By Shanika P. Carter
A commercial and residential realtor with Keller Williams Grand Rapids, the name Ed Spillers may sound familiar, but perhaps you might know him by his radio hosting role with Worldwide Live with Lee Stephens.
With a 30-year career in radio and media, Stephens, who began his radio career 1996, says that he just held on and rode with what God placed in front of him. “I didn’t put too many huge goals in front of me outside of being on the top of my game,” he explains, adding that he only had two goals he was working on being in radio.
First, Stephens wanted to work for a large market #1 station, which he accomplished by working with WJLB and WMXD (iHeart Detroit) from 2001 to 2010. His second goal was to become a program director, which he accomplished between 2016 to 2020 working with Townsquare Media of West Michigan. Stephens’s vision came to life as the station ranked #7, providing R&B music to Kent County via Magic 104.9 and leading a standard for entertainment and community action in West Michigan. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which led to changes in programming.
“I miss my baby that I birthed,” says Stephens, continuing, “the people I presented to be on-air, the R&B we gave to the city, and the listeners.” He is fortunate and thankful to continue his music entertainment presence through Grander Radio, adding that he never thought his career in the industry would continue growing to this day.
Stephens points out how radio has changed since he started years ago, even within the past 10 years, but he has managed to find and stay in his lane. “You are challenged more than ever to find your lane and pour into it heavily. Radio has a tendency to weed out the ones who can’t stomach the journey. That’s not a cautionary tale. That’s a source of inspiration, because if you can develop your personality and be your authentic self, you will have a long career.”
With radio expanding to social media and the Internet, it is accessible on most technology devices to create an experience for any listener. Stephens mentions the different ways one can work in radio to help create the listener experience, from being on the microphone, producing a piece of audio, or selling radio advertising. He advises anyone interested in exploring a career in radio to surround themselves with talented people in various parts of the country who excel in their craft.
Stephens surrounded himself with mentors in the field, including Dr. John Logan, the former General Manager (GM) for WCSU-FM at Central State University in Wilberforce, OH – a historically black college or university (HBCU). Stephens credits Logan, who was instrumental in helping such artists as Roger Troutman and Zapp, the Ohio Players, Lakeside, and Dayton get on the air in the 70s and 80s, with putting him on the radio, giving him the knowledge of life and the history and business of radio.
Other key figures and mentors for Stephens include Michael Ecton, Program Director for WDAO in Dayton, OH, who gave him his first commercial radio gig in 1996 while Stephens was a freshman in college; Stan “The Man” Boston, his second program director for WROU and WRNB in Dayton; the late KJ Holiday, a former program director at WJLB who taught Stephens to think of every element of radio on a bigger level; and, finally, Tom Cook and Russ Hines, formerly of Townsquare Media – Grand Rapids, who he says pulled him off the sidelines to flip their AM 1410 signal to the FM station Magic 104.9.
Stephens has had many mentors, influencers, and friends in his life and career, but family has been influential in his upbringing as well. His late grandmother, who passed away in 2021 at the age of 103, ran the Cincinnati Herald newspaper company during a time where there weren’t many images of black women leaders. “She was a civil rights leader, media giant, Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Famer, Greatest Living Cincinnatian, and at the heart of it all she was just Grandma,” Stephens says, adding that she was the one person who gave him the legacy.
Making history continues to be a strong presence in Stephens family, who is the married father of one child. His wife, La’Leatha Spillers, the new Vice-President (VP) of Marketing and Communications for Calvin University, is the first person of color to serve in the President’s Cabinet for the university.
Family-oriented with a love for children, Stephens currently teaches a new generation of learners, known as NEXT GEN Media, from the Gerald R. Ford Academy in Grand Rapids, along with WDPW Power 91.9 in Grand Rapids, about radio communications. Stephens also serves on the board at D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s in West Michigan.
Having already experienced a flourishing career in radio, which he says that he never left, thanks to Doug Sims and Grander radio, Stephens wants to add a thriving real estate career to his credentials. “I’ll let God give me my nexts.”
You can catch Stephens on Grander Radio every Saturday evening from 8:00 pm to midnight (EST). For more information, visit: www.1grandermedia.com