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Broadcast pioneer will be missed

Staff Report

"He was a visionary." Ben Atkinson said of Ned Butler, who passed away on December 7 at age 83. Atkinson and Butler were neighbors in business for years on Gilmer Avenue in Tallassee.

"He had so much talent and never got the recognition he deserved," Atkinson noted. "The one word that describes him is faithful. He was faithful to his wife, family and community."

Butler built WTLS, Tallassee's first radio station, in 1954.

"He built the radio station the year I got out of the Marine Corps," Billy McKenzie said.  "Ned was one of my favorites.  We were in the Jaycees together.  We were going to change the world."

Butler was born in Fayette, Alabama in 1928, a star 145 pound halfback for his high school football team. He landed in Tallassee by way of a partnership with Bert Bank, the broadcasting tycoon who started the Alabama Football Network.

Butler, was Bank's broadcast engineer, who helped in getting the first FM station on the air in Tuscaloosa. Bank was the original owner of WTLS and sold it to Butler in 1956.

"It's like an era of my life is gone," Harlan Burton said.  Burton, a recording artist and performer these days, was a deejay at WTLS in its early days. "I remember him reading an ad for Rabbit Cannon's store. 'Come in for all your fancy and staple groceries,' he'd say."

Tallassee city councilman Charles Blalock started a weekly radio program 40 years ago on WTLS. He still does a half hour show every Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on the station. "I told Mr. Ned I'd like to do a gospel program," Blalock recalled. "The only thing he said was, 'When can you start'?"

Blalock was a pall bearer at Butler's Saturday service. "If I had to write a check to the people I feel I owe, I'd write one to the Butler family," he added.

In addition to Butler's work in broadcasting, which included ownership of stations throughout the state, he went on to have a long career with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs for 31 years, retiring in 2008 at age 80.

Through Butler's technical expertise, Alabama Inter Distance Learning was a launched in Elmore County in 1993. Tallassee City Schools was a model for the educational program that connected classrooms from different school systems through video conferencing.

Butler also played a part in recruiting industry to Tallassee, including Neptune in 1972. He worked with George Wallace during his time as governor and became close to the family.

George Wallace, Jr. remembered Butler. "What a wonderful man he was and a dear friend," he said. "I recall going to his retirement party a few years ago and we were able to reminisce about past campaigns."

Butler's ownership of WTLS with Betty, his wife of 64 years, continued until 1999 when the torch was passed to grandson Michael Butler. The legacy lives on today with the third generation broadcaster.

"He was my mentor. I wouldn't be in broadcasting, if it weren't for him," his grandson said. "My favorite times with him were trips to Alabama football games. My cousin Trey and I tried to keep up with him in backyard football games. He'd be wearing a suit and dress shoes."

Many remember Ned Butler from his voice. It was heard for decades on the airwaves, from his reading the local news to calling a Tallassee Tigers touchdown. That voice will be missed.

Ned Butler WTLS Montage

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High school graduation picture from Fayette, Alabama


Pictured with governor George Wallace and chief justice Bo Torbert for swearing in Alabama's new telecommunications division, circa 1983


Three generations of broadcasters; Ned, Steve and Michael for WTLS' 50th anniversary in 2004


Playing football with the great grandkids Andrew and Nicholas, during the 4th of July weekend earlier this year


Joined by the family at Johnny G's for a Christmas party in 2008


Taking a boat ride on Lake Martin, where he resided for the past 20 years


Ned and Betty