Friday, January 7, 2011

A Voice Made for Radio

A mother and her middle-aged son were reunited yesterday, after many years of estrangement. A mother myself, my heart went out to Julia Williams as she sat on the set of the "Today Show" this morning. Seated beside her was her only child, 53 year old Ted Williams. Although her son had just been catapulted into the limelight and was clearly thrilled and overwhelmed by turns, this mother was holding onto what was obviously a hard-earned habit of skepticism. She told him not to hang around with the wrong people and not to disappoint her. After all, just last week he was a homeless man holding a cardboard sign.

“I would say to him: ‘Why don’t you let God in to straighten your life,’ and he would say: ‘Goodbye’.”

Ms. Williams said that her son came from a nice family and that she was embarrassed that he had been holding a sign up in that way. She added that prayer was the only thing that helped her through this. Clearly, she was not going to fully embrace her son’s new-found fame and fortune until he could demonstrate that, this time, he could “keep his life together.”

Last month, Williams was “flying the sign” off northbound I-71 in Columbus, Ohio, when a man en route to church with his family pulled up in his car, wound down the window, and gave Williams $20. Williams said that it was like winning the jackpot – people in such hard economic times did not stop and give him that much money. A couple of weeks later that same man, Doral Chenoweth III, returned, saying that he had been searching for Williams. This time, Chenoweth, a videographer with “The Columbus Dispatch,” came armed with his camera. He gave Williams a couple of dollars and said that he wanted him to hold up his sign and say something with his great radio voice. Chenoweth filmed him and published the video which went viral just this week with over 11 million views in the first few days.

A media frenzy has surrounded Williams ever since, attracting numerous job offers – he's already recorded audio spots for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and has fielded an offer of a home with a job from the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

His hand-written sign read:

“I have a God given gift of voice, I am an ex radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please! Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless you. Happy Holidays”

Williams, a recovering addict, says that he found God and has been sober for two years and that this whole experience, culminating in the emotional reunion with his “Mommy” was like a dream – “like Dorothy when she landed in Oz, or like Susan Boyle must have felt.” He said that some people had noticed a resemblance to President Obama and had actually stopped to take a picture of him because of that. Williams - honorably discharged from the United States Army after a stint in Korea - said that he did not want to cast direspect on the Commander-in-Chief; even though (despite the difference in sartorial style) his look and his velvety voice are eerily reminiscent of the President.

Asked what his dream job would be, Williams said that he still wanted to go back to radio, that “theatre of the mind,” because it was his first love. He said that his passion for radio harked back to when he met the late Hank Spann from the “Soul Station” Radio WWRL as a teenager in his home town of Brooklyn, New York.

Google the word “homeless” and you'll find pages and pages about "the homeless man with the golden voice,” as though his is the only homeless story out there. As Williams himself says: “This is outrageous!”

As for Mommy, she thinks it’s outrageous that her son has been all over television saying that she is 92 years old. After all, she says, she is only 90.


  1. I spotted this story about the homeless guy on a news website the other day and watched his youtube clip! Such a voice! But I didn't know about the mother/son reunion. Aaahh.

  2. In the first clip, I found it hard to believe that the voice matched the person! This has been quite the feel-good story of the moment. I sincerely hope Mr. Williams can negotiate all this new-found fame - it;s amazing how today's 24/7 media can literally create a "star" and profoundly change someone's life (for better or worse) in a day.

    I did smile when I saw his mother - she sounds like she needs a bit more time to be convinced that he is going to come out of this okay! I did not know he is her only child, I can't imagine not having contact with your adult son for 10 or 20 years. Good luck to them both.

    (And thorns to the networks that delayed their reunion so that it could be broadcast on TV . . .

  3. Williams was on TV here yesterday too. unbelievable, that his story is news on a day not a Sunday or a holiday. Anything that gets the sentimental juices flowing is 'news'.

    we had a clip showing him an Mama embracing and crying on each others' shoulder and then a few examples of 'the voice'.

    admittedly, he does have a voice.

    Good luck to him.

  4. A nice touch to relate this story from the perspective of his mother. Though one can hope that he'll turn his life around, I've no doubt but she's right to be wary.

  5. Oh my, looks like fame doesn't always mean happiness (actually, I think it rarely means happiness!). Poor guy, I hope he can get his life together while living in the proverbial fishbowl:

  6. As RA said, it seems like Mom was right to be wary. Hopefully he can overcome those demons.


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