The 2009 Elmo Ellis Spirit Award Recipient

J. B. Fuqua


J. B. Fuqua was a self-made businessman who started with a handmade ham radio and built an empire that included radio and television stations and nearly two dozen other companies. He was born on June 26, 1918 on a tobacco farm in Prince Edward County, Virginia. With no playmates nearby, Fuqua spent much of his time alone reading books. Fuqua's life changed one Saturday afternoon when, at about the age of fourteen, he tuned in to WRVA in Richmond and heard a chief engineer who was teaching a course in Morse code. At the end of the program, the engineer announced that for twenty-five cents listeners could order a booklet entitled How to Become an Amateur Radio Operator.  Fuqua made what he later said was the best investment of his life and obtained his commercial operators licenses at the age of 17. He assembled a homemade ham radio and his knowledge of radios and Morse code led him into his first job as a radio operator in the merchant marine, on the freighter SS Sagadahoc. After completing his tour with the merchant marine, Fuqua went to work as a temporary engineer at radio station WIS in Columbia, South Carolina, and eventually was promoted to chief engineer at the company's Charleston, South Carolina, station. In 1940, at the age of twenty-one, he drove to Augusta and persuaded three businessmen he had never met to lend him $10,000 to build a radio station. He launched WGAC by using other people's money, a practice that would serve him well in his future business career. The station was eventually sold, however, in 2009, the Georgia Association of Broadcasters recognized WGAC as Georgia’s Medium Market Station of the year for the eight consecutive year. In his later years, Fuqua became well known as a philanthropist, having donated more than $100 million to the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and other worthy causes.

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