BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — Dr. Shelley Stewart, affectionately known as, “The Playboy” is a living legend. The Black radio pioneer spent 53 years in radio from 1949 to 2002.
Shelley rose from once being homeless to a popular radio personality on WERD and WENN, to co-owner of WATV radio and eventually co-founder of O2 Ideas, one of Alabama’s top advertising companies.
His first job in radio was at WERD-AM.
“WERD wanted somebody from a negro school, Parker High School was the only Negro high school in Birmingham at that time. So I would go down once a week and do the high school report,” said Shelley.
Shelley was born in Rosedale in 1933. He recalls seeing his father kill his mother when he was five years old. His background includes being homeless, being raised by a white family in Irondale, serving in the Air Force, and then becoming one of the most popular radio personalities in the country.
“I did radio in Columbus, Georgia, I did radio in Atlanta, Georgia, I did radio in Jackson, Mississippi; Little Rock, Arkansas; KATT, St. Louis, Birmingham, Alabama.. so I’ve been all over doing radio.” Shelley proudly states.
When you sit down with Shelley, you get a history lesson. Like the firsthand account of the 1958 threat from the Ku Klux Klan warning him to get off the air.
“They put blood and wrote KKK on the radio station before they cut the tower down,” he said. When asked if that frightened him, he responded “no.”
Instead, Shelley continued making announcements for the movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the among the many famous people Shelley became acquainted with during his early days.
Others included the mother of the Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks, The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, comedian and actor, Red Fox, Motown great Gladys Knight, Miss America Vanessa Williams, President Jimmy Carter and former Alabama Governor George Wallace.
Shelley recalled that Wallace once asked him for forgiveness, to which he responded, “well George, I’ll tell you I forgive you, but I won’t forget what you did.”
Shelley will soon be 88 years old. He readily shares the many lessons of life that he learned along the way.
“If I don’t share it while I’m here, then its buried and you can’t use what’s gone dead. I try to do things now while I’m here.”
Shelley is a radio personality and author who was enshrined in The National Black Radio Hall of Fame in 1993. You can also find him in Birmingham’s Business Hall of Fame. Most recently, he earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Shelley also founded the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation in honor of his mother. It’s a non-profit aimed at supporting youth.