape and guide Virginia radio and television. He entered into the broadcasting field more by accident than intent. At the age of 14, Herm began his broadcasting career in 1947 at WBOB in Galax. He happened to be listening to Bill White's "Club 300" show one night. White announced that he needed "some young fella" to help out at the station. The following morning, Reavis walked three miles to apply for the job only to find that Mr. White had gone home upon completion of his shift the night before. Later that day, he again made the walk, met Mr. White and was hired. During high school, he worked part time at the station when he wasn't studying or playing football or baseball. He admits that radio made him a pretty popular guy around the small town. He began work at WBOB answering phones and then broke into on-the-air work, work which would gradually increase. Reavis was also emcee at the world famous Galax Fiddlers' Convention and of the Saturday Night Jamboree when he was still a teenager. He announced play-by-play of Galax High School football games and automobile racing long before the days of NASCAR. Yet, he says, the idea of making a radio career never really occurred to him.
In 1953, a relative who was a radio and television engineer in Roanoke, told Reavis about the newly formed WRIS radio; he applied, was hired and signed the new station on the air in February of that year. He soon became a popular Icon known as "Uncle Herm" with his "Squirm With Herm" boogie and blues radio show gave way to the new bobby sox and drive-in generation which was witnessing the new Rock 'n' Roll revolution.
The new generation came to idolize its radio heroes and Reavis was THE radio personality in Roanoke radio. In the days of block programming, he had a Rhythm & Blues and a country show. His duties included announcing daily "swap shop" programs and obituary columns on the air, by reading funeral announcements from the daily newspaper. Reavis was a "real-gone hip shaker" and a "jive maker" and his fans were told that being "crazy, cool and copasetic" permitted them to "shake, rattle and roll, blow flatted fifths" and to be "hep with pep" at all times. They then became members of the "Squirm with Herm" club. This trend was later picked up by the likes of "Jivin' Jackson" on other Roanoke stations and modern radio was here to stay.
Some of his early experiences associated with his radio activities included traveling with Jimmy Dean and his band to Nashville for Dean's first recordings sessions with Mercury Records. During this time Dean's fiddle player, Buck Ryan, wanted to record an untitled song and titled it "Uncle Herm's Horn Pipe." He introduced well-known singer Wayne Newton and his brother Jerry, who as youngsters lived in Roanoke, to local radio audiences. They were regular visitors for a while to Reavis' early morning broadcast on WRIS. And in that same mid 50's period, he introduced a then-unknown man know as Elvis Presley before Presley's rise to fame and his celebrated appearance on the national Ed Sullivan Show. Presley was one of seven artist on the RCA Victor card playing in American Legion Auditorium and was so unknown that he was listed number 7 on the card.
Reavis gave up his personality status in 1956 to become general sales manager of WSLS AM/FM radio, part of Shenandoah Life Insurance Company's AM/FM/Television operation, which was later to become part of Park Broadcasting. In 1972 Reavis was named general manager of the newly formed WSLC-AM / WSLQ-FM when WSLS was sold to Mel Wheeler, Inc., the current owner of the two Roanoke stations. Reavis led WSLC at a time when block radio was the norm into a more contemporary format which included targeted country music, NASCAR motor racing and Virginia Tech sports, news and information. WSLC soon became the ratings leader in Roanoke radio, a position it held regularly until 1980 when FM radio signals became more numerous and listener acceptable. WSLQ at 200,000 watts is still one of the most powerful FM radio stations in the United States.
In addition to being a radio programming pioneer, Reavis also has helped shape Virginia radio by being a mentor to many young people who have moved on and up in the communication field. Under his leadership, WSLC boasted one of America's most prominent DJ's, King Edward Smith IV, who was widely recognized and honored by the nations country music industry.
In April of 2007, Herm Reavis, joined the likes of fellow Virginians; Roger Mudd, John Harkrader, Ann Compton, James Kilpatrick, Earl Hamner, Willard Scott, Forrest Landon, Harry F. Byrd, Jr., and Lloyd Dobyns by being inducted into the 2007 Class of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. Pictured above, Dr. Judy VanSlyke Turk, Director, School of Mass Communications, Chair, Selection Committee, Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, with Herm Reavis.
Click here to read the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame Bio.
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