“It started in the late ‘70s when I was an elementary teacher,” the Spartanburg resident said.
The principal of the school where he taught collected every special fall preview issue of “TV Guide.”
“We used to pull those out and play TV trivia,” Casey said.
It was just a game, but in 1984 his passion for trivia and hobby of collecting knowledge changed when he published his first book “TV Trivia Teasers.”
Now “The Trivia Guy” has a list of credentials a mile long that includes accomplishments like having a column nationally distributed by King Features, being a contestant on NBC’s “Weakest Link” game show and holding the Guinness world record for hosting the world’s longest-running radio trivia broadcast at 30 hours.
His columns appear in about 500 newspapers around the country, including The Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico, Tacoma News Tribune in Washington and his hometown newspaper The Herald-Journal.
He’s published several trivia books and calendars — his newest titled “Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things that Changed the World” through The Penguin Group — and hosts weekly trivia parties in Spartanburg. He also is available to emcee for events and is a popular satirical humor writer and speaker at political rallies.
But all of his success didn’t happen overnight.
It was about the same time he had his first book published in the mid-1980s that he knocked on the door of The Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
The newspaper picked him up as a columnist after he showed them just how much trivia he had collected over the prior years and his editor at the time helped get his trivia column syndicated. Casey wound up being published in about 1,200 papers and had secured another book deal.
His life would change again, however, as the then 20-something Casey went through — what he calls — his “young and dumb” phase and his writing career — at the time — came to an end.
So he went into radio.
Casey would spend his first 16 years of his radio career at WSPA — where he was anointed “The Trivia Guy” by his co-host — before moving to WKDY for another six years. All the while he never ceased his hobby of collecting facts.
It was at WKDY — where he hosted his own trivia show over lunch — he gained fame in trivia circles when he spent 30 hours on the radio on Jan. 9-10 in 1999 answering questions. By the end of his broadcast he had answered 3,333 questions and won the distinction of being a Guinness World Record holder.
“And the record is still on the books,” Casey said. “It hasn’t been broken.”
He added the record could be difficult to break now that radio stations have so many contractual obligations giving up 30 hours to do something similar to what he did wouldn’t really be feasible.
That world-record holder status gained him a spot on the NBC game show “Weakest Link” as a contestant on the show’s Guinness record holder special. He lasted just more than 37 minutes and then was voted off.
Casey was a popular radio host but it was writing he eventually would return to. In September 2000, The Herald-Journal’s pages were again blessed with his trivia column — this time seven days a week — and it’s been running ever since.
He also started knocking on the doors of other newspapers around the country and brokered “gentleman’s agreements” with them to run his column. It was about five years ago he received a call from King Features in Orlando asking him if he’d like to be a nationally distributed columnist.
Casey doesn’t really know the story behind why the syndicate giant decided to pick him up, but through negotiations he was able to keep his freelance status. King distributes his weekly “Bible Trivia” column while he still gets to knock on newspaper doors to get his general trivia column in their pages. He also was able to keep the contracts he had prior to King picking him up.
He’s worked his tail off getting to where he is today, but he’s happy his trivia hobby became something more.
“I don’t think it’s work,” Casey said. “I have been blessed that I could turn my hobby into a living.”
He’s also excited about “Firsts” being published by The Penguin Group, which contacted him about writing the book as they were aware of his credentials.
“To be associated with Penguin,” Casey said, “I’m still pinching myself on this book.”
The publishing group has printed his ninth book in multiple languages and is distributing it in multiple countries. He did have to compromise with the publishing group, however, on one point.
“I’m a Christian and I’m proud of it,” Casey said.
He wanted to use the references of B.C. — or Before Christ — and A.D — or Anno Domini — when referring to years. The publisher compromised with him so he could use a few Biblical firsts in the book if he would use the new references of B.C.E. — or Before Common Era — and C.E. — or Common Era.
“I fought hard,” Casey said.
His new book traces readers through the most unique human achievement milestones, answering the question “Who did it first?” The book is a collection of more than 500 firsts on a wide variety of topics — from fashion to food, politics to science, entertainment to art. Each entry offers a full explanation of the topic, written in a humorous yet authoritative style.
The book’s facts were checked, double checked and checked again and Casey said he got help in his research not only from his editor but also several historians from around the world. He even debunked some history books with what he found in his research.
“History is complicated,” Casey writes in the book’s introduction, “everyone is his or her own historian, and it’s often difficult to convince people something other than what they believe is, indeed, true.”
He adds, in real estate it’s all about location, location, location but when it comes to history’s “firsts,” it’s all about definition, definition, definition. He was amazed at the varied stories he found surrounding the firsts he researched for the book.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “History is nothing but a lie agreed upon.” Casey revealed so much through his research, he was able to expand on the French conqueror’s comment.
“History is nothing but lies agreed upon by the people in charge at the time,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “History, to me, is both truth and illusion.”
He says the credit for a “first” often went to the inventor with the best publicity agent, the first to process a patent or the first to tell his local newspaper. Casey adds a crackpot is someone to be first with a new idea or invention until that idea succeeds — then he or she becomes a creative genius.
He wants readers to know he fought for the little guy in writing this book.
“This book is dedicated to all the real ‘first’ innovators who did not get listed in history textbooks,” Casey said.
And he’s sure it will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.
“I think it’s kind of like a — it’s a factoid book,” Casey said. “It runs a gamut of appeal.”
Wilson Casey — syndicated columnist, humorist, emcee and Guinness World Record holder — or better known as “The Trivia Guy,” will be at Inspirational Corner in downtown Union from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29, to sign copies of his new trivia book “Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things that Changed the World.”
Prior to that engagement, he will be the guest of Mike Stevens on WBCU Radio in Union from 9-10 a.m.
He’s glad to be coming to the area.
“Even though I’m from Spartanburg, Union is local,” Casey said. “I appreciate the local support.”
He also will be signing copies of his ninth book at Barnes and Noble on Haywood Road in Greenville from noon-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30.
A FEW ‘FIRSTS’:
Here is a sample of a few of the “firsts” readers can find in Wilson Casey’s new book “Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things that Changed the World”:
• In 1926, the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop in Springfield, IL, became the first drive-thru restaurant. Drivers pulled up to the window, told the cook what they wanted and waited in their vehicles for their food to be prepared and handed out the window.
• The first person buried on the moon was Eugene M. Shoemaker. On July 31, 1999, a small container holding 1 ounce of the astrogeologist’s ashes arrived near the south pole of the moon after a controlled crash.
• The first Social Security check was issued to Ida May Fuller. Check No. 00-000-001 was given to the 65-year-old on Jan. 31, 1940, in the amount of $22.54.
• The first “Sports Illustrated” Swimsuit Edition was published on Jan. 20, 1964. Cover model Babette March wore a white two-piece bathing suit while standing in the surf off Cozumel, Mexico.
You’ll have to check out the book for the rest of the more than 500 “firsts” Casey collected.