Pappy signs off
Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 27, 2016
Country music star Randy Travis perhaps sang it best. “It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind; it’s what you leave behind when you go.”
What Bob “Pappy” Tolbert left behind was a legacy of laughter and a legacy of stories that will be told and re-told by those who knew him and then passed down through generations.
He was just that kind of a guy, said Jim Roling, who followed Pappy Tolbert’s big footsteps as Troy’s Mr. WTBF Radio.
Tolbert, 96, died February 21, 2016 in Panama City. Roling, Asa Dudley and Tolbert broadcast live from Panama City when Tolbert was 92. It was Tolbert’s last broadcast.
Just mention Pappy Tolbert and a big, wide grin spreads across Roling’s face and he starts to chuckle. He set the stage for his remembrances of Pappy Tolbert as “before my time.”
“But both of these stories are true,” Roling said. “Pappy was great radio broadcaster and a terrific promoter. He was way ahead of his time. He was always coming up with ideas for merchant sales. He got this idea to sit up on a flagpole until the prices came down all around the square here in Troy.
Roling said Tolbert had a light pole put on the square and he built a box and had it put on top of the pole. He was going to stay up in that box, 24 hours a day, until the day of the sale that’s when the prices were to come down.
“Pappy did his broadcast from up in the box,” Roling said. “He had a ‘honey jar,’ — a slop jar up there – so he didn’t have to come down.”
Of course, people were curious about Pappy up on the pole and the sales promotion was going great guns.
“Then, on Friday night before the Saturday sales, a big storm came up,” Roling said. “Thunder was rolling and lightning was flashing. Rain was coming down and Pappy decided it was time for him to come down.”
Roling said back then, remote broadcasts were done by telephone so Tolbert had a telephone up in the box with him.
“James Woods worked for the city and he had put Pappy up in the box with a city utility truck,” Roling said. “Pappy made an urgent call to James to come get him down from the box. But, because of the storm there was a lot of water and James’ truck flooded and he couldn’t get downtown. Pappy rode out the storm in the box. The next day, things were back to normal. The sales promotion was a huge success.”
Prices came down and Pappy Tolbert came down from the “flagpole.”
Great story, Roling said but it was not “the classic Pappy story.”
“Pappy decided to have a live wedding on the stage of the Enzor Theater over on North Three Notch,” Roling said. “It was to be a citywide promotion. Couples who were planning to get married and wanted to be included in the promotion could register at stores around town. The lucky couple would be selected in a drawing.”
Roling said the winning couple would be showered with a variety of gifts donated by local merchants and married on stage of the Enzor Theater.
“The prizes included the minister, a wedding dress, jewelry — just an armload of gifts from places like Rosenberg’s and Stanton’s,” Roling said. “Pappy had even gotten a motel in Panama City to donate a room. He had everything planned to a T.”
The on-stage wedding was set. The lucky couple had been notified and the entire town was ready for the big Saturday night event.
“But, on Friday night around 8 o’clock, Pappy said he got a knock at the door,” Roling said. “It was the groom-to-be. He said he couldn’t do the wedding. He had gotten arrested for moonshining and the wedding was off.”
A lesser man might have been defeated. But Pappy Tolbert was not a lesser man. The wedding went on as planned.
“But not exactly as planned,” Roling said. “The theater was filled. The bride was escorted down the aisle in a beautiful wedding gown with a veil hanging down. When the veil came off, there stood a guy in a wedding dress. There was a loud, collective gasp from the audience.”
At that point, Tolbert came on the stage and announced that something beyond control had occurred and the couple was not free to get married at that time.
“He told the audience to look under their seats and they would find a number for a drawing for all the prizes the couple would have gotten” Roling said. “The audience really liked that better than the wedding so it worked out better than if Pappy had planned it that way.”
Roling has his own “Pappy” stories. He said it would take volumes to tell all of the Pappy stories in circulation.
“I started going down to the radio station when I was in junior high school and Pappy let me be the station gofer,” Roling said. “He let me “spot” for him at high school football games so I got to go to far away places like Elba and Opp and eat in restaurants.”
Roling later worked with Talbot at WTBF for six years. Tolbert taught him the psychology and methods of selling and the art of ad-libbing– skills that have been a “tremendous asset” to Roling in his career in radio broadcasting and sales.
Roling has his favorite Pappy tales including the time the temperatures hit 105 in Troy and Tolbert was curious about how hot it was in hell.
“We started looking for a town named hell and found one in Michigan,” Roling said. “That day Pappy let folks know how hot it was in hell.”
Roling said Tolbert had gotten into the home building business. Troy Police Chief Tom Potts was living in one of his homes and the toilet wouldn’t stop running.
The chief had asked Roling several times to let Tolbert know about his problem. He did but the problem had not been corrected. So, Roling made a notation about the toilet on a slip of paper and slid it to Tolbert along with the arrest reports for the morning broadcast.
“Pappy started the report with, ‘Troy Police Chief Tom Potts said his toilet is continuing to run …’ Then he stopped and I heard him ‘he, he.’ The next morning the toilet was fixed.”
“Pappy Tolbert was the Johnny Carson of radio,” Roling said. “He could say things on the radio and get away it. And, he could sell. I believe he could have sold refrigerators at the North Pole. He was a catalyst for getting things done in the community. When the community decided a new hospital was needed, he got behind it and phones lit up at the station in support of a new hospital.”
Roling said Bob “Pappy” Tolbert was one of a kind. He made life interesting and fun for all those who turned the radio dial to WTBF in Troy, Alabama.
“We are still using the same format for the Morning Show that he used,” Roling said. “That’s how far ahead of his times he was. It was an honor and joy to know him. I’m proud to have called him my friend.”