Flash

Gordon is as well known as a friend as he is for his legendary local broadcasting career

By Don Rhodes | Photo courtesy of the Gordon Family

 


EDITOR’S NOTE:  Augusta Magazine has learned that Robert “Flash” Gordon died in March from complicated medical issues.  His daughter, Mona Gordon, and close friends confirmed the death of the legendary broadcasting personality and former manager of James Brown Arena.  No memorial service has been announced.


In professional life, nearly everyone needs a mentor to show them the ropes and believe in their potential.

Robert “Flash” Gordon, who was the owner of two Pyramid Music stores in Augusta and who was at one time the general manager of James Brown Arena, found that mentor in Marion “Mal Your Pal” Cook, one of Augusta’s pioneer radio announcers.

Gordon, who turned 82 in December 2020,  said his first job in radio came at WAUG-AM because, as a high school student, he met popular WAUG announcer Cook, who encouraged him to study at a good radio school.

“I graduated from the New York School of Announcing and Speech and couldn’t get a job,” said Gordon. “My wife wanted us to move back to Augusta, and Mal gave me two hours each weekday working at WAUG. I worked on the air between Tiny Jenkins (“Mama’s Baby Boy”), who came on with his gospel music show early in the morning and was a truant officer, too, and Wayman White (“Dukey Duke”).

“Dukey would do a gospel show for an hour (“Heaven Bound Train”) and then a rhythm and blues show for an hour (“Duke On Wax”). And then I’d come back and do my second hour between Dukey and Mal Cook, who would close it out since it was a daytime radio station. He also gave me four hours on the weekends. And that’s how I got started in radio.”

Gordon once told columnist Sylvia Cooper that it was WAUG station manager Louis Solomon who suggested that he come up with a new radio name.

“I told him that as a child they called me ‘Bobby,’ and I was using the [radio] name Bobby Styles.  You know, like ‘Styles on your dial.’ He didn’t seem to like that. He said, ‘You don’t have another name you can use?’

“I respected his judgment because this man had been in radio for years. I said, ‘As a boy, I used to be around the house at some friends and they called me Flash.’ He said, ‘Flash. Flash. People will remember that as long as you live. Folks will remember that. That will be a big name for you.’”

Gordon’s responsibilities in his radio career took a major leap after soul music legend James Brown bought WRDW-AM and became Gordon’s boss.

The rags-to-riches story repeated around the world is that Brown, in early 1969, was able to purchase WRDW-AM radio station where, as a poor kid, he had danced out front for coins thrown by Camp Gordon soldiers.

Never mind that the WRDW of Brown’s childhood was located on the top floor of the Masonic Building at Broad and Eighth streets, where the SunTrust bank now stands.

The WRDW of Brown’s adult life ─ when the worldwide R&B superstar bought it ─ was broadcasting from a mobile home trailer at 1480 Eisenhower Drive near the Augusta Canal.

Top left: Roger Troutman and Zap with Flash Gordon outside Pyramid Music and Video. Bottom Left: Fresh Fest meet and greet. Middle: Flash Gordon behind the mic. Far right: Jephrey and Flash Gordon

Nevertheless, WRDW became part of Brown’s rapidly growing broadcast empire.  He already had bought WGYW-AM in Knoxville, Tenn., in January 1968 and changed its format to rhythm & blues and its call letters to WJBE (James Brown Enterprises).

And after buying WRDW, he purchased WEBB-AM in Baltimore all before he was 40 years old.

Brown and Gordon had become good friends as well as business associates when Cook decided that his career opportunities were better as the manager of a new radio station in Richmond, Va.

Anyone familiar with Brown’s unwavering demand for employee and friend loyalty can guess how the superstar felt when Cook revealed his decision to head northward.

“Mal was his man in Augusta, but he got teed off with Mal when Mal went to open up a new radio station in Richmond,” Gordon said a few years ago.

“He had told Mal not to go,” Gordon continued. “That’s when he told me, ‘You’re my man, now,’ but you know who ran everything anyway. He’d tell you how he wanted it done.”

Soul music radio stations in the 1960s were a unifying force that gave white and Black teenagers a common denominator in the days of segregation.

Former Augustan Daniel “Jake” Jacobs, now living in Redwood City, Calif., remembered, “It was considered ‘cool’ to listen to the Black radio stations in my circle of friends at Aquinas High School because we loved the music, and it seemed like WAUG and WTHB were the first ones to play new releases by the artists we loved.

“I first listened to Flash Gordon in the early 1960’s on radio station WAUG,” Jacobs added. “He, along with Mal Cook and another DJ, Papa Jive, rotated spinning the various soul records that we loved to hear. WBBQ would also play some soul music that were hits with artists from Motown, Stax, etc.

“What I liked about WAUG was that they would also spin wax [vinyl records] from artists that might not be heard on white radio stations, like Little Johnnie Taylor, Mickey Murray, Bobby Byrd, Leon Austin, Professor Longhair, Willie Tee, Dyke and the Blazers, and others.”

Jacobs and his friends also loved the personalities of the soul music stations’ broadcasters.

“Each of the DJs had their own specific style,” he said.  “Mal would sometimes have a rhyming message, like saying, ‘This is your Daddy-o on the Radee-o coming to you on your Pati-o.’ Gordon was more straightforward, with an occasional quip, but he was super smooth and had a great radio voice.”

By 1971, Gordon had left Brown’s employment and had become a regional representative for Mercury Records’ office in Atlanta while maintaining an apartment in Augusta.

He opened Big G’s Platter Shop at 209 Ninth St. (now James Brown Boulevard) just off Broad Street with an investment of $5,000 and began selling 45 rpm single records and 78 rpm vinyl albums.

His wife at about that same time, began her own business, Pyramid Music, on Broad Street.  Gordon left Mercury in 1974, closed Big G’s and joined his wife in business.

The name of the store came from Gordon’s wife, Jephrey, in honor of her Ethiopian ancestors. The Gordons changed the name to Pyramid Music & Video in keeping with the times of book-size video cassettes played in tape recorders.

Coming onto the commercial music scene at that time also were eight-track cassette tapes, with many original ones being mass-produced with local singers and musicians in North Augusta at Soundcraft Studios on East Buena Vista Ave.

(It would be in this building that Brown himself, on May 9, 1972, would record one of his best-selling hit singles, Get On The Good Foot.)

The Gordons expanded their music business to the south side of Richmond County in 1979, the year after Regency Mall opened at Deans Bridge Road.

Top Left: Karen Smith and James Brown with Flash Gordon inside Pyramid Music and Video on Broad Street. Top Right: Henry Howard & Lee Williams with Flash Gordon Bottom Right: Flash Gordon with Bobby DeBarge

“I couldn’t get in the mall no matter how hard I tried,” Gordon said, recalling the time when so many Broad Street businesses were closing and moving to what then was Georgia’s largest shopping mall.

“The mall people said they had two music stores already and didn’t need another,” Gordon added. “I learned the K-Mart Plaza location [roughly just across Gordon Highway] was open and had no trouble at all getting in there.”

While Gordon was keeping active with his two music stores, he continued to increase his on-air broadcasting popularity through local radio stations and his association with WJBF-TV’s Parade of Quartets program, one of the longest-running shows in America’s television history.

Karlton Howard grew up listening to Gordon on local radio stations and came to know Gordon personally through his father, Henry Howard, a future Georgia House of Representatives member who sang in the Spirits of Harmony quartet, owned Howard’s Upholstery and co-hosted Parade of Quartets.

“They called him ‘Moustache Flash’ on the radio,” Karlton Howard said.  “He and my dad were very close friends.  Flash had this El Dorado Cadillac convertible, and my dad always wanted a Cadillac convertible.

“So, they worked out a deal where my dad agreed to upholster a sectional sofa with real fur in trade for the Cadillac convertible.”

Their friendship eventually led to Henry Howard bringing Gordon into Parade of Quartets after the death of the program’s originator and Henry Howard’s original co-host, Steve Manderson.

“Flash got associated with Parade of Quartets in the mid-‘80s,” Karlton Howard said.  “He started out presenting the ‘Top Five Gospel Records’ for years.”

From late 2006 until March 2008, Gordon took on the role of executive director of Bell Auditorium and the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, which a few months earlier had become James Brown Arena.

Sadly, one of his first major supervisory responsibilities came on Dec. 30, 2006, with the massive funeral for Brown, his friend and former boss.

The “going home” celebration of life, attended by the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, also marked the last public appearance of pop superstar Michael Jackson and was watched around the world through live streaming by CNN cable TV network.

In 2008, Gordon and the civic center’s board of directors parted ways, and he went back into radio and television broadcasting and working full-time with the two Pyramid Music & Video shops.

Pain from back problems at age 79 led Gordon to close his store at K-Mart Plaza on Gordon Highway, where K-Mart already had closed.  The one on Broad Street, operated by his daughter, Noura, became a victim of the COVID-19 crisis.

But even after turning 80, Gordon still was hosting. He had a talk show from 6-9 a.m. on WKZK radio station Mondays through Fridays,  and he was filming community news segments for the Parade of Quartets.

In March 2019, the 65th anniversary of the Parade of Quartets program was celebrated in the Miller Theater, with several gospel music stars and a special salute to Gordon.

“We sold it out,” Karlton Howard recalled.

Speaking about Gordon’s widespread popularity, “Flash is somebody who is loyal,” Karlton Howard said.  “If he tells you he is going to do something, he does it. Our friendship is bigger than any kind of business relationship.”

Appears in the April 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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