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Radio newsman works way into mayor's office
James Watson
James Watson served as Hinesville mayor one year, after the sitting mayor resigned to run for county commission chairman

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is WGML radio station broadcasting live from Fort Stewart, Georgia. We have with us our President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.”

This may have been the statement Jim Watson made over the air that day he recalls so vividly after the Cuban Missile Crisis back in October of 1962. The crisis brought President Kennedy along with thousands of soldiers and train loads of equipment to Ft. Stewart. 

Jim Watson hadn’t been in Hinesville very long when he covered this story — the biggest story of his career — and part of one of the biggest stories in the 25 previous years. He covered the visit and was able to speak to the president and shake his hand. “It was the biggest story I ever covered. And it was by far the biggest thrill of my lifetime. I admired President Kennedy, but it would have been a big thrill to meet any president,” he said.

Watson set up the WGML microphone among the forest of mikes from “NBC, CBS and the whole world” during the president’s speech. “It was the most exciting time you ever saw around here. We had never seen that many soldiers at Ft. Stewart before. At the railroad station you could see trains bringing in tanks for miles and miles,” he recalled. “President Kennedy had come to Ft. Stewart in November to thank the troops for their support.”

James H. Watson was born May 22, 1922, in a little community called Register in nearby Bulloch County. He joined the U.S. Army in September 1942 and was in World War II. “My Army experience was very memorable, a scary but very exciting time. I traveled to Africa, Italy and in southern France and returned home safely in 1945.”

After his war days, he attended Georgia Southern College and pursued a career in political science.

Jim worked at a radio station in Statesboro as a newsman and in 1959 moved to Hinesville as station manager for WGML (Give Me Liberty). Paul H. Sikes and Roscoe Denmark established the radio station in 1958 as the first in Liberty County. It was housed in the old USO building that had been built during World War II. It burned and the new owners, Watson and a partner, constructed a new studio nearby. He was the starting announcer at the Bradwell Institute football games for many years. He always had a passion for football.

Politics was a natural extension of Jim’s career as a radio newsman. “I wanted to be in the middle of things. In news I was very interested in what was going on and I wanted to be in the middle of it then. Being in city government is a natural carryover from radio.”

His career on the city council may not have been as exciting as the Cuban Missile Crisis but it had its rewards. In January of 1984 as he talked to a Coastal Courier reporter he was just beginning his third term on the council. He looked back on several accomplishments from his first two terms.

“We moved into the new city hall my second year on the council. The council’s biggest accomplishment was getting the building and furniture for $70,000. You couldn’t do it now for $300,000. Glenn Bryant, who was mayor at the time, was the driving force behind getting the present city hall built. He cited the purchase and renovation of the present police station as another major accomplishment of the council. (He was referring to an old Dollar Store that had burned. The police staff did most of the renovations themselves after duty. It was located on the same grounds the modern building is now.)

Watson said one of his major interests was relationships between Ft. Stewart and Hinesville. “I’ve always taken an interest in that. It started with my work with the radio station. That was a major news source, so it carried over to my council work,” he explained.

Jim Watson was first elected to the council in 1967. Mayor Bryant ran for Liberty County Commission chairman and was elected. So he resigned as mayor and the council elected Jim to serve as the city’s 12thmayor. He served one year and ran for re-election, but was defeated by Carl Dykes. Watson was elected to council again in 1979 and in 1983. The city’s budget was $450,000 the year Watson was mayor. In 1983 it had grown to $3.5 million.

During his time on council, Watson served on several committees. He was on the public safety council committee but requested the police committee because he had been working so closely with them. Watson said, “The current council which has been in office about three months is a super group of people. It’s going smooth. Carl (Mayor Dykes) is doing a hell of a job. I’m looking forward to the next four years.”

Watson served a total of seventeen years on the city council but he had other interests here. He managed the Tastee Freeze and the Holiday Inn.

He died in May 2008 at age 85.


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