Akins, Elmer (1911–1998)

By: Cheryl L. Simon

Type: Biography

Published: November 21, 2006

Updated: October 15, 2020

Elmer Akins, a radio announcer and live gospel music promoter, was born in Pilot Knob, Texas, on March 10, 1911, the fifth child of sharecroppers Jim and Hattie Akins. Elmer was known to family members as Dale. After a move to Hornsby Bend in the Webberville area, his parents sent him to live with an uncle in Austin so that Akins could attend Gregory School (now Blackshear Elementary School) on East Eleventh Street at that time an all-Black school. In the mid-1920s, Akins moved back to the country and tried cotton farming. In 1930 poor crops and low prices forced him to leave his ten acres and move back to Austin where he worked near the old Varsity Theater on Guadalupe for ten years as a porter, janitor, and shoeshine man. During the early 1940s Akins listened to Nashville radio station WLAC and developed a passion for the live broadcasts of such gospel quartets as the Fairfield Four. He began singing in choirs and quartets and hosted live gospel programs at KNOW radio. In 1942 he went to work at the Texas Supreme Court as a janitor and clerk. His employment at the Capitol lasted thirty-four years, until his retirement in 1976. While working at the Varsity Theater, Akins had befriended Jake Pickle and John Connally, and he continued his relationship with them after he took employment at the Capitol.

In 1947 Akins persuaded Pickle to sell him a fifteen-minute slot on KVET, Pickle and Connally's new radio station. The one-time Sunday morning airing developed into a twelve-week agreement, which blossomed into a fifty-one-year institution. Akins's Sunday morning gospel program, Gospel Train, expanded to a ninety-minute show. In 2002 it was the longest continuously-running American radio show. Akins was recognized by the Texas Association of Broadcasters as the longest-continuing radio host in the United States; the association honored him as a "Texas Broadcast Legend" in 1998. Akins also wore the titles "Voice of Austin" and "Deacon of Austin Gospel Music" during his half-century of broadcasting.

His many accomplishments include his formation of the Royal Gospel Quartet in the early 1940s; his founding of the Austin Quartet Association; his partnership with Bill "the Mailman" Martin, which resulted in the booking and hosting of hundreds of visiting gospel talents at Central Texas venues; his fifty-one-year commitment to providing religious information; his distinction as a founding member of the Austin Christian Relief Board; and his ACTV broadcast of the Gospel Train television program. Akins's contributions inspired Austin mayor Roy Butler to declare an "Elmer Akins Day" in 1975, which afterward evolved into an annual weeklong community and church celebration. Akins's work also gave rise to a fiftieth anniversary celebration at Bass Concert Hall and the production of a television documentary entitled "Elmer Akins: Radio Man." During the celebration, which was sponsored by Texas Folklife Resources (now Texas Folklife), the Texas Gospel Announcers Guild, and the University of Texas Performing Arts Center, several major gospel record labels paid tribute to Akins.

Akins was a member of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. He married Mattie Lee Watson in 1931. The couple's first home was an old toolhouse that they bought from a construction crew and moved from the Varsity Theater lot to Chestnut Avenue. They lived there for twelve years. After his wife died in 1995 Akins suffered a broken hip and a series of strokes. He died of pneumonia on December 9, 1998, and was survived by a son, Charles Akins, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. . That same year, the Texas Association of Broadcasters had named him a Texas Broadcast Legend. In 2009 Akins was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial.

Austin American–Statesman, December 8, 1998. Austin Chronicle (http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/annual/bestof/94/critics/boa94.C.arts.html), accessed March 31, 2009. Jay Hardwig, "Something to Live For," Austin Chronicle (http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/vol18/issue26/music.akins.html), accessed March 31, 2009. Texas Gospel Announcers Guild Newsletter, March 2001 (http://www.texasgag.com/News.htm), accessed March 31, 2009.

  • Music
  • Business, Promotion, Broadcasting, and Technology
  • Genres (Gospel)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Central Texas
  • Austin

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cheryl L. Simon, “Akins, Elmer,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/akins-elmer.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 21, 2006
October 15, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: