Photo | Shane Rice
Mel Showers plans to fill some of his retirement days tinkering on cars.
NAPPIE WINNER – BEST ANCHOR (WKRG)
Mel Showers reflects on 50-year career in Mobile news
Mel Showers was no more than 20 feet from convicted murderer and former Ku Klux Klan member Henry Francis Hays when the electricity began to course through his body and took his life.
“I got no great joy from witnessing his death,” the retired WKRG anchor remembered. “I was able to accept it because he and his buddies took the life of a young black man whose only crime was being black. I saw justice done that night.”
Showers was one of the reporters on the scene following the discovery of Michael Donald’s body. The 19-year-old was the victim of a 1981 lynching on Herndon Avenue, for which Hays would be put to death in 1997.
“I covered that from the first day until years later when they convicted [Hays] of his killing,” he said.
Showers has spent his entire career reporting on and anchoring the news for Mobile’s CBS affiliate, but he said that was the biggest story he ever covered.
Showers claims he never got into the news business, but that it got into him. When he started college, there was no such thing as a broadcasting degree, but during the civil rights movement, stations were pressured to hire African Americans.
“Here in Mobile it was no different,” Showers said. “The pressure started to build locally to get more black faces on air.”
WKRG recruited Showers during this time and brought him to audition for an announcer job. He didn’t hear anything from the station for a few months about the audition. At the urging of his father, Showers went to the station, which was at 162 St. Louis Street at the time, to inquire about the job.
“I talked to the personnel manager and he said, ‘we’ve been waiting for you,’” Showers said. “‘You’re the man. You’re it.’”
From there, Showers was sent to Houston for broadcasting school where he was trained to obtain a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license as one of the station’s announcers. As a staff announcer for WKRG he would sign the station on and off the air through an FCC log.
If the job of announcer seems unfamiliar that’s because it has long since been abolished, but when Showers started, it was a federal mandate to have someone at the station announce the time and station identification every 30 minutes, Showers said. He was one of those voices. Viewers “rarely saw” announcers, but they heard their voices.
“It doesn’t exist anymore,” Showers said of the announcer job. “It has not been required by the FCC for 40 years.”
The job was phased out about four years into Showers’ tenure with the station. From there, he transitioned into reporting the news.
“I made the transition into news,” he said. “In 1974 I became a newsman.”
At the time, the Mobile area already had one black reporter in Bob Brazier, but, nonetheless, Showers said he was the victim of racism.
“When my face started to appear, some were not very happy seeing another black reporter,” he said. “I received letters and phone calls from some in the community. I received some hate mail.”
Local civil rights leaders like John LeFlore encouraged Showers to ignore “that kind of mail” and continue to do his job. With the help of leaders like LeFlore, Showers continued to do the “best I could.” One thing he said served him well during this time and later in his career was a smile.
“A smile trumps hate every time,” he said.
After years just “on the streets,” as he put it, Showers would became an anchor for one of the area’s first morning shows around 1979 or 1980. During this time, Showers would pull double duty as an anchor and a reporter.
“The morning show ratings were dismal,” he said. “We got a ‘1’ rating. You can do nothing with a ‘1’ rating.”
It was an individual in the station’s maintenance department that suggested the show stop doing negative news in the morning and shift to stories with a more uplifting tilt.
“We made changes and the ratings started to soar,” Showers said. “I’m talking about double or triple the ratings. That’s how I wound up on the nightly news.”
Showers will never forget the date he debuted as the nightly anchor for WKRG. It was January 15, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I was always an admirer of Dr. King,” he said.
Within three months of his start as a nightly anchor in 1989, WKRG rose from the No. 3 area station to No. 1.
As for his retirement, Showers said it was time. The station, he said, didn’t want him to leave and made a “very generous” attempt to keep him behind the anchor desk. While he still fills in at WKRG from time to time, Showers said he plans to move to Dallas, Texas, to live with his son, who is a broadcaster in that market.
“He’s been urging me to live in Dallas,” Showers said. “That’s what I will do.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).