Photos by Danny Holcomb
Written by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Ten historically African American colleges, as part of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), named him “Broadcaster of the Year” for three years running.
He knows Maze and Frankie Beverly, and counts among his friends, NBA superstar Moses Malone. He’s kept listeners in Norfolk, Greensboro, Baltimore, and Charlotte close to their radios, and youth at area schools inspired. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has honored him for his work.
He is Richmond’s biggest nighttime personality, Mitch Malone. With his mellifluous voice, and mix of classic slow jams, smooth jazz, and love songs, he has become the star and eye of “The Quiet Storm,” Central Virginia’s highest-rated radio show.
But he still lives near his childhood home and Sundays find him at Gillfield Baptist Church just down the street. He may be the “Voice of Richmond,” but he remains the pride of Petersburg.
Mitch Malone grew up enjoying a middle class upbringing. His mother, Elizabeth, worked at Central State Hospital, while his father, Thomas L. Mitchell, was a mailman in the 1950s. As a postal carrier, Thomas visited most every corner of Colonial Heights. He was a black man in the Jim Crow rural south, working in an area divided by racial tension and often troubled by open antagonism. Mitch admits that as a child, he didn’t give much thought to the challenges faced by his father, who died in 1987. But the adult marvels at the quiet fortitude and optimism his father maintained, in spite of working each day in an environment that surely offered its share of hostility.
Young Mitch was close to his parents, and loved skating, music, and sports. He first considered a career behind the microphone as a member of the audience at Petersburg’s celebrated “Follies.” “This was the biggest thing in Petersburg,” Mitch remembers. “All the kids rented tuxedos and gowns, and they dressed up to look like the Temptations and the Supremes. People would be lined up down the street trying to get in.”
His neighbor Roger Williams, a few years Mitch’s senior, was emcee. “As a kid, going to the Follies was a big deal, so I was just happy to be there,” Mitch says. “But knowing Roger personally and seeing him do his thing, I was just in such awe, because it was somebody I could actually touch and feel and everybody’s screaming for him. I’m like, ‘This is something I’d like to do.’”
Roger went on to become a radio announcer when he finished high school, and Mitch took note. “He was the first person I knew in the radio business,” he says.
Interestingly, today’s “voice of Richmond” isn’t so vocal about his own achievements, preferring to offer gratitude to those who encouraged him growing up. At Petersburg High School, he admits that even with his dream of moving audiences, “I was probably the least likely person to be a public figure.” But WCLM’s Kirby Carmichael would inspire him to see himself differently. “Kirby was my biggest influence,” he says. “The first time I heard Kirby’s voice, I knew he was the man. Kirby had something special.” Kirby often visited the skating rink Mitch frequented. When Kirby had to leave early one night, Mitch proved to be a worthy understudy, and spun records for half an hour. After that, Mitch says, “He kind of brought me into the fold. It’s one thing to sit around and dream about being an announcer. But to make that happen, you have to have the advantage of getting into that environment and seeing it in action. Kirby allowed me to do that. I was just a little kid from Petersburg and he didn’t have to do that.”
After graduating in 1974, Mitch headed to nearby Virginia State University, where he was part of the marching band and majoring in Health and Education. In 1979, he attended Richmond Broadcast Academy. Job possibilities must have seemed bleak: The area had three black AM stations at the time, and no FM stations. So when WSSV contacted him and asked him to work nights, he says, “I thought it was a hoax. Petersburg was still a little bit slow in coming around from segregation and racial problems. [WSSV] was predominantly a white station. They called me and offered me a job and I really didn’t believe it.” He was elated, and admits, “It was sort of like a dream.”
But when he arrived, he found a music collection that was a little bland. But he got to work, pulling records from the station’s library. He laughs, “I just couldn’t handle it. I lasted a couple nights. So I started bringing in a few things; a little Teddy Pendergrass, some Cameo – groups I was familiar with back then. I started to slip one in here and there. Nobody said anything. I started to slip more in.”
So was this Richmond’s first urban radio station? He’s not making that claim, but Mitch makes clear, “By that Friday, let’s just say we were all soul. All day long it was rock, and then…” – he snaps his fingers – “At six, it would go completely to soul music.”
If his bosses weren’t listening at first, that changed. “I was kind of sitting on pins and needles for a couple months,” Mitch recalls. What Mitch didn’t know is that when he came on, listeners tuned in. “Once they realized I was doing something special, the owner called me down. That was the day he talked to me about perhaps having a black FM radio station.” Mitch’s popularity had convinced them to change the sister station’s format. “That’s kind of how Magic 99 was born,” he says.
Although he worked in other cities on the East Coast, he returned to Petersburg in 1986 when Virginia State University’s radio station got their license, and he served as their Music/Sports Director. In 1993, he went to work at WSOJ, which later became KISS. He left briefly in the late ‘90s, but was asked to return and has been on top ever since. He’s ranked consistently number one in his field by “the Bible of radio,” the media research firm Arbitron.
What does a pioneer do for an encore?
“I’m a radio nut. I would still hope to be in the business in some facet five years from now. As long as my ratings are strong, and the audience is there, I still plan to be in the business.”
He’s been a game announcer for his alma mater, as well as some area high schools, and he says, “Sports is my second love, so I’ve always kind of wanted to settle down in a sports job as well.”
He’s active in the life of his 19-year old daughter. He’s an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys, regularly goes to NASCAR races, as he’s done for ten years.
“I just want to thank the Richmond Tri-Cities area, all the listeners, who have supported Quiet Storm, who’ve supported me for as long as I’ve been in the business. As I say all the time, I think it’s hard to stay in a market and remain appealing to that audience. So I pride myself along with people like Gene Cox, Sabrina Squier, people who’ve been in this market in broadcasting [a long time.] It’s hard to do. Being on the radio this long says volumes about what you are doing. That longevity is a tough thing. When they still love you after all this time, I guess you’re doing something positive. So I’d really just like to say thank you to the entire community for continuing to support me.”
“Watching him on air, you can tell he really cares about people,” says Danny Holcomb, who photographed Mitch for this feature. “He has a way of connecting with people that allows them to feel that they have a friend. The music he plays is awesome. He’s one of the few DJ’s probably who programs his own show. But people tune in for him as much as the music he plays. He’s the voice of Richmond.”