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For 12 hours every Sunday and six hours on Wednesday afternoons, 82-year-old V.L. Turner — “The Old Gospel Man” — delivers gospel music and Bible readings to listeners of the WSLV 1110 AM station in Ardmore, Tenn.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
For 12 hours every Sunday and six hours on Wednesday afternoons, 82-year-old V.L. Turner — “The Old Gospel Man” — delivers gospel music and Bible readings to listeners of the WSLV 1110 AM station in Ardmore, Tenn.

Old-time
religion on the air

Ardmore’s ‘Old Gospel Man’ keeps AM dial tuned to God

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com· 340-2445

ARDMORE, Tenn. — V.L. Turner stared for days at a hospital ceiling, his head confined, his body immobile.

With nothing to do but look up, Turner introduced himself to someone he said has held his hand since.

God.

“Seven days of being strapped down will get a man to thinking, especially if you’re looking up the entire time,” Turner said. “I knew of God, but those days in 1949, I wanted to get closer to him than Krazy Glue could bring us, so nothing could separate us.”

A shooting put Turner on that hospital bed and gave him a new name, “The Old Gospel Man.”

A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Turner was in Japan in 1949 when he got shot, not during a battle, but during something he refers to only as “a foolish incident.”

A bullet hit the Athens native in the head, where he now has a steel plate.

“It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” the now 82-year-old Turner said.

Since that shooting, Turner has become a connoisseur of gospel music. And he has accepted what he calls a job offer from God.

For 12 hours every Sunday and six hours on Wednesday afternoons, The Old Gospel Man delivers gospel music and Bible readings to listeners of the WSLV 1110 AM station in Ardmore, Tenn.

“I just love it,” Turner said, while he sipped on his second quart of water and flipped through his nearly 300 gospel CD collection during a recent shift. “I sell and write my own ads, but I would do it for nothing. It’s my way to serve the Lord.”

His enthusiasm was evident as The Old Gospel Man popped CDs into the disc changer, shuffled his handwritten commercials and searched for Scripture readings.

But listeners heard the excitement in his voice as well.

“Oh my goodness gracious!” Turner exclaimed on air. “That’s my good friend Connie Smith from Nashville, Tenn., with ‘How Great Thou Art.’ My goodness! How does a gal no bigger than a cake of soap doing a washing reach those high notes and hold ’em?”

In between songs he improvised commercials for Sun-Drop, Soul Burger and Athens Fence Co.

“Keep them varmints off your property,” he admonished. “You go see the folks at Athens Fence Co. My goodness gracious, give them a call now and tell them you heard it from The Old Gospel Man.”

Becky Parker, owner of WSLV, said Turner’s passion has endeared him to his listeners.

‘Genuine and sincere’

“Everybody knows he’s genuine and sincere,” Parker said. “He honestly feels like each listener is a member of his family.”

Listeners heard that sincerity as Turner dedicated a song to friends at the local nursing home. Turner’s voice cracked as he talked about a 27-year-old man born with deformities who once told Turner his nursing home visits and radio shows are a blessing to him.

“Well, that young man blessed me,” Turner said, as he tried to clear his throat.

His hospital stint and other personal tragedies perhaps have taught him empathy. Turner and his wife of 61 years, Lilla Belle, had eight children. One son and a daughter have died.

The daughter, Barbara Belle, had Polycystic disease of kidneys and liver and died at Turner’s home at age 57. The disease made her labor to breathe and cost her a kidney.

“The night she died, she told me and my wife that ‘I think I’ll go to sleep and wake up at home,’ ” Turner said.

Retirement? Up to God

Turner said he’ll continue working as The Old Gospel Man until God retires him and reunites him with family and friends.

“If Jesus has got ahold of your hand, there’s nothing to worry about,” Turner said. “He’ll never let go.”

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