Birmingham: Our possibilities are limitless!

Chuck Holmes, Executive Director and General Manager of WBHM
Chuck Holmes, Executive Director and General Manager of WBHM

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a more prosperous Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Chuck Holmes.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

It happened again.

At WBHM, the public radio station that I lead here in Birmingham, we get occasional visits from our NPR colleagues in Washington, D.C.

After they’ve spent a day or so here, I know what’s coming. The reactions of first-time visitors to Birmingham have become predictable.

  • It’s so green, the trees, the hills!
  • The people are so friendly.
  • It’s so affordable.
  • Those beautiful, old buildings, thank God they’re preserving them.
  • Wow, UAB. All the new buildings.
  • The food!

I get it. I was recruited in late 2016 to lead WBHM and my impressions of Birmingham were similar.

The meal I was treated to at Bottega during the interview process didn’t hurt. It is said so often in Birmingham, it’s become a cliché, and nonetheless true: The cooking at Frank Stitt’s joints closes more deals than we’ll ever know.

My father grew up in Birmingham and I visited the city in my Baby Boomer childhood. Coming back decades later for my job interview, I was surprised and impressed. This is not my grandfather’s Birmingham. I called my wife, Sarah, at our home in a Washington suburb and told her, “You know, I think we could be happy here.”

And we are. Very. In the past 18 months, we bought a charming house in Homewood, we’ve settled in, and it feels like home.

WBHM is the professional opportunity that drew me here from NPR: Build a better public radio station, expand its local journalism, cultivate meaningful conversations about life and hopes here, uplift our region’s cultural expression by spotlighting its music, its art, and – yes – its food.

We live in a city where the possibilities are limitless. It is proven: A derelict piece of land becomes Railroad Park and spawns Regions Field and a downtown renaissance. The homegrown startup, Shipt, is only the most prominent example of a vigorous entrepreneurial culture that is taking root and growing results. You can feel Birmingham changing.

I want WBHM to reflect those conversations and help lead those conversations.

I know cities. Part of my youth was spent in Miami. My career blossomed in Washington. I was a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem and in Moscow. As someone who spent decades as a skeptical journalist, I’ve become an unabashed booster of metro Birmingham. Sign me up, chamber of commerce. I’m a believer.

But don’t get me wrong. I’ve become well familiar with the chronic problems and challenges of our metropolitan region and our state – the disconnect between workforce training and available jobs, the competitive struggle for economic development, the lack of regional cooperation, bad governance, woeful inadequacies in public education, and deep poverty in neighborhoods where hope is scarce and crime is plentiful.

You’ll continue to hear those stories on WBHM, because our job is to represent all the public, to tell stories that matter, and to assess the promises – fulfilled, pending, or broken – that metro Birmingham holds for all its citizens.

I’ve seen where hope lives: the impressive work of groups like the Dannon Project, the Birmingham Education Foundation, Girls, Inc., and Growing Kings; the inspirational energy and ideas flowing at Innovation Depot; and the important changes underway in Woodlawn, driven by the foundation of the same name and so many hardworking people in this city dedicated to making a difference.

Consider this number: the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham managed 492 grant-making funds in 2017 and distributed $27 million to the good-doers.

The noble charities at work in this charitable town are too numerous to mention. The talent in Birmingham, from the groundbreaking researchers at UAB to the legions of bankers and lawyers and business people, set the tone and set the bar.

Complacency and self-satisfaction are our enemies. Let’s set that bar high. Birmingham is a place where great things are happening and even greater things are within reach.

A young woman, a recent hire at WBHM, put it well. Our new afternoon host, Janae Pierre, told me that one of the reasons she left a position in a larger market to come here: Birmingham, she says, feels like a city in motion.

She came from New Orleans. My wife and I came from Washington.

Sure, these cities we left behind have professional sports teams and bigger entertainment venues and larger GDP’s. But Birmingham, in many ways, offers us so much more.

Chuck Holmes is the executive director and general manager of WBHM, 90.3 FM. Prior to coming to Birmingham, he managed the daily news operation at NPR where he shared an Edward R. Murrow Award for coverage of the Afghanistan war and a Peabody Award in 2013 for The Race Card Project. He lives in Homewood with his wife, Sarah Lindsey Holmes and they are members of Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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4 thoughts on “Birmingham: Our possibilities are limitless!”

    1. Hi Maury,

      Thanks for your question. WBHM didn’t drop them.

      In fact, John Archibald was on our air a week ago Monday (July 23) discussing the verdict in the political corruption trial. You can find it here:

      We did reduce the frequency of appearances by our “regular” guests, including Ty West of the Birmingham Business Journal, not because we don’t value their expertise, but because we wanted to give our news staff more capacity to do their own reporting. The insights of commentators are important. So, too, is the value of our own journalism, which by the way we want to do more of.

      John was also a guest on our politics podcast. And we had him on our air after he won the Pulitzer Prize to discuss that achievement of a lifetime.

      We’ll continue to go to John or Kyle or Ty or others we believe can best convey information to our listeners on a given topic.

      1. Thanks for clarifying this for me Chuck. I am glad to hear this. WBHM is such an important opinion leader in local and state issues. I trust your voice.

  1. Chuck – thanks for your thoughts on Birmingham. I share most of your assessments and think they are “spot on”. Also, I wasn’t really a fan of WBHM (or NPR) over the years – HOWEVER, over the last 18 months or so, my wife and I have become regular listeners and really enjoy it (coincidence?)

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