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Frank Malone, South Hill radio personality and Chamber director, dies at 69

South Boston News
Frank Malone at a retirement dinner party hosted by the South Hill Chamber of Commerce / February 18, 2021
Frank Malone, a longtime radio personality and recently retired executive director of the South Hill Chamber of Commerce, died Wednesday night, Feb. 17, one day shy of his 70th birthday.

Malone, who became an institution in the South Hill area over 30 years with WJWS/WSHV Radio, retired in July after 20 years leading the South Hill Chamber “with high spirits, laughs, lunches, and community fund raising,” the Chamber wrote on social media Thursday.

“As we reflect on the many great memories of his tenure we will miss his jokes, advisement, and most of all, his VOICE. He will always be ‘The Voice of South Hill’,” the Chamber added.

Malone died of natural causes, according to friends and family.

Months after his retirement in mid-2020, Malone agreed to sit for an interview with The Mecklenburg Sun to discuss his career in radio and with the Chamber. The article, by staff writer Lisa Clary, is reposted below:

Frank Malone, a South Hill institution through his radio broadcasting days and, later, his leadership of the South Hill Chamber of Commerce, is officially retired.

Fittingly with a new phase in life, Malone jokes he will be changing his license plate from “ITALK4U” (his plates read “ITALK2U” back when he worked in radio) to the positively demure “DUNTALKN.”

Which, to be clear, is unlikely to happen, given Malone’s garrulous personality and ongoing love for his hometown, which he has promoted practically his entire life.

Malone’s final farewell after 20 years as South Hill Chamber of Commerce executive director came last week at the Chamber’s annual banquet. Malone put in his last day on June 30, but due to COVID-19, the Chamber did not have a chance to celebrate his retirement and send him off with gifts, remembrances and best wishes until the annual dinner meeting, on Sept. 1.

Through his early years growing up in South Hill, continuing with his 30-year broadcasting career with WSHV-WJWS and then with his transition to the Chamber, Malone has relied on a gift for gab to take a prominent place in South Hill civic life.

During his radio broadcasting days, “Malone In The Morning” was an essential part of bringing residents up to speed on news and events taking place in town. Malone also hosted the “Tradio on the Radio” show, a must-listen part of the day for residents eager to unload items for sale, long before Craigslist, eBay and Facebook buy-and-sell groups existed.

“Most of us had three TV channels up until about 1970 and read one local paper and listened to one radio in our various communities for news and entertainment,” Malone recalled. “Now we all have hundreds of stations with nothing to watch.”

From the beginning, the 69-year-old Malone learned the importance of being a “people person” — as a youth, he was exposed to personalities of all kinds as a member of a family that ran two motels in South Hill.

“We had a good life growing up, meeting tourists and helping to run the family business. We met so many interesting people at Shady Oak and Holmes Motel,” he said, referring to the family inns. According to his telling, Malone was a quiet child: “As a young boy I listened so much to everyone. With my mom and dad and three older sisters, I didn’t get to talk very much,” he said with a chuckle.

His penchant for storytelling and laughter, picked up as a young man, eventually led him to a 50-year career doing what he does best — talking. (He says his words were pent up since childhood.)

“My career actually began while I was in high school at Park View,” Malone remembered. “I was active at South Hill Methodist Church so I got to see Mr. Lewis Morris, the principal six days a week. Mr. Morris asked me to read the devotions during opening exercises one day.” After a time, “I read them right often and one day, Mrs. Ruth Martin stopped me in the hall and said you ought to consider doing something professionally with that voice. I told her that I was thinking about being an opera star.

“She just laughed — I don’t know why.”

From about age 10, Malone would carry around an AM transistor radio with him. “I think AM radio got me started on a lifetime of loving to listen. I remember all the great music we grew up with and the announcers that played it.” In the summer of 1968, a good friend, Jim Hofler, asked Malone if he had ever been to the radio station. Answering “no,” Malone and Hofler visited the town’s radio station “where I met [late deejay] George T. Utley and watched him for about an hour and I think I was hooked.

“So if you need to blame anyone for 30 years of me on the radio, it was Jim and George,” he laughed.

During his 30-year broadcast career, Malone would wake the community with morning news, announcements, music and “Tradio” — a freewheeling platform for some of the station’s most amusing moments. Malone said he also enjoyed doing live remotes at businesses — useful preparation for his subsequent Chamber career — and loved being the voice on the radio telling school children they would get snowy days in winter out of school.

“On the radio I learned the real meaning of our community,” he said.

WSHV hosted periodic radiothons that raised money for people and families going through tough times. That part of Malone’s job also saw him become a booster for community institutions — such as the downtown South Hill train depot, which once sat in ramshackle condition. “We had two radio call-in events in 1987 and 1989 that helped to turn a run-down old train station into the busiest and most productive hub of commerce and community in our little hometown,” said Malone with evident pride. He credits broadcasting with preparing him for Chamber work “as we prided ourselves on being the voice of the South Hill Chamber.

“As executive director I was so proud of history and heritage and the new ground we were breaking as well.

“I think about the grand opening remote broadcasts all over town,” referring to his radio career. “The evolution of the Golden Mile down East Atlantic Street was the beginning of our eastward expansion down to I-85 and beyond.”

Leaving radio in 2000 to become Chamber director, Malone has steered the organization through two decades of growth and community service. He credits South Hill’s business community with making his job a fulfilling one. “Every new member, every new business, every successful project that I had any small part in promoting meant a great deal to me,” he said.

The Chamber Depot functions not only as an organization hub for town businesses, but also as a welcome center for visitors to the area. Malone’s knowledge of and appreciation for town history makes him especially well-suited to guide tourists to the best that South Hill and Mecklenburg County have to offer — including the model railroad museum located inside the depot.

“From South Hill to the world, we have evolved so much. My two careers have seen so much history in South Hill alone.”

Beyond his work at the Chamber, Malone has been active in the community as a South Hill Elementary Lunch Buddy — he helped to found the group, and counts it as one of his most rewarding pursuits. He also has volunteered for the Alzheimer’s Association, Lake Country Area Agency on Aging, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the South Hill Revitalization Committee and many other organizations.

Deeply religious, he counts his 47-year marriage to wife Linda, and their family together, among his greatest accomplishments. “I married the first girl that asked me in 1973 and she made me a father in 1974,” referring to Linda Wright, now Linda Malone. “My greatest achievement was the birth of my son Paul. Paul has introduced to me my three grandchildren, Hayli, Kamryn and Ryker. You think you have discovered everything about life and love and then if you are lucky — along comes the grandchildren and a great new chapter begins.”

In retirement, Malone can be found preaching on Sunday mornings at local churches, but otherwise he plans to spend his days “the same way I worked most of my life, one day at a time, and doing all the good I can for all the folks I can as long as I can.

“I owe it all to my Lord and the many people that helped to raise me and lead me in the right direction and the right decisions. “

He ended the interview with this message: “May you always have love to share, cash to spare, tires with air and friends that care.”

The latter group certainly hasn’t yet heard the last of Frank Malone.

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