In 1948 Rivers began operation of an FM radio station. In June 1953 he put WCSC-TV, South Carolina’s first VHF television station, on the air. He served as president and manager of the AM/FM radio stations and the TV property. Rivers’s company, WCSC, Inc., eventually became involved in background music, long distance and cellular telephones, security systems, and other enterprises.
Broadcasting executive. Born in Charleston on July 22, 1903, Rivers was the son of Moultrie Rutledge Rivers and Eliza Ingraham Buist. He graduated from the public and private schools of Charleston and attended the College of Charleston for two years. In 1924 he received an economics degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. On December 7, 1929, Rivers married Martha Robinson of Gastonia, North Carolina. They had three children.
After graduation Rivers was employed as a runner by the Bank of Charleston (later South Carolina National Bank [SCNB]). Later he became manager of SCNB’s Greenville branch and then assistant vice president of SCNB. In 1936 he became vice president of the Charleston office of McAlister, Smith & Pate, a securities firm based in Greenville. Rivers entered the broadcasting business two years later at the urging of W. Frank Hipp, president of Liberty Life Insurance Company, which operated radio stations in Columbia and Charleston. On January 1, 1938, Rivers became president of South Carolina Broadcasting Company, which operated WCSC radio at Charleston. In 1939 he was named president and manager. When Hipp died, his successors–two sons and their uncle–honored Hipp’s unsigned memorandum allowing Rivers to buy the station if he made it successful. Rivers purchased the property for $144,000.
In 1948 Rivers began operation of an FM radio station. In June 1953 he put WCSC-TV, South Carolina’s first VHF television station, on the air. He served as president and manager of the AM/FM radio stations and the TV property. Rivers’s company, WCSC, Inc., eventually became involved in background music, long distance and cellular telephones, security systems, and other enterprises. In 1972 Rivers became chairman of the board of WCSC and turned over his other titles and the responsibilities of running the stations to his son, John M. Rivers, Jr.
The elder Rivers served as president of the South Carolina Association of Broadcasters, which he helped found in 1952. In 1974 he became the second person to be inducted into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Rivers was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1997. One of Rivers’s daughters, Martha R. Ingram, was also in the South Carolina and National Business Halls of Fame.
At thirty-three, Rivers was the youngest person ever to be elected president of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce. He served as chairman of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce in 1969 and was named Businessman of the Year for 1966. Rivers was on the South Carolina Educational Television Commission from 1966 to 1982. In 1989 the College of Charleston’s John M. Rivers Communications Museum was established through an endowment from the Rivers family. Rivers was active in the community through the St. Andrews Society, St. Philip’s Church, and Ashley Hall School. He died on January 24, 1988, in Charleston.
Lunan, Bert, and Robert A. Pierce. Legacy of Leadership. Columbia: South Carolina Business Hall of Fame, 1999.