"We would come up here when I was a kid, and he would drive around and show us things he'd found in the state. He took me to Lewisburg to a church that had woodwork made by slaves. He took me to the Exhibition Coal Mine.
"On his first trip, he met Buck Harless, who became a strong supporter of the choir and a member of the board of Stillman College.
"West Virginia was the Garden of Eden as far as my father was concerned. He still calls and asks if I've been here or there. 'Have you taken a train to see the fall foliage?' 'Have you been to Big Ugly?'
"I came here in 2001 as program director. Now the title is director of radio services. My son, Salih, loves it here. He's 14. He's doing very well with his skateboarding. Has a bunch of sponsors.
"We spend a lot of time in Ohio because West Virginia doesn't have the investment in skateboarding parks. People would think he was from Ohio. 'No, I'm from West Virginia,' he'd say. People started referring to him as 'that kid from West Virginia.' Now he calls himself 'that West V boy.'
"One thing I noticed immediately is that we have very talented people working here in public broadcasting. It has become a place where bigger operations are coming to look for talent.
"I had to get a sense of what listeners in West Virginia would want. It's easier in one city where you are covering one metropolitan area. When you cover an entire state, you go to the southern part close to the coalfields and they might not be as city slick as people in the Eastern Panhandle.
"They all want quality. There was a desire for more news and information programming. We still have heavy emphasis on classical music, but based on diminishing demand, we have had to adjust how much we do.
"It's a moving target and not an easy job. Every day, I am talking to a listener. Everyone doesn't like a change or what you are doing currently. I do my best to communicate and make sure they understand why we're doing what we're doing.
"Radio is such a personal medium. With public radio, you have people who leave it on all day. Any shift can directly impact their lifestyle. At 2 o'clock, they will do this, and public radio will be doing that. When public radio is not doing that, there's a problem in their lifestyle. That's really a good sign, that people care so deeply about content.
"I'm on the air when folks here get sick. The more important you become, the more distant you become from the microphone, so it's fun when I get to spend some days in the studio doing actual broadcast work.
"I started in public radio so young, but I always sounded older. I got into the classical music thing because they were looking for someone without a distinguishable southern accent. A lot of it had to do with having a father who taught voice and was always saying to speak clearly. My mother probably was worse than my dad with things like that. So I always had a limited southern drawl.
"We won the Peabody Award for a great project I did with Tray Kay. He called out of the blue and said he had an idea for a documentary. The anniversary of the textbook controversy was coming up, and he wanted to do something.
"We partnered with the historical society here, and it really came together. When I listened to the final product, I thought, 'Omigod, this is huge!' I knew it was Peabody material.
"We'd done other documentaries. I have to credit Rita Ray, my predecessor, for Della Taylor Hardman. Rita had the first conversation with Della who said she had archived tapes of all these historical figures she'd interviewed.
"Della died as we were working on it. I was able to get her daughter, Andrea Taylor, involved. I knew the national people, but I didn't know who the area people were, and there was too much tape. Ancella Bickley and Lucia James helped us. I drafted Sam Hendren, my mentor from Alabama, as the producer. I learned so much from listening to her interviews with all these interesting people who had come through West Virginia.
"Ann Baker was one of the people she interviewed, and we were able to use excerpts in our documentary on Ann Baker.
"I've had ideas on how to get more minorities involved and listening to public radio. It's a debate as to whether it's a content issue or an exposure issue. A lot of it is not being exposed to it.
"I'd like to produce more content about minorities. At a general audience station, it's hard for that to be your focus because listeners will range from 90 percent Caucasian to higher.
"I have a doctor friend in the D.C. area who loves to bring me over and show me off. There is no one else of color in her neighborhood. She will say, 'He's in public radio! Do that public radio thing, that quiet voice.' Everything's quiet and peaceful in public radio.
"I enjoy living in West Virginia and don't have any plans to go anywhere else. When I go back to Alabama, friends say, 'Why in the world are you still up there?' Some have had to drive through West Virginia, and then they say how beautiful it is. They say they saw the gold dome. I tell them I don't live far from there."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.