The Other Side of the Treeline - Jim Graham
Jim T. Graham does not blend into a crowd. With his signature braids, cowboy hat, and outgoing personality, it’s hard to miss him at fun-flys and trade shows.
If you haven’t seen Jim, aka Billy Hell, at an event, there’s a good chance that you’ve encountered his name or voice online. He is the moderator for the RCGroups.com online forum, and administrator for forums FlyingGiants.com and HeliFreak.com. He also has a podcast on the forums, songs he’s recorded on Soundcloud, an IMDb profile, and appears in a few YouTube videos.
Read on to learn more about the man beneath the hat and his aeromodeling experiences.
Rachelle Haughn: When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Jim Graham: My heroes have always been cowboys. I grew up on a ranch in Texas. We found horseshoes, cross saws, and Colt .45s in the dirt.
As a kid, I was good friends with a Texas Ranger named Rufus VanZandt. He chased Pancho Villa, and was a lawman in dirty little Texas towns in the 1920s and ’30s. I wanted to be like him—a Texas Ranger.
When he died, he left me his pistol, hat, and boots. I was a pallbearer at his funeral when I was 16. I didn’t think anyone was cooler than that 86-year-old man.
RH: How did you get your nickname?
JG: My grandpa is from Callisburg, Texas. He grew up on the family farm there during the Great Depression. He told me that he and his brother would walk to town for ice and they would raise “Billy Hell” there with the city boys. I wanted to use the term for a band name, but ultimately it was my user name on my first RC Web forum: RCOnline.com. I have been called Billy Hell since then.
Jim rocks out during SEFF (Southeast Electric Flight Festival) Week. Photo by Jay Smith.
RH: How and why was RCGroups started?
JG: There are two Jims at RCGroups. Jim Bourke founded RCGroups in 1996. He had RC questions and thought the Internet might be a good way to connect RC pilots.
In the early days, RC companies laughed at the idea of buying banner ads. Now RCGroups is one of the largest RC media outlets in the world.
I worked with Jim during my days as the marketing director for Hobby Lobby. I covered events and we were his biggest advertiser at the time. Jim hired me to run RCGroups full time in 2007, and I have been doing that every day since. Currently, RCGroups gets around 1.8 million unique users a month. The amount of RC information on our site is staggering, with more than 32 million posts!
We have editors who report on RC news daily. We are a Web forum that provides news, reviews, event coverage, feature articles, and much more. The impact made on this hobby by Jim and his idea for an RC website is immeasurable. We are the world’s largest and most active RC website.
RH: What are your responsibilities for RCGroups?
JG: That’s a big question. I run the site. I take care of both marketing and advertising, as well as manage the employees and the site content. I like to think that RCGroups Labs maintains and updates the airplane (RCGroups.com) and I fly the plane.
RH: Does RCGroups offer information about park flyers?
JG: At one time, park flyers were one of our hottest topics. RCGroups started as an electric site and we have a forum dedicated to park flyers with more than 890,000 posts!
RH: What’s great about park flyers?
JG: I have really come to appreciate a plane that you can throw in the back of your car. I appreciate a plane [that] I don’t have to take apart each time I fly. I like a plane that can take a hit. All of those things describe a park flyer.
RH: Please share how you got involved with model aircraft.
JG: As a kid, I lived near an air base and a crop-dusting field. I would lie in our pasture and watch planes practice for aerobatic competitions.
When I was in my 20s, I purchased an Italian RC plane at a garage sale for $5. I have been flying RC since then.
RH: What is your favorite new aeromodeling technology?
JG: For me it’s all about FPV right now. I have multiple FPV quadcopters, but I’m working [on] a mid- to small-size foam plane for FPV flight.
RH: How did you become a columnist for Model Aviation magazine?
JG: I was out mowing my lawn one day and thinking about the hobby. I was trying to come up with the best way I could help promote RC. My initial thought was to run for an office in the AMA, but I wanted something that was more immediate and that would reach more people.
Then it hit me. I turned the mower off, called the editor of the [magazine], and pitched the idea of me writing a column. A day later, I was an AMA columnist. I have yet to run out of things to talk about!
RH: How did the Profile Brotherhood get started?
JG: Profile planes are light, easy to build, and one of the best planes for 3-D flying. The fuselage is flat. My second RC plane was a profile (I still have it). Many people consider them ugly, but the purists love them.
I created a Web forum called the Profile Brotherhood around 13 years ago. At the time, many people said 3-D was going to ruin the hobby so we were pretty much outcasts. I’m happy to say that all these years later, the Pro Bro site is still rocking and rolling! Each year in Nashville, I host the world’s largest gathering of profile planes called NashBro.
RH: What famous people have you met and how did you meet them?
JG: I grew up on a ranch in Texas, so I didn’t get to meet many folks in my early days. After going to college at Baylor University, I took $1,000 and moved to Los Angeles. (Note to the youth—don’t do that!) I worked in the music and film business in LA as a special effects person and art director and met and worked with people like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Mötley Crüe, Johnny Depp, and many more.
When I decided LA was the worst place on earth to live, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville, I did music videos. That was great because I was able to meet all the country singers I admired and work with them.
Each year at NashBro, Mike [Wolfe] from American Pickers will come down to say hello. We knew each other before his show, from his picking days.
I also flew with the saxophone player from the Rolling Stones, Bobby Keys. Bobby and I were both from Texas and always got along great. I didn’t know what he did for living until long after we flew together.
The thing about famous people is that they are the same as you and me. They get treated differently, they have to stop and say hello to people more often, but ultimately, they are just like you and me.
RH: Please tell us about your other hobbies.
JG: I have come to realize that I am a “maker.” I have to be making something.
In the movie business, as a special effects man and weapons specialist, I had to be creative and able to make just about anything. That led directly to RC and the myriad different craft I work with and review daily.
Evidently that’s not enough, because a few years ago I started building guitars. That led to building amps and guitar pedals.
One thing I have always wanted to do is tool leather—leather belts, holsters, and things from the 1880s. I’m full swing into that with a pretty awesome leather work area. I do that almost every night. I think it drives my wife crazy and she’s proud of me at the same time!