Rhett Turner

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Rhett Turner
Rhett Turner circa 1970
Birth Name B. Rhett Turnipseed
Birth Date 1929
Birth Place Gainesville, Georgia, USA
Occupation Journalist, Broadcaster
Nationality United States of America


Early Life

A native of Gainesville Georgia, Rhett learned to fly as a 15 year old teenager, the same year he got his driving license. He soloed in a Piper Cub from a 1000 foot grass runway with the Chattahoochee River beyond each end. As an avid flyer he was denied entering military aviation when drafted in 1950 because he wore glasses. He is a commercial-instrument rated pilot.

From the age of fifteen in 1944, Rhett was a broadcaster, first in high school and then through the college years. As a combat correspondent in Korea in 1952, he carried around a portable tape recorder to do "hometown" interviews to be sent back to soldier's hometown radio stations. He spent the years from 1953 to 1960 as a broadcast personality and radio station program director, during which time he broadcast live descriptions of local events and became what was later referred to as a "dee-jay" personality.


Rhett majored in Radio-TV journalism at the University of Georgia, achieving bachelors and masters degrees while engaged in local radio broadcasting. As of 2009 he was still considered to be the principal historian of Georgia broadcasting due to a master's thesis he wrote in 1959 and subsequent book he wrote about all Georgia radio stations.


Rhett joined the Voice of America in Washington in 1960 as a producer/announcer for worldwide English broadcasts, He has weekly audiences of over 20 million listeners to his various programs emphasizing American science and technology. He quickly became involved with VOA coverage of the manned space flight age beginning with NASA's Project Mercury and continuing on through the Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. His knowledge of flying and pilot's jargon enabled him to quickly interpret astronauts ground-to-air talk with Mission Control, and to explain complex flight maneuvers.

His ability to describe live events on the air earned him a reputation within VOA as one of their best on-scene broadcasters. He was complimented particularly on his vivid and heartfelt description from Pennsylvania Avenue of President Kennedy's funeral cortege in 1963, which reached several hundred million listeners worldwide.

As the Mercury Program led to Gemini and then the Apollo missions, Rhett was assigned more and more as the principal correspondent at Cape Canaveral (Kennedy) and Houston for the worldwide English broadcasts of space flight. With astronauts and NASA specialists at his side, he spent weeks of recording astronaut interviews and mission planning for each VOA program coverage of the Apollo flights.

The VOA coverage attracted more and more short-wave listeners worldwide, and had its English language broadcasts relayed by the BBC and other English language broadcasters. The Apollo moon landing broadcasts achieved worldwide English language listenership of some 550 million listeners with other VOA foreign language transmissions reaching an additional 100 million people. These may still stand as the largest radio audiences in history. VOA received a 1969 Peabody Award for its Apollo 11 coverage, of which Rhett was the principal broadcaster.

Later Life

Rhett left VOA after 1973 and was involved in the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) federal initiative to develop solar energy technologies in the wake of the OPEC price increases of the early 1970s. Rhett became the principal spokesman for explaining the potential of solar energy to the nation.

He retired in 1982 and returned to his native Georgia where for 13 years he was an assistant professor at Brenau College and at West Georgia College. He served for two decades as a judge and director of state broadcasting awards by the Georgia Association of Broadcasters and is listed in the Georgia Broadcasting Hall of Fame.


Click here to listen to Rhett Turner's interview with Gus Grissom.