It all started back in 1969, Mel Showers had returned home to Mobile, Alabama from The Middle East where he served in the U.S. Air Force, military intelligence.
“There is the first black person on the air for WKRG and Mobile, Mobile-Pensacola. There she is Estelle Payton”, said Showers while referring to vintage photos hanging in the walls of the station. An assistant to Chef Connie Bea Hope, Estelle Payton, had a non speaking role on a cooking show, but, WKRG and community leaders were ready for an African American to take on a more prominent role in local television.
Mel Showers would become a household name and the face of WKRG, hand picked by the man whose initials are the call letters of the station, it’s founder Kenneth R. Giddens.
“I have had to carry this banner with a great deal of respect and pride, respect for mr. Kenneth R Giddens who entrusted me with this big responsibility and Gosh I just hope that I’ve lived up to his expectations”.
Showers first took to the airwaves during a time of segregation in Mobile. “They knew that I was gonna take some heat when I first got on the air. So, they came to me and said, ‘don’t you worry about any negative feedback you may or may not get'”. Mel has worked every shift and held every on air position. He anchored sports and even dabbled in weather. His confident delivery and likeable personality have made it easy for viewers to connect with him.
One of the most compelling assignments Showers recalls is witnessing the execution of Ku Klux Klansman Henry Frances Hayes for the 1981 hanging death of Michael Donald. “His facial expression was..’I’m ready to go’..and just a few moments later…those thumbs went down and I witnessed that and I’ll always remember that”.
For Showers, it’s gratifying to see improved race relations in his hometown. Viewers of all races embrace him. The hate mail has turned into fan mail.
“My suggestion is..even at this point, 46 years later, that’s how you deal with it, you keep smiling. The key to my success..to keep smiling”, Showers said, “The smile trumps hate”.
Showers, who has help to blaze a trail for other minorities to take on air positions, continues to be an inspiration. “You know, I don’t know why or how it happened, but, yes I have received letters, phone calls over the years. It’s been hard to accept. ‘What have I don’t to inspire anyone?’. “If that has happened over the years. I’m grateful. I’m grateful”, said Showers.