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This is part two of our series on WVOE-AM.

Annie Mae Williamson is ninety-four years old. She has been hosting The Women’s Program five-days-a-week on WVOE-AM in Chadbourn, North Carolina, ever since Ted. Reynolds knocked on her door in 1962. Mr. Reynolds, a founder of WVOE (“The Voice of Ebony”), marched right up to Annie Mae Williamson’s home one day over fifty years ago to propose that she pioneer a segment for women on the newly founded black-owned station, only the fifth of its kind in America. In an interview with Joshua Davis, Williamson describes that fateful day Mr. Reynolds approached her with his broadcasting opportunity.

AW: In 1962, when the radio station came on-air, Mr. Reynolds, which was the manager, he came to my home one day. He said, “Mrs. Williamson, I want to do a woman’s program, and I want you to host it.” I said, “Mr. Reynolds, I have no, you know, knowledge of—.” He said, “You can learn!” And so, that’s the way it started. I came on out, and he told me what he wanted me to do, and I just started from that. I learned. You know, as you go along, you learn.

JD: Why do you think he came to you, of all women in Chadbourn?

AW: Well, I guess somebody must have told him—Mr. Walls, I think, was here at the time. And evidently, he probably asked Mr. Walls. And at that time, I was in the church with Mr. Walls, and he knew my capability, I guess. He knew what I stood for.

In 1962 Ms. Williamson had already worked as a midwife for the Columbus County Health Department for sixteen years, and she was quite active in her local congregation. Half a century later, she still offers household hints and advice on health issues over the air, with as many as fifty calls from listeners in a single hour. You can tune into Annie Mae’s show from Monday through Friday from 11am to noon on 1590 on your AM Dial in the southeastern corner of North Carolina..

Click HERE to listen to an excerpt of an interview with Annie Mae Williamson conducted by Josh Davis.


Jeffrey Starkweather, born into a conservative Christian household in California, eventually made his way to Washington, D.C. where he worked as a staffer and organizer, developing the community-mindedness that would eventually take him to Pittsboro, North Carolina in the early 1970s. There, he took over the Chatham County Herald, a paper serving this fairly rural county in the North Carolina Piedmont.

Jeffrey Starkweather depicted in the header for his column, "Baaad News."

Jeffrey Starkweather depicted in the header for his column, “Baaad News.”

Starkweather quickly shocked county leaders by actually covering community issues and political proceedings, a standard journalistic practice not often employed before his arrival. The Herald was not an alternative paper. That is, it did not exist to provide an alternative source of journalism and information for a community already being served by a local media outlet. Chatham County residents read The News and Observer of Raleigh, as did many North Carolinians, but they did not have a local paper to call their own. Starkweather set out to provide one, covering sports, church gatherings, local events, and other local news as well as pursuing investigative reporting.

A photograph in an August 1978 issue of the Chatham County Herald indicates residents' concerns with the health effects of PCBs illegally dumped in the area.

A photograph in an August 1978 issue of the Chatham County Herald indicates residents’ concerns with the health effects of PCBs illegally dumped in the area.

Within just two years, the paper had won two major journalism awards for its investigative and community work. At the end of the 1970s, the Herald’s coverage of plans to deposit soil contaminated with PCBs in Chatham County successfully halted that effort (the contaminated soil was dumped in Warren County, the home of WVSP), demonstrating the power of local media in addressing and affecting policies and practices with local impact.

Starkweather’s desire was to use the Herald to shed light on the political process, thus contributing to the community’s civic health, but also to acknowledge the importance of the daily lives of Chatham County residents. He describes his philosophy here:

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