CO-FOUNDER OF THE PEABODY AWARDS
The most coveted prize in electronic media got its start in a small office on the top floor of Atlanta’s historic Biltmore Hotel in 1938, when two communications visionaries were brought together by a University of Georgia graduate.
The National Association of Broadcasters had asked its awards chairman, Lambdin Kay, to create a prize to honor the nation’s premier radio programs and performances, as the Pulitzer did for the print press. Kay was WSB’s first full-time general manager and a popular on-air personality. He persuaded many celebrities to make their first radio broadcasts from the station, among them violinist Efrem Zimbalist and Rudolph Valentino. When planning the radio awards Kay summoned his continuity editor, Celestia (Lessie) Baily Smithgall. “Mr. Kay called me into his office during a coffee break, and asked if there was a foundation at Georgia, my alma mater, where we could get help in establishing these awards,” Smithgall recalls. “Well, Mr. Drewry was my mentor and a good friend at the university, and I suggested him to Mr. Kay.”
In 1997, she and her husband, Charles Smithgall, established the Lambdin Kay Chair for the Peabodys at the University of Georgia, currently held by Dr. Horace Newcomb, Peabody Awards Director. “Although she protests,” Newcomb says, “we count Mrs. Smithgall as one of the founders of the Peabody Awards.”