For 11 long years, Jessica Williams worked part-time, filling in on shifts at WPEG-FM (“Power 98,” 97.9).
Her first time on the air came on an overnight shift in 2004, which was a big day all around. When the show was over at dawn, she went over to Johnson C. Smith University – she was a fifth-generation student in her family – and put on her robes to receive her communications diploma.
This week, her part-time gig ended and she started full-time on one of the city’s most popular morning radio shows, the high-energy, hip-hop “Morning Maddhouse.”
“You have to stick with it,” says Williams, who was passed over for job after job through the years. “This took 11 years to come to fruition – I’m ready for it.”
Larry “No Limit” Mims, her mentor since she was in college and started interning at the station, says his show had been looking for someone to replace Yasmin Young, who left for a job in Buffalo, N.Y., in June. Getting the right chemistry for an ensemble morning show is critical, he says.
“If the chemistry isn’t there, the listener knows it,” says Mims, who grew up in Charlotte and went to East Mecklenburg High and JCSU.
“We’ve got it. Sometimes we forget we’re on the radio. We’re having too much fun.”
Among listeners in the 18-34 age range – a demographic that advertisers covet because young people are hard to reach through traditional media – the “Morning Maddhouse” generally runs No. 1 among Charlotte morning shows, followed by WHQC-FM (“Channel” 96.1) and WRFX-FM (“Fox” 99.7).
Also joining the cast this year have been Andre “Buttafingaz” Martin, Marcus “Shark” Clark, and Comedy Zone comedian Jeremy “Burpee” David. Clark came to Charlotte from Louisville, Ky., to attend Carolina School of Broadcasting, and he graduated Monday.
Williams says music is in her genes. Her father, John Williams, is a retired Coast Guard officer who sometimes worked as a club DJ at Charlotte’s historic Excelsior Club. Her uncle, Clarence Williams, was a longtime manager at the Excelsior, where she’d sometimes sneak in while underage to hear the music.
“He’d find me on the dance floor and kick me out,” says Williams.
During the years waiting to land a full-time radio job, Williams worked for Community In Schools, a dropout-prevention nonprofit. Most recently she’s been site coordinator at Ashley Park Middle School.
It was a job, she says, that required her to be a social worker, guidance counselor, mentor, mama, daddy and sometimes sister.
“I loved both of my careers,” she says.
“When I wrote my resignation, I cried. This is so bittersweet.”