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George Rose, famous as radio's 'Cousin Josh,' dies at 78; funeral today

By Kristen Bishop 340-2443

ATHENS — Alabama lost two of its longest-on-air radio personalities Saturday with the death of George Rose, 78, of Athens.

Rose, the host of "The Cousin Josh Jam-O-Ree" on WKAC 1080 AM, played two characters, himself and Cousin Josh, on his afternoon show.

Rose was a proper, straight-laced gentleman in real life, according to WKAC radio personality Kirk Harvey. He created "Cousin Josh" to be his outspoken, hillbilly alter ego when he began his career in radio more than 50 years ago.

Josh came to life in 1948 when Rose was working for WJMW, Athens' first radio station. Rose read the mail during his country music show, "Echoes from the Hills," and found it difficult to read his fans' handwriting.

"So not to offend them or to look like he was messing things up on the air, he created the Josh character to screw up the letters," said Harvey. "That way George came out OK."

Listeners loved the ornery Josh's offbeat humor, and in no time, the character had taken over the show. The real Rose became a mere sidekick to his own creation.

Because of Rose's ability to manipulate his voice, many listeners never knew that Cousin Josh and George Rose were actually the same man.

"George had a very professional, rich, deep voice," said Harvey. "But he could throw his voice and changed it completely to be this hillbilly Josh character."

Harvey said a lot of Cousin Josh's humor centered on his fictional family which was based on Rose's real family. Rose changed the name of his wife, Marjorie, to Corra Lee.

"He called his oldest son Josha Lee, his second son Enough ... because he said they had already had enough ... and his third son Kaboose," recalled Rose's former coworker, Lowell Stinson, laughing.

Brian Henderson of Athens said he had been listening to "The Cousin Josh Jam-O-Ree" since he was a child.

"He was a real comedian and entertainer," said Henderson. "He had a way of making even the commercials funny."

Henderson, now 60, said he was 6 years old the first time he met Rose while the radio disc jockey was working at WHOS in Decatur.

"I got to see him again about a year ago in Athens," he said. "I was looking for a friend and needed directions. As soon as I got back in my truck, I heard him announce over the radio that I was hunting my friend. He was always doing something funny like that."

Rose's act was aired at WHOS in Decatur, which is now WDRM, and multiple stations in Athens. He took his final bow at WKAC in Athens.

Harvey said Rose's last live show was Nov. 17.

The radio station will air a tribute show for Rose today during his normal show hours from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Harvey said the station will be airing Rose's favorite songs, mostly gospel and old country.

Rose is survived by his wife, Marjorie Smith Rose; his daughter, Dixie Harrison; and two sons, Mark and Bev Rose.

A funeral service for Rose is today at 11 a.m. at Spry Funeral Home.

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