Note: Sadly, Rhubarb Jones passed away earlier in 2017. This interview was done in 2016 with Tim Collins of News & Views. We wanted to put this on the website as a tribute to him. He will be, and is, missed by many.
If you'd like to see how Rhubarb Jones impacted so many people, you can visit this Facebook page which remembers Rhubarb Jones.
One of the biggest perks of my job as a magazine publisher is having the privilege of interviewing well-known, interesting people. Mostly, interviews occur over the phone, but when I called Rhubarb Jones about an interview for Silver News & Views, he asked if I would like to come to his current station, Great Classics 98.9 in Carrollton, and do the interview there. I jumped at the opportunity. I was told Rhubarb was an all-around nice guy, and I got that sense even before meeting him when he stated he’d be “honored” to do the interview. Joe Keith came to do photography, and during the entire 45 minutes we found ourselves laughing with Rhubarb. He’s a master storyteller, easy to talk to, kind and down to earth. He loves life and loves what he does. He is grateful for the opportunities and to his fans that have contributed to his success.
Tallapoosa resident Rhubarb Jones is a legend in the Atlanta radio market. His 23-year tenure (1985-2008) as the morning radio personality at Y-106.7 and later Eagle 106.7 is an Atlanta radio milestone. His radio career has spanned over 36 years and still continues at Great Classics 98.9. He also served as a faculty member at Kennesaw State, and even a ring announcer for WCW. He was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 1991, named Best Radio Personality by Atlanta Magazine in 1995, voted one of the 100 most influential people in Country Music Radio in 2000, inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 2001, and inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2007. He has also received numerous awards for his fundraising work for charities.
Rhubarb Jones grew up in Tallapoosa and still lives on Rhubarb Lane, which was known as Stone Street for 130 years. It was renamed Rhubarb Lane five years ago.
The name “Rhubarb” has been with Jones, somewhat reluctantly, since he was in sixth grade. According to Jones, Red Barber, the announcer of the Brooklyn Dodgers, would say, “There’s a rhubarb on the field” when a fight would break out. The nickname first found its way to Jones when he started a fight at school, and the band director asked, “What’s this rhubarb about?” A fellow student then said “Yeah, Rhubarb, that’s your name from now on - Rhubarb Jones.” Jones said, “I went through high school with that name. My mother and grandmother would never call me that unless they really wanted to get my attention. When I got to college, I thought, ‘I am shaking this name,’ but some idiot I went to high school with signed something to Warren “Rhubarb” Jones, and my roommate saw it, and that was it. When I graduated West Georgia I thought ‘I’ll shake this name when I get into radio somewhere.’ However, when I went to Columbus I said ‘Can you change my name to Scott Jones or Clark Jones or something,’ and the answer was ‘Absolutely not’.”
In 2008 Rhubarb Jones found himself without a job, along with 12 other disc jockeys, who were fired from 106.7. He was gracious during the firing though, understanding that radio is a business. The Monday after he was fired, he received a job offer to teach at Kennesaw State. He jumped at the offer, as teaching was always something Rhubarb wanted to do. When asked what he missed about that time he said, “The thing I love about radio is it’s about people and the sponsors. I had fun. You have to enjoy what you do. I still enjoy radio, but it’s different.”
Although he worked in radio while a student at West Georgia College, Rhubarb started his career as a “rock jock” in Asheville, and eventually made his way to Atlanta where he became a legendary DJ. When he arrived in Asheville it was country, and they decided to flip to top 40 and album rock, which he was not fond of, Montgomery was his first FM country job. Rhubarb recounts, “I got a call from Montgomery and they offered me a night job there for about $205 a week. I was making $200 a week in Asheville, so I was like ‘Yeah – I’ll do that!’ When I left, I was well compensated.” After Montgomery, he made the move to the original Y106.7 in the Atlanta market in 1985. “An outfit out of Bridgeport, Connecticut said they wanted to talk to me about Atlanta. The conversation went like this ‘How much would it take to get you to come join us?’ ‘Double my salary.’ ‘Okay, we’ll do that.’ ‘AND, give me $10,000 to move.’ ‘OK.’ I said to myself, let me hang up the phone before they change their minds.”
“Be you. Talk in the voice you talk with. You don’t have to try to talk like some guy who is from somewhere else. All the great ones are just natural,” This is the advice Rhubard Jones received from his manager in Montgomery, and he used it to shape his career. “There was Joe Rumore from Birmingham at WVLK. He sounded like an uncle. He wasn’t ‘country country’ but he made you feel good, and you trusted him. If he talked about products on the air, like Golden Eagle Syrup, you bought that syrup because Joe Rumore said it was good. He couldn’t lie.”
Nowadays, Rhubarb Jones has a show from 10am to 3pm, Monday through Friday, on the Carrollton based Great Classics 98.9, owned by Gradick Communications. The station features music from the seventies through nineties. Rhubarb describes it while looking at the board of currently playing songs, “Stuff I used to play on the radio or remember buying. One thing I love is I play James Brown here. I play stuff like Orleans, Dance with Me, Billy Joel, and Stones. We’re a musically intense station – we don’t do a lot of ‘chatter’.”
All the years of chatter on a high-powered country station in the mornings has made Rhubarb’s voice very recognizable to those in the Atlanta area. He mentioned that earlier in the day he was at a Kiwanis Club meeting in Kennesaw and a couple of women who grew listening to him heard his voice. “It was scary – they were in their late thirties. You GREW UP listening to me? ‘Oh yeah, on the way to school,’” he described their interaction laughing, something he frequently does.
Rhubarb is accommodating to fans because he appreciates they are why he is successful. When dining out, people often come up wanting to say hello. He always stops to talk to them because he knows those people just paid for his meal indirectly. He once told his ex-wife, “The reason you drive a Mercedes instead of Chevette is because of those people.” His humble beginnings keep him grounded. “I grew up in Tallapoosa, and never forgot where I came from. Life is good and you should enjoy every day you can. My grandmother gave me the advice to be nice, and don’t ever think that your job makes you special. You are always going to be a child of God and that’s it. You’re not going to be more than that. I think that’s good advice.”
When asked if he had not chosen radio as a career, what he thinks he would be doing right now, Rhubarb said, in typical Rhubarb form, “I tell you, I thought about a law degree, but my grandmother said I wasn’t mean enough. When I first got into college, the goal was to do this radio thing, but I wanted to teach at the college and university level. I didn’t get my masters until I was in my early 50s.”
Rhubarb has made a difference in many lives as a professor at Kennesaw State. “Right now I am taking a sabbatical from teaching, but when I do teach, it’s in Media Studies. I’ve been lucky. I have kids that have gotten jobs on major TV stations - CNN, WSB radio. It’s rewarding. One kid I had, kept being late for class during the first two weeks. I called him aside and asked him what he wanted to do. He said, ‘I’m going to be a TV anchor,’ And I told him, ‘You’re not going to get to do it, because the 6:00 news does not start at 6:05, and for the 11:00 news, we’re not going to wait until you get here.’ I told him, ‘You need to be in your seat in the classroom 15 minutes before you’re supposed to be. If you can show me you can do that, maybe it shows me you’ve got the discipline it takes to do this. With your attitude right now, you’ve got no chance.’ The guy graduated and got a job at the Fox affiliate in Birmingham, and then came to Atlanta. I knew he had “it”. “It” is a thing that you can’t put your finger on. It’s like art. I don’t know junk about art, but I know what I like. He’s made me proud. I’ve always said he could possibly be on network news. Show up, and be on time – it’s the secret of life. I carry that true in my life. If I need to be here at 4:00 to do an interview, I’m here at 3:30.”
Rhubarb attended West Georgia College, beginning in 1972, and graduated in 1974 with a BA. “It was the time of my life,” said Rhubarb. He lived at 402 Maple Street, right across from The Mansion. When I said, “I bet that was fun,” I could tell Rhubarb had visions of that time period flashing through his mind as he said with a big smile, rolling his eyes back, “You have NO IDEA!” (twice for emphasis). At that point I told Joe he should take a picture of his face because he had an even bigger smile than he normally has. Rhubarb enjoys coming back to West Georgia from time to time and tries to get in at least one football game a year. When asked if The Mansion was haunted, as is a local rumor, he said, laughing, “I’m sure it is. It should be! The house across the street is.”
One of the more interesting jobs Rhubarb Jones had was working as a ring announcer for WCW (World Championship Wrestling) in the 1990s. “What got me out of it is one night in the old Omni, Jake the Snake Roberts had a bag full of snakes. And he dumped the bag of snakes at my feet. One of them was an Albino Cobra, and he went ‘Sssssshhhh’. I jumped flat-footed from the middle of the ring to outside the ring. That was the end of my wrestling career. It was a brief chapter in life, but it was fun.”
For those young people interested in a career in radio, Rhubarb’s advice is, “Work hard and find a radio station. Tell them that you’ll sweep, mop, empty the trash, anything to be around there.” Small radio stations have the same function to big stations as a “farm team” does to a team like the Cincinnati Reds. “My first full-time job was in Bremen. I was enrolled in classes at West Georgia. I was on the air until 10am, then I’d go to classes until 3pm , then come back to the radio station until 4pm. I did that for a long time.”
When asked about goals for the future Rhubarb paused and stated, “I think you always have to have goals, my biggest goal right now is that my daughters get the finest education they can get, so they can get into a fine college. I think what I may want to do is to go back to West Georgia or maybe even Kennesaw and get certified so I can teach at the high school level. I can teach graduate students and college students, but I can’t teach 10th graders. I don’t ever see myself just retiring.
”Let’s all hope that Rhubarb Jones can continue to bless us and future generations for many years to come.