Athens, Ga. – Legendary Georgia journalist and broadcaster Billy Dilworth has announced plans to step out of the limelight at the end of January, retiring from the University of Georgia’s WNEG-TV. Dilworth will stop working after more than 50 years in print, radio and television journalism, including nearly 20 years as host of The Billy Dilworth Show.
The veteran Northeast Georgia media personality’s career got off to a fast start in the late 1950s when, as a rookie reporter, he snagged two important interviews—one with a young rock-and-roll star named Elvis and a second with politician Harry Truman. Dilworth has interviewed five presidents and met Ty Cobb.
The 1959 graduate of the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication first found work in newspapers as the Georgia editor for South Carolina’s Anderson Independent, followed by stints as a columnist and metro editor for The Atlanta Times, and state editor of The Athens Daily News.
A devoted country music fan, Dilworth also served as a radio disc jockey and built a large following on his Toccoa station. In addition to this popular radio show, Dilworth and his radio sidekick Fred Huff created a country music show in the hills of North Georgia. “The Top of Georgia Jamboree” was held every Saturday night at the Dillard Elementary School and featured a live country band, cloggers and local musicians and singers.
The Franklin County native moved to television in the mid-1970s with The Billy Dilworth Show as a series of seasonal specials on South Carolina’s WSPA-TV in Spartanburg. From 1985-1995, the show aired live and weekly on Toccoa’s WNEG-TV. In April 2004, Dilworth’s unique electronic front porch show returned once again to WNEG and Northeast Georgia with a regular slot every Saturday night.
With co-host Michelle Austin, Dilworth brought homespun humor, news and music to the community. He presented political, civic and religious leaders from not just Northeast Georgia, but from throughout the state and country, featured new and classic country music videos, and conducted celebrity interviews. “Doctor’s Housecalls” was a popular show segment, as was the live call-in opportunity for viewers.
Some of Dilworth’s favorite guests were the country music superstars including Alan Jackson, Bill Anderson and Lynn Anderson. Alongside them were the everyday people who came on his show to share their stories about life in Northeast Georgia.
It was this mix of celebrities and “regular folks,” along with country music songs, birthday and family announcements, that made Dilworth’s show a must-watch event for thousands each week.
“There will never be another Billy,” said David Austin, former Toccoa mayor and fill-in host for the show. “He is definitely one of a kind.”
In his letter announcing his retirement, Dilworth said doctors had advised him to step down for health reasons. “I’m grateful to the good Lord for giving me over 50 years in newspaper, radio and television to provide service to the people of Northeast Georgia,” he said. “I’m thankful for my loyal viewers and sponsors who have stood with me through the years.”
In addition to his long career in media, Dilworth also published a book in 1998. Before the Pen Runs Dry chronicled his time in the newspaper business, along with some of his award-winning columns.
Michael Castengera, University of Georgia telecommunications lecturer and WNEG-TV general manager, said the station would continue the tradition established by Dilworth, with a Saturday night show that will include many of the community-oriented elements Dilworth originated along with some new, exciting additions. He announced that David Austin will host the new show along with wife, Michelle, who has co-hosted the program with Dilworth for many years.
WNEG-TV now broadcasts from the UGA campus in Athens and is owned by UGARF Media Holdings, LLC, a subsidiary of the University of Georgia Research Foundation. More information about the station is online at www.wnegtv.com