Featured CAB Legacy Honoree: Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins
William B. (Bill) Hawkins was born in Birmingham, Alabama on April 26th, 1909. The son of a Baptist minister, he came north to Indiana with his family at an early age and attended public schools, Butler College and he also later attended Indiana University. He married Blanche Hall in 1931 and they resided in Indianapolis and Chicago, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio in 1936.
When he started his radio career in 1948, Bill Hawkins became the first black disc jockey in Cleveland. He no doubt brought with him the style of the “Personality DJs” that he had experienced. These radio personalities were known as much for their presentational style and delivery as for the music they played.
They would often use rhyme for dramatic effect and Hawkins became a master of the technique. An example of his style would be…”Hey Cleveland…all you hep cats and chicks gather round, it’s time to dig the sounds of the man with the plan. This is Walkin’ and Talkin’ Bill Hawkins, walkin’ my walk and talkin’ my talk, back on the scene with my record machine. I’m gonna put more dip in your hip, more slide in your glide and make sure you know how to ride”.
He adopted the radio name, “Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins” and became very popular in Cleveland as well as Akron. He started out doing gospel programs, but he became so popular for his R&B and Jazz shows, that he would sometimes broadcast different programs from separate radio stations in the same day.
Over the course of Hawkins radio career, he would work with WJW, WHK, WDOK, WABQ and WSRS, which later became WJMO. WABQ and WJMO were the first two stations in Cleveland to be programmed entirely for an African-American audience and the contribution of Bill Hawkins was a major factor in their establishment.
He was also working for WJW at the time of Alan Freed’s arrival to the Cleveland radio scene in 1951 and is said to have been a major influence on Freed’s dj style and musical taste. It was an exciting time for radio, when “rhythm and blues” was being introduced to white audiences in large doses and marketed for the first time as “rock and roll”. Bill was also famous for broadcasting live from the front window of a record shop of which he owned during the fifties. The store known as “Bill Hawkins Record Studio”, which was located on 105th St. between Cedar and Carnegie Avenues, became a staple of the black community.
His first sponsor was Hot Sauce Williams Barbecue and he created an advertising campaign for them that proved to be a model for his typically successful future campaigns. In is commercial, he would say “Hot Sauce Williams…the only barbecue in town that can turn you around and make you chew on the bone long after the meat is gone”.
Hawkins was a regular on the Cleveland airwaves until 1958, when he was injured in an auto accident and suffered a jaw injury that affected his speech. Although he would make a couple of brief comebacks in subsequent years, he never returned to the stature of his heyday.
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