The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Wayne Banks - Radio Salesman

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012

Issue: July, 1984

As we continue our story from last month, Wayne Banks, at age 14 had left home in Carroll County, Virginia. He made his way to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to seek his fortune. The day after he arrived, he got a job at Haynes Knitwear, a boarding house room and bought his first long pants suit on time payments. That was back about 1914. Our story starts this month around 1916.

For a teenager from a small mountain community, life in the big city was fascinating. Wayne took to it like a duck to water. He was eager to learn all it had to offer.

"One day I met a young lady, Grace Perry. Her daddy ran a drug store in Winston. She wanted to teach me how to dance. I had done clog and flat foot dancing back home, but I didn't know these city dances. There was a dance coming up at the Robert E. Lee Hotel and she asked me to go. Boy, I had never seen anything like that ballroom. It had a marble floor slick as glass. I was full of music and I loved it. We went out on the floor and she was showing me how to dance. We were doing pretty good when her feet flew off the floor and we both fell down. That didn't stop us. We just got up and kept going.

After that, we started practicing at her home. The Charleston was the new dance rage at that time. We got pretty good. There was a vaudeville house in Winston at that time called "Keith's Vaudeville," on Liberty Street. I loved to go there on Saturday afternoons. It only cost 50 cents then. It was $1.50 on Saturday nights. Well, they started having dance contests there and Grace and I entered. We won several times.

By this time, my cousin Walter Banks and his family had moved to Winston. The chicken pox was going around and Walter's son, Lonnie and I both caught it and were in bed at the same time. The doctor said that small pox was going around too so he vaccinated us. My arm swelled so that I thought I would loose it. When I recovered enough, I returned to work, but the women there complained because of my healing sores and I lost that job.

I went to the B.F. Huntley furniture factory on Paterson Avenue and got a job making glue. I worked at that about a year. They had an outlet store down town and one day I saw a notice on the bulletin board that said, "Wanted: Salesman at Outlet Store." I got acquainted with young Huntley and told him that I wanted to learn to be a salesman. He told me they needed somebody to demonstrate how to use a radio and set up antennas. Radio was still quite new then. They didn't have speakers, only ear phones. They were completely run on batteries too. The early sets had six batteries about the size of a car battery. The batteries weighed about a hundred pounds.

The very first radio I was to demonstrate was for a VIP at R.J. Reynolds tobacco company and his family. We had to wait until late at night to hear anything. There were few stations in those days. Atlanta and Nashville were about the closest.

Well, I took the radio set out to the VIP's home and started setting it up. Each tube of the radio had its own volume control. It was complicated and hard to work. If I turned one up too much, it would squeal like a wild cat.

All of the family were sitting in chairs in the living room with the head phones on and I turned it up too loud. It squealed and they threw off those head phones quick. I finally got a good signal, but they were afraid to put the head phones back on. They started leaning down and could hear the music coming from the head phones laying on the table and got up nerve to put them back on their heads. It was my first sale.

While living in Winston-Salem, I learned to play tennis, golf and volleyball. At the Twin City Club, golf cost 25 cents a round.

Wayne had learned a lot in the big city but soon he would be going back home. His father and two uncles had a sawmill in Patrick County and wanted him to come work with them.

Next month... Wayne comes to Patrick County in 1928. Read about his experiences with a self taught mountain dentist and how he started selling radios in this area.