CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He's about as southern as you can get. Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Ala. But don't expect a Dixie drawl.
Reared in a highly cultured environment by educators who loved opera, classical music and public radio, James Muhammad absorbed gentility. Blessed with a deep, rich voice, cautioned by his parents to always speak clearly and crisply, he talks in the smooth, universal manner of a born broadcaster.
His father, a professor at Stillman College, fell in love with West Virginia in the '70s while traveling as director of the Stillman choir.
Appropriately, his son landed here in 2001 as program director for West Virginia Public Radio.
Many successes include a Peabody Award for a documentary on the textbook controversy.
Equipped with a huge smile, a hearty laugh and a cordial demeanor, his commanding 6-foot-3 frame exudes charisma.
Those Alabama roots are firmly transplanted in West Virginia. His father's favorite place hooked him, too.
"I'm from Tuscaloosa, Ala. My mother was a public school teacher and my father was a college professor at Stillman College, an historically black college in Tuscaloosa where I attended school. He taught music there and was the choral director.
"My parents met in college in the choir, the same place I met my wife. Music was a heavy part of my growing up. I played flute, piano and cello, and sang. It wasn't that I had an extreme interest in music. But if I quit one instrument, my dad would just throw me into another one.
"Public radio is all my parents listened to. My father, an organist, set the alarm full blast at 5 a.m. on Sundays just to hear 'Pipedreams.' His choir was featured on NPR specials. He was a regular volunteer during pledge drives.
"I had to listen to 'Morning Edition' in the car on the way to school. If you wanted to listen to anything else, you had to do it in your own space and you shut the door. They didn't want to hear hip-hop or rock.
"I loved the classical music and jazz and news and the documentaries on public radio. It just wasn't my sole existence in the broadcast world.
"We lived in the African-American side of town, but my parents had a lot of friends who were white. A lot of that had to do with music. They were involved with the opera and the symphony.
"I thought about law or communications and journalism. I never thought about public radio. I needed an internship my senior year, and my journalism professor said I should consider interning at public radio. I got desperate, and that's how I ended up interning there.
"Public radio was not something I identified as embedded in the African-American community, so there was some trepidation about working in public radio. But when you get involved in it, you find that it's really something for the masses, not for particular segments of the community.
"I ended up working at the station where I interned. I started with regular beat reporting. After a while, because I had a background in the arts, I did art reporting on plays and concerts.
"Later, there was a position for a classical music host. The general manager knew my father was a musician and that I had gone to college on a choir scholarship. I was new and young and trying to move up the food chain. I felt my days were numbered if I refused.
"I was producer of an arts magazine, too, and still producing features for arts and working with other reporters to get that off the ground. Then I became operations manager.
"After leaving Alabama public radio, I went to WCVU in Peoria, Ill., and was program director there and had a daily classical music shift. I was there about three years.
"My father's Stillman College Choir performed many times in West Virginia. His first visit was in the '70s, to Logan. He fell in love with the people and the mountains, the beauty and nature of it all.