For almost three decades, the voice of Mildred Gaddis has been embedded in the fabric of Detroit’s urban radio folklore. Very few local radio personalities — Black or White — have outlasted her. Only a handful have amassed the consecutive years of longevity achieved by Gaddis on the airwaves of the Motor City. She has long been defining the issues important to African Americans. She is not one to shy away from controversy and holding politicians such, as former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, accountable.
Gaddis currently hosts “The Mildred Gaddis Show,” an afternoon talk show heard weekdays from 4 to 7 pm on AM 1200/FM and 99.9 WCHB. The show represents a quantum leap in timeslots for Gaddis, who for years, hosted one of the top-rated morning talk shows in this region, “Inside Detroit.”
Gaddis, whose new timeslot went into effect in February 2014, said she hasn’t missed a beat.
“I am noticing that many of my morning listeners have followed me,” Gaddis said. “But I’m also encountering a new and different audience. That’s pretty refreshing and exciting. By the time afternoon drive rolls around, a lot of dynamics have already taken place. Congress has already been in session, Detroit City Council has met, and so have the halls of the legislature. So when I go on the air at 4 pm, there have been some decisions, negotiations and policies that have been decided upon.”
Exclusive interviews with powerful Black elected officials as well as their White counterparts and the hot button issues of the day dominated “Inside Detroit,” and the show provided the daily template for the discussion of issues regarding the Black community.
“Mildred Gaddis represents a voice for many in Southeast Michigan who often feel they have no voice. She is comfortable saying what many of her listeners are thinking,” said Rev. Bertram Marks of First Community Baptist Church. “Her show has become an accurate measure of how the community thinks and feels about important issues.”
Marks, who is an attorney, said Gaddis fills a gap in the Detroit media landscape.
“If her voice wasn’t there for us, frustration and disenfranchisement would be the norm,” Marks said. “It is an advantage for the community to have someone like Gaddis who is not afraid to speak truth to power on a daily basis.”
Known for her hard-hitting, no-nonsense and inspirational style on the air, Gaddis has pushed buttons on hot local issues that greatly impact Detroiters, including the bankruptcy, electing a new mayor and city council, the continuous shift in how Detroit children are being educated in the Detroit Public Schools, public corruption and many other stories that she feels will inform and empower her listeners. She also tackles state and national topics that affect African Americans throughout the United States.
While there have been many major news stories to break in the Motor City on Gaddis’ watch, some Detroiters believe the apex of her talk radio career began with the fall of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
“I’m still meeting people who really define my career in Detroit by Kwame Kilpatrick,” Gaddis said. “I think that it’s unfortunate, but I understand why they do. However, I took a stand when no one else would. I took a stand at a time when everybody was praising Kwame Kilpatrick,” Gaddis said. “I was his lone critic. A lot of people equated my criticism of him as my desire for him to fail. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I wanted Kwame Kilpatrick to win. I wanted him to do it with integrity. I think that it’s a horrific tragedy that things ended the way that they did. I wish the end had been different.”
Gaddis said because of such criticism, her career has not been without attack orchestrated by those she considers detractors. While there have also been other unpleasant incidents that Gaddis remembers, through it all, she said she has persevered.
“There were times in my life when I was in a place where I did not know how the pain or the challenge would leave me, but God has always brought me through. I believe if you help as many people as you can, God will always take care of you…always. I have always been a Christian,” said. “I don’t have enough life left to hate anybody, and certainly, to hate anybody forever. There are people that I have invited on my show that caused me and my family a lot of pain. But Jesus said, if you aren’t willing to forgive people, than He won’t forgive you. So I stopped being angry a long time ago.”
Growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Gaddis and her three siblings learned the lessons of forgiveness from their parents and a wise grandmother who helped build other Christian values, character, integrity and the tenacity for the long haul. By the time Gaddis was 13 years old, she knew she wanted a career in radio and began working on her enunciation and diction.
At 15, she convinced the owner of radio station WORV in Hattiesburg to allow her to learn every aspect of how the station operated. Occasionally, she talked live on the air, which further solidified her dreams of becoming a radio personality.
After high school, Gaddis headed to Texas Southern University in Houston, where she earned a dual bachelor’s degree in journalism and communication. Before receiving the degree, however, she had begun working in the news department at a Houston country and western radio station. She eventually moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she worked 10 years in the news department at two radio stations.
On Feb. 8, 1988, Gaddis accepted an offer to move to Detroit as the news director at WJLB. In 1997, she moved over to become the news director at WCHB. Dr. Wendell Cox, who owned WCHB at the time, later asked her to do a talk radio show. One year later, the station was purchased by Cathy Hughes and Radio One, and it marked the evolution of Mildred Gaddis and Black talk radio in Detroit.
Gaddis, who is married and has an adult daughter, explained her decision to stay in Detroit for so long.
“The day that I came to Detroit, the temperature was zero,” said Gaddis with a laugh. “I knew there would be no way for me to stay here for long. However, coming and staying in Detroit turned out to be the best decision for me. I love Detroit. I have no plans of leaving.”
Dubbed both as the “Queen of talk radio” and “Stronger than Black coffee” by Cathy Hughes, the owner of Radio One, Gaddis said, “I will not move again for radio. Whatever I do in radio, whether its syndication or what, I will do it from Detroit. I’m not shy to say that I would love to cap off my career with a nationally syndicated show, but I will not move from Detroit to do so.”
Gaddis was asked about the future of Black talk radio.
“As long as Radio One owns this station, it will be committed to talk radio, because for Cathy Hughes, talk radio is so much a part of her heart, her passion and who she is. The company sees a real need for Black talk to continue, without a doubt.”
Since arriving in Detroit, Gaddis has received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to the community, including Professional Woman of the Year, presented by the National Association of Negro Business Woman’s Organization; Living Legends Award,” presented by the City of Detroit; and the Michigan Chronicle’s Power 50, which honors metro Detroit’s most powerful African Americans.
“I love Mildred Gaddis because if it were not for her boldness and honesty, there would have been much more corruption that we, as Detroiters, would never have known about,” said Gertrude V. Davis-Williams, who has lived in Detroit for 56 years and has faithfully listened to Mildred Gaddis for more than 15 years.
“She keeps us informed on what’s really going on. Nothing gets past her.”
I’m still meeting people who really define my career in Detroit by Kwame Kilpatrick. I think that it’s unfortunate, but I understand why they do. However, I took a stand when no one else would. I took a stand at a time when everybody was praising Kwame Kilpatrick. I was his lone critic.
– MILDRED GADDIS, host, “The Mildred Gaddis Show,” WCHB AM1200