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Alumni Success Story: Billy Burrell '48


Billy Burrell came to Tallulah Falls School as a first grader in 1938. At the time, the lower grades met in different houses. “First grade was in the basement of one house, then we went upstairs to grades two, three, and four,” said Burrell. After grade four, he moved across campus to another house. “It housed three grades – fifth, sixth, and seventh, which was my grammar school,” Burrell said. 

When Burrell was promoted to eighth grade, he went to the main building where he spent his high school years. Classes started early so that the boarding students could work in the afternoon. Burrell was a day student, so he took the bus home at 12:30 each day. 

“I loved TFS because it was different from most schools,” said Burrell. We were up there in wide open spaces. They called it the light in the mountains because that is where we were.” For Burrell, it was home and community. 

“We always celebrated the seasons of the year,” said Burrell. “We would have presentations in the auditorium. Different classes would provide a program or a skit, and the ladies from Atlanta who sponsored the school saw that we had a big Christmas time. They would bring up small toys and other gifts for the older students.” 

Ms. Ida Fitzpatrick was the resident trustee and director of the school during Burrell’s years at TFS. He also remembers Ms. Yula Dillard, but he seems to remember Ms. Mary Griggis the most. “She was a large lady - a tall woman,” he said. “All she had to do was walk down the aisle, which was enough of a warning to behave.” 

At the time, students graduated after year 11. There were 21 students in Burrell’s graduating class in 1948. That fall, he attended Bob Jones University. It was during his time there that he began preaching. Burrell would hitchhike from Greenville, SC, to Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Demorest to preach on the weekends. 

Burrell soon became a full-time pastor. He pastored several churches before he became the pastor at Hazel Creek Baptist in Toccoa, where he served for thirty years. 

“When I was called to the ministry, I knew it was for preaching, but I had a built-in desire to expand that ministry through the radio,” said Burrell. He began working in radio at WLET in Toccoa. He wanted to create a musical program with a devotional. “I saw an old 78 RPM record labeled, ‘Sunshine Medley.’ I thought it said ‘melodies,’” he said. “I adopted the name ‘Sunshine Melodies’ for the half hour I was on the radio early in the morning sharing uplifting songs, scripture passages, and a prayer time.”

For a long time, Burrell made tapes on a homemade recorder and mailed them to Cornelia's 250-watt WCON AM station. In February of 1954, John Foster took over the radio station. In 1965, Foster ran into Burrell in the old Cornelia Post Office. “I was in a tight and needed someone to fill the morning show temporarily,” said Foster. “He came in every morning at 5:30 a.m. for 60 years. I never found his replacement.” Foster could always depend on him. In bad weather, the police would go and get him and bring him to the station. Eventually, the station became a 100,000-watt FM radio station reaching millions of listeners. 

“He was the community’s pastor,” Foster explained. “People and listeners would stop by, and he would pray for them.” 

Burrell didn’t choose his songs beforehand; he prayed and asked God to tell him what to play. “Billy carried around his CDs in an old toolbox,” said Foster. “He is humble, joyful, and always thankful.”

In July of 2022, Burrell went on the air for the last time at 92 after 68 years of radio ministry – the longest-running weekday radio show hosted by the same person in North America. Billy Burrell brought rays of light to homes across Northeast Georgia for seven decades through his “Sunshine Melodies.” 

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