- Durham Public Schools
DPS Notable Melissa “Wade in the Water” Found and Followed Her Voice
Melissa Wade, Assistant Program Director and Midday Personality for Radio One’s The Light 103.9 and owner of Wade in the Water Productions says her radio broadcasting career chose her and she’s never looked back. The Northern High School and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate tells the story of being bored one summer and convincing her cousin to pose as disc jockeys for an imaginary radio station they named V105. Melissa was the designated announcer, and she literally began calling various family members asking them to answer a question about a Michael Jackson song. They deliberately called on the older family members who couldn’t answer the question. One cousin did, however, and he sincerely thought he had won the $10,000 they were offering. Melissa’s broadcasting career was launched.
While a student attending Durham Public Schools, Melissa was a good student, an athlete, and a dancer. She attended Mangum Elementary and Carrington Middle, the schools her two siblings and her children also attended. She remembers the diverse culture and the many opportunities it gave students to be involved. At the urging of her mother, she was the first African-American dancer on the middle school dance team. She credits her mother and sisters for their support and encouragement. Melissa also drove a bus when this responsibility was afforded to high school students; she was even named School Bus Driver of the Year, showing her peers that despite her petite stature, she could masterfully maneuver a commercial-size vehicle capable of transporting 60 to 70 people. After all, as a native of Rougemont, she had cut her teeth on driving tractors before sitting behind the bus steering wheel. She also played the clarinet in the marching band. Being versatile has boded well for the veteran celebrity Christian broadcaster, now known as “Melissa Wade in the Water”.
After graduating from Northern in 1987, she matriculated to UNC-Chapel Hill, where she chose business as her major. But a brief stint with a paid internship at a Duke billing office convinced her that this course of study wasn’t for her.
“I’ve got to be able to talk to people. Being able to relate to people, appreciate them for who they are and where they are—that’s probably one of the most rewarding things in my job, is learning about people,” she said.
During her senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill, she was approached by a classmate who asked her to consider a broadcast internship. The part-time gig required her to produce the news for the morning show before going to class. She also interned at Foxy 107/104, apprenticing under Sonya Hamm and then working alongside Cy Young. She was in the right place at the right time when she heard that Radio One was going to add a gospel station. Coming from a family where her father sang gospel and her sisters were ministers, she was comfortable offering her help to the station manager with curating music for programming. To her astonishment, he asked when she could start.
“And so it went,” she said. “God trained me, and I was able to step in.”
Melissa’s advice to young people is to be ready to learn at all times. Early in her career, she would step into offices and ask to watch and learn different skills. “Learn as much as you can because you never know when you will need it,” she said, acknowledging that broadcasting is her “God-given niche.”
She also knows that there are those who see the potential in you. There was the time that her sixth grade teacher, Elton O’Neal, told her he was recommending her for an AP course. She balked, saying it was too hard. He asked her to meet him in the hallway. Standing at least 6’3”, he had presence, and Melissa just knew she had misspoken and was going to be chastised. But she’ll never forget and will forever appreciate what happened next.
“He says, ‘Look, I wouldn’t put you in it if I didn’t think you could do it.’ He gave me the most encouraging speech in the sixth grade that I still remember….But when he got me out there in the hallway, I went from being here (she gestures with her hands placed chest high) to here (she raises her hand above her head). He said, “You can do it. I know you can do it.’ “And I said, okay.”
She is able to follow O’Neal (now a retired DPS principal) and his family since his sister is Durham’s Mayor Elaine O’Neal. She also vividly remembers Professor Madison, a professor from UNC-Chapel Hill whom she describes as an “awesome woman”, who had high expectations and was extremely professional.
Wade’s decision to remain in broadcasting was rooted in her ability to make a living doing it, she said. “And it was a lot more interesting than driving a bus to me,” she quips, noting that she respects those who can do it but it just wasn’t for her. More suited to inspiring people through word and song, she also runs a production company that presents social justice and inspirational plays.