Charles Alvin Batson was born on August 14, 1916, in Greenville, South Carolina, to Charles Austell and Bessie McCauley Batson. His father was a tin worker who later owned his own sheet metal, heating, and roofing company and became deputy sheriff of Greenville. Batson enrolled in Furman University in the fall of 1934 with plans to become a lawyer. While there, however, he became a writer for the school paper and a radio announcer for the University Public Relations Office, and he discovered his passion for broadcasting. In April 1936, Batson became a staff announcer for WFBC, which was then Greenville’s only radio station. He worked there full-time through his junior and senior years of college, and he became the station’s program manager after graduating from Furman in 1938.
Batson was drafted into the U.S. Army on February 19, 1941, and after completing basic training he served in the Radio Section of the Public Relations Office in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He enrolled in Officers Candidate School after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Armored Division, he was sent to England and then North Africa with the Eastern Assault Force. In February 1943, he was assigned to the Public Relations Office at Allied Headquarters in North Africa, where he served as Radio Officer on General Eisenhower’s staff. He produced weekly broadcasts on the progress of the war and announced the news of Italy’s surrender in 1943. In 1944, after contracting malaria, he was transferred to Radio Branch of the Bureau of Public Relations at the Pentagon, where he served out the remainder of the war.
After his discharge in March 1946, Batson became Director of Information for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The following year, he was assigned to conduct a year-long study into the emerging television industry. His findings, published in “Television: A Report on the Visual Broadcasting Art,” helped radio companies across the country plan and build television stations. Realizing that “television was the field of the future,” he became Director of Television with NAB and later became Assistant Director of the Broadcast Advertising Bureau.
In 1951, Batson moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and became Director of Television for The Broadcasting Company of the South (later Cosmos Broadcasting Corporation). There, he was instrumental in planning and preparing WIS-TV, which went on-air on November 7, 1953, and was one of the first television stations in the state. Batson became General Manager for WIS-TV in 1953 and became a senior vice president of Cosmos Broadcasting Corporation in 1965.
In 1957, Batson became the first television broadcaster to be elected President of the South Carolina Broadcasters Association. In 1965, he was elected President of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, and during his term of office Columbia was named one of the nation’s ten All-American cities. That same year, Newsweek featured him as one of five outstanding Columbians in its cover story on Southern industrial expansion. He spent two years in Toledo, Ohio, as General Manager of WTOL-TV, but he returned to Columbia in November 1968 after being elected President of Cosmos Broadcasting Corporation.
In 1971, Batson won the Abe Lincoln Award of the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission for “outstanding contributions to the moral and spiritual life of the nation.” Nine years later, in 1980, he won the Broadcast Pioneers’ Mike Award, “one of the most prestigious of all broadcasting honors.” He retired in 1981, after thirty years at Cosmos Broadcasting Corporation and forty-five years in broadcasting; that same year, he was inducted into the South Carolina Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
Batson served on the Boards of the Richland County American Red Cross, Columbia Area Mental Health Center, Easter Seal Society for Crippled Children and Adults, the Federation Center of the Blind, and Columbia Urban League. He served on the South Carolina Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights from 1977 to 1985.
Batson married three times—first to Frances Bost in 1941, then to Sadie Lee Vincent in 1956 (with whom he adopted his son Reginald), and finally to Margaret C. Havird in 1975. He died on May 20, 2009, in Columbia, South Carolina.
Written by Brian Neumann