By Camisha L. Jones
Jack Gravely is no stranger to encountering people who disagree vehemently with him. Gravely is the host of “The Jack Gravely Show” which airs daily from 9 a.m. until noon on WLEE News Talk 990AM. The show has been on since October 2008 and now boasts of averaging the second highest number of listeners each day, second only to WLEE’s weekly broadcasts of Dennis Miller. Covering topics hotly debated on the national level, malady it is no surprise that “The Jack Gravely Show” is often compared to radio shows hosted by Al Sharpton, Sean Hannity, Joe Madison and Rush Limbaugh.
Gravely describes his show as leaning “a little bit more to left of center” and says his intention is to “give people room to talk and…to really be passionate about what they say…” Despite the slightly liberal stance of his show, Gravely has his share of conservative listeners who appreciate his knowledge, humor, honesty and openness. Gravely has had a knack for making people feel comfortable sharing their opinions, even when those opinions are different from his own.
Gravely has over 15 years experience as a broadcaster. He has been guest on popular television shows like the Today Show, Nightline and Tony Brown’s Journal. Prior to working in radio, he held several leadership positions with the NAACP including State Director of the Virginia NAACP and Special Assistant to Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks of the National NAACP.
Gravely describes himself as “just a kid that grew up in the coal fields of South West Virginia and was inspired by people around him to go higher than the mountains that (he) lived in.” Encouraged by his mother to pursue education, he attended Fayetteville State University in North Carolina where a professor offered him an opportunity that shaped his life. “I think one of the greatest determining factors in my life was seeing Martin Luther King speak in Raleigh, North Carolina in July of 1966. That Sunday when we went to Reynolds Coliseum (with Professor Brown) to see him speak, I knew I wanted to be like (Dr. King)…I wanted to work in civil rights,” Gravely shares.
Working for the NAACP in the 1970s and 1980s not only provided a vehicle for Gravely’s commitment to civil rights but it also offered hints of what was to come in his future. People frequently told him that he had a good radio voice and that he should consider working in that field when he left the NAACP.
Hearing comments on the radio by Jerry Falwell about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement which, in his words, he “took strong exception to” propelled him into the profession. “I drove to the radio station…and asked them could I reply to it,” says Gravely. “That’s how I got into radio. By going to reply to something I did not like on the radio station.” The radio station, WRVA, hired him to provide weekly commentary on topics of his own choosing. Five years later, he was still at WRVA hosting an award winning 3-hour talk show.
Gravely finds hosting “The Jack Gravely Show” to be exhilarating, stating: “It keeps you on top of your toes…It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.” His love for reading books on history, political science, philosophy and religion helps him to stay abreast of topics explored on the show because, as he points out, in talk radio, “you better know what you’re talking about.”
Whether he is interviewing the Governor, four star generals, politicians, actors and actresses, or everyday people, Gravely has a deep appreciation for the guests on his show. “You learn so much from people. You glean so much of how other people grew up and their values, and their culture, their family, their trials and tribulations so all of them have been valuable to me,” he says.
When asked about his approach to discussing hot topics like President Obama, the role of government, political parties, abortion and guns, he says, “I like a good verbal argument.” Then he adds, “I, first and foremost, try to be respectful. I’m passionate but respectful. I don’t get into name-calling.”
Disagreeing respectfully has allowed him to keep communication lines on his show open to even those who disagree with him the most. He says one of his most regular callers does not agree with him on anything. Someone once asked why he let the person continue to call, and he replied, “It’s because he has an opinion. I disagree with it but he has an opinion.” One day, that same caller showed up at his office during a period when Gravely was seeking sponsors to fund live broadcasts of the show from the CIAA tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. The man handed him a significant contribution to help the show broadcast from Charlotte. On the way out the door, Gravely recalls the man saying, “And I still disagree with you…but that’s how much I respect you.”
Not all of the disagreements on Gravely’s show have such a clear silver lining. He responds often with humor, even the day a listener called him a “racist” and a “rabble rouser” after criticizing President Obama as a Socialist. “(In) talk radio you are going to hear things that you dislike, you disagree with, that are racist, that are sexist, homophobic…(Y)ou’re going to hear all of that,” says Gravely. “It’s not what you hear, it’s how you deal with what you hear.”
Given his background with the NAACP, Gravely is someone who continues to see the relevance of race within many of the discussions he has on his radio show. When asked what he thinks of the state of Black America today, he responds, “I think Black folk in today’s world must love themselves, first and foremost, more than anything else and take care of themselves and by doing that you take care of the community, your children… and your institutions.” Reflecting on what he’d like his life to teach the generation coming behind him, he states: “(If) you’re going anywhere in life you’d better pack an economic, an intellectual and a moral lunch because you’re gonna need it…(Y)ou must have food to sustain the journey of life…” Perhaps that’s why he serves up a healthy serving of discussion around those issues Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon on WLEE 990AM: to help sustain his listeners’ journeys.