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Cas Walker
Born:  March 22, 1902
Died:  September 25, 1998
WIBK Knoxville, TN
WNOX Knoxville, TN
WROL Knoxville, TN

About The Artist

Orton Caswell Walker was neither a musician nor a singer. However, he played an important role in promoting and sponsoring country music on radio and television in Knoxville and East Tennessee. His main occupation was retail merchant who dabbled in local politics as a city councilman with two stints as mayor (recalled once). He often emceed these shows himself. Among major artists that Walker helped launch their careers were Carl Butler, Don Gibson, Red Rector, Carl Smith, and perhaps most notable of all, Dolly Parton. Above all else, whether cherished or hated, Walker was a character who became a legend.

This sketch will be limited to his musical connections. In the beginning he was just a laborer who became a grocer which eventually expanded into a chain of supermarkets. He began advertising by sponsoring live country music acts on radio and television (after 1953). Eventually the radio programs were phased out. At times he had shows on as many as three stations at once, but seldom-if ever-in the same time slots, since he often appeared on them himself as either an emcee or delivering his own commercials. While some of his entertainers eventually moved on to Nashville, those who remained tended to be bluegrass musicians such as Red Rector, Claude Boone, the Brewster Brothers (Bud & Willie), the Webster Brothers (Audie & Earl) who sometimes combined as the Four Brothers Quartet, David West, James Carson, Larry Mathes, and Dan Bailey who often emceed parts of the show, or all when Walker was absent. Other mainstays were comedians, such as Fred Smith or former minstrel man Honey Wilds of Lasses & Honey (but no longer in blackface).

By the early 1960s, the program had become the morning Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour over WBIR-TV (later shortened to a half-hour, but with the same name). After video tape came into common use, shows were usually taped twice weekly-two shows one time and three the other. I visited the set in 1980 with James Carson who had left the show years before. The regulars then were Claude Boone, Red Rector, Fred Smith, and Danny Bailey (Honey Wilds was absent with illness). Again I visited in 1982 during the World's Fair with the same regulars. A rock group called Poker guested on the show and Walker angrily cut them off and threw them out of the studio. In March 1983, CBS wanted the time for their news programs so the show was terminated on March 30, one of the last live local country music television programs.

Walker lived on until 1998. His company was eventually sold. For a time he was in a nursing home, later claiming he was misdiagnosed as having Alzheimers when he had a nervous breakdown which was probably true as he seemed in good mind later on. It was asserted that his favorite song was "You Can Be a Millionaire with Me" which had been recorded by one of his entertainers in the 1940s, Pappy Gube Beaver. In 2019, the University of Tennessee Press published a book, Cas Walker: Stories of His Life and Legend.

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