Walter J. Brown was a journalist and a pioneer broadcaster. After managing his own news bureau in Washington, D.C., through the 1930s, Brown worked in the offices of economic stabilization and war mobilization in U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. He also worked in the secretary of state’s office under U.S. president Harry S. Truman. After these appointments, Brown moved to South Carolina, where he founded Spartan Communications, Inc., a radio and television company. Brown served as its chairman and chief executive officer.
Born into a humble far ming family in Bowman on July 25, 1903, Walter Johnson Brown nevertheless inherited a rich agrarian political tradition. His father, J. J. Brown, was elected mayor of Bowman in 1910. With the political support of Thomas E. Watson, Brown’s father was elected Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture for five consecutive terms (1917-27). In 1911, as a result of his close political and personal friendship with Watson, Brown’s father was named vice president of Watson’s Jeffersonian Publishing Company.
Brown graduated from Georgia Tech High School in Atlanta and discovered a flair for writing while subsequently attending the Henry Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. After marrying Georgia Watson Lee, one of Watson’s two granddaughters, Brown moved to Washington, D.C., in 1929 to report for James S. Vance’s Fellowship Forum and to edit Vance’s National Farm News. In 1930 Brown established his own news bureau, reporting primarily for daily newspapers in North Carolina and South Carolina.
While reporting in Washington, Brown met South Carolina senator James F. Byrnes. The two became friends, and Brown championed Byrnes’s political career in private and through the press. When President Roosevelt named Byrnes director of the office of economic stabilization in 1943, Byrnes tapped Brown as his special assistant.
Brown handled press relations for Byrnes through his appointments as the head of the office of economic stabilization, director of the office of war mobilization, and under President Truman, secretary of state. Brown was a member of the American delegation to the peace conferences at Potsdam and to the Council of Ministers in London.
Brown returned to Spartanburg, South Carolina, permanently in 1945 to resume in earnest his broadcasting career. In 1956 WSPA-TV signed on the air, culminating years of litigation that ended successfully by moving Channel 7 from the Columbia, South Carolina, television market to Spartanburg. With WSPA-AM-FM-TV as lead stations, Brown guided Spartan Radiocasting Company into the television era. Eventually his company, as Spartan Communications, Inc., would include thirteen television properties in the Southeast and Midwest, including Georgia television stations WJBF (Augusta), WNEG (Toccoa), and WRBL (Columbus).
Brown never forgot his heritage. In 1947 he purchased Thomas E. Watson’s last home, Hickory Hill, in Thomson, ensuring its preservation. In 1970 Brown, inspired by the Byrnes Foundation, created the Watson-Brown Foundation, primarily to provide scholarships for college students from Georgia and South Carolina. Today it is one of the largest private foundations in Georgia.
Brown’s broadcasting-related manuscript collection is housed at the University of South Carolina; his political papers are at Clemson University in South Carolina. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives is housed at the University of Georgia Libraries.