“To reach out to people and for them to reach back is a wonderful feeling.”
– Shirley Ellis, 2017 Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame Inductee
Central Georgia radio listeners know her as Mama Mia, but on the campus of Fort Valley State University, she simply goes by Ms. Ellis. Shirley Ellis has worked with students at FVSU as a trainer, mentor, and manager at the campus radio and television stations for decades. She was recently inducted into the Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame as part of the 2017 class. Honored in the “career achievement” category, Ellis was recognized in the area of non-commercial variety radio for her achievements during a career of more than 30 years. Last week, an event was hosted in her honor at the Harriett Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia.
The mission of the Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame is to recognize both leading Georgia radio professionals of today as well as the pioneers who have shaped radio in the state since March 15, 1922, when the first radio station in the state signed on the air. It is dedicated to the preservation of written and oral Georgia radio history.
Ellis is the driving force behind WFVS, FVSU’s Power Jamz 96.9 FM station. After joining the FVSU family as its television station manager, she started researching the feasibility of a campus radio station. After its launch, she was instrumental in the station reaching its full capacity as a full-power FM radio station.
“The best part of my more than 30 years in radio is training young people to succeed in this field,” she said. “To be able to pass on what I know to the students is so important.”
A native of Detroit, Ellis graduated from the University of Detroit with a Bachelor of Art degree in mass communications. She obtained a Master of Public Administration degree from Georgia College & State University and began her radio career in Macon at WIBB. Her induction into the Hall of Fame isn’t the first recognition of her work with students and dedication to excellence. Ellis has also received the Black College Radio Station Manager of the Year Award and several National Black Programmers Coalition Women in Radio Awards for her contributions to the industry.
The induction into the Hall of Fame was a moment in Ellis’s career she will never forget, though she admits it was a bit surreal. Upon hearing of her nomination, she was beyond excited. “Excited is not the word,” she said. “I was honored to think people would nominate me. I was the first name called at the induction ceremony. I looked around when they said, ‘Shirley Ellis,’ like, ‘where is she?’”
FVSU isn’t the only place where Ellis is having an impact. Indeed, Middle Georgia listeners can hear her every weekday from 9 a.m.- noon on V101.7 FM , and again on Sunday when she hosts the “Middle Georgia Speaks” talk show on WIBB 97.9-FM and V101.7, and “Solid Gold Sunday,” an “old school” R&B format show, on V101.7.
“I love people,” she explained. “To reach out to people and for them to reach back is a wonderful feeling.”
Ellis makes it a priority to be of service to the Middle Georgia community. One of her most loved charities is Joshua’s Wish of Macon. She collaborates with the organization to make the wishes of young cancer patients come true. One of her fondest memories is making a child a “Dee-Jay for a Day” when she found out he had a love for music. She she’s often asked how she can work closely with children who may be near the end of their lives.
“Seeing them happy, even though they are hurting so badly, is my inspiration,” she said.
You can find Ellis mentoring students and showing them the ropes on campus or at iHeart Media studios in Macon. She’s eager for Bishop Hall, the media studies facility on campus currently undergoing renovation, to reopen so she can expand her work with students in radio and television. She’s also on hand for “Jammin’ at the Café” every Thursday at the University Dining Hall to helping students showcase their own dee-jaying and hosting skills as they entertain their fellow Wildcats. Her radio persona, Mama Mia, can be heard on weekends on WRBV, V101.7, as she plays smooth R &B.