Edwin “Ed” Wilkes (June 18, 1931 – December 21, 1998), known professionally as Big Ed Wilkes, was a popular radio personality in Lubbock, Texas, who combined humor with hard news reporting on his own morning talk show on station KRFE (580 AM).
Early years and education
Wilkes was born to C.E. Wilkes (1903–1980) and Ruby G. Wilkes (1906–1995) in Blue Mountain in Logan County, near Fort Smith, Arkansas. His family moved to Lubbock on Christmas Eve, 1942, when Ed was eleven. He graduated from Lubbock High School and earned a degree in agricultural economics from Texas Tech University. A Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brother gave him his nickname “Big Ed”. Years later, Wilkes received the Outstanding Agriculturalist Award from the Texas Tech College of Agricultural Sciences in 1985. In 1987, the Tech Ex-Students Association gave him its Distinguished Service Award.
From traveling sales to radio
After college graduation, Wilkes taught vocational agriculture in Graham in Young County south of Wichita Falls, and he thereafter became sales manager for the National Peat Moss Company. On February 17, 1962, Wilkes married the former Marsha Dowdy, a noted visual artist. He left National Peat Moss because of the heavy travel schedule and joined KFYO (AM) in Lubbock as a farm broadcaster, a position that he held until 1979.
Ed and Marsha Wilkes had three children, Kari Ann Hastings (born 1964) of McKinney near Dallas, Wade C. Wilkes (born 1967) of Lubbock, and Wes Wilkes (born 1972) of New York City.
He then purchased his own station, KRLB (later KRFE) and operated it until 1987. At KRLB, he worked with his only brother, George Morris Wilkes (March 16, 1925 – May 12, 2009) and nephew Morris E. Wilkes (born 1954, the son of George and Retha Sewell Wilkes).
Sidelined by health problems, Wilkes sold the station and subsequently leased air time for his own radio talk show on KFYO. Jim Stewart, later the farm director at KFYO, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: “I looked up to him as the farm director; he taught me everything I know about farm broadcasting. He was always ‘Big Ed’ and I was ‘Little Jimmy.’ … He meant a lot to Lubbock. He wasn’t outspoken, but he always spoke out. He’d open that line at his radio station to anyone who wanted to talk, but he also always let you know exactly how he felt. Everybody loved ‘Big Ed’ … He’d do anything in the world for you.”
Wilkes subsequently purchased KRFE which he owned and operated until his death. Wilkes and Bud Andrews co-produced Jerry Clower’s first comedy albums. Andrews, as general manager of KRFE and later the driving force of KDAV, the Lubbock oldies radio outlet, described Wilkes as “definitely a community leader and a positive force and role model. He didn’t have any false pretenses. He identified with everyone one-on-one and never thought he was better than anyone else. Ed was a guiding influence in my life for almost thirty years. We not only were business partners; we were friends. I just thought the world of him and today I am deeply saddened. I’m going to miss him a whole, whole lot. I know his listeners will miss him, too.”
Wilkes was instrumental in the establishment of the orphanage, Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in Oldham County in the Panhandle. He also played a role in the occasional staging of gospel concerts at the revised Cactus Theater in the Buddy Holly District downtown. Wilkes was a member of the Southwest Rotary International, National Association of Farm Broadcasters, Texas Tech Ex-Students Association, and the National Ranching Heritage Center at Texas Tech.