Bill Bevins: The Boxed Set
After 37 years on Richmond’s radios and televisions, here’s a concept album about the man, his music, his wife, Debbie, their twins and the pygmy goats
Bill Bevins was cast, at the last minute, as a television news anchor in the 2000 film The Contender. He’s in the first few minutes of the movie, a rare appearance sans beard but with mustache, interviewing the governor of Virginia, played by William Peterson prior to his success as CSI forensic investigator Gil Grissom. Bevins rode to the set, at the studios of WRIC-TV8, in a van with Peterson and a couple of well-known character actors. The driver glanced at his passengers in the rearview mirror, then turned around with obvious excitement. “Wait till I tell my wife!” the man exclaimed. “I got to give Bill Bevins a ride in my van! She listens to you every morning!”
The actors exchanged quizzical looks.
“Hard Workin’ Man”
Bill Bevins has three jobs. He is Richmond’s radio rooster, the warm sunrise voice for WTVR “Lite” 98.1 FM with Shelly Perkins, the brains of the outfit, as he refers to his producer and co-host. Their show is a consistent regional ratings success; in the winter Arbitron radio ratings, Tom Joyner, a nationally syndicated personality, had the only program ranked ahead of theirs.
In addition, Bevins shares the couch with Cheryl Miller on WTVR CBS 6’s almost year-old Virginia This Morning from 10 to 11 a.m. Then he’s the afternoon Virginia Lottery presenter, appearing in spots seen on four stations statewide other than WTVR. Around Richmond, according to recent ratings, an average of 28,500 households tune in to hear him deliver the winning numbers each day.
Bevins is also a favored master of ceremonies for regional events ranging from beauty contests to the Special Olympics. He used to be in a tuxedo every other night — kind of like Bond but without the espionage — but now with his wife, Debbie, and their 11-year-old twins, Austin and Jacob, he’s down to about two events a month. Then there are the on-site broadcasts and appearances for Lite 98 that he never seems to get tired of.
His friend of 40 years and frequent electronics supplier, Bud Myers, better known as WTVR’s “Gadgets and Gizmos Guru,” says the key to Bevins is simple: “He just never stops. That’s part of the gig, he needs to be there, not that he has to be, but that he wants to be there at whatever remote broadcast or special event that it is.”
Of his 37 years and counting in the media, Bevins, 57, says, “I’ve been lucky, I worked hard and,” he pauses, “I’m average!” He laughs big. “My longevity in the business here is definitely not because of my talent. Truly, guys with mountains more of talent than me have gotten into local radio and television, but they’re not around anymore because some of them just didn’t work as hard.”
As a youngster, Bevins was a member of the live “Peanut Gallery” for the The Howdy Doody Show, which aired on WTVR in Richmond. The kids watched the program in a studio, then during local cutaways they waved and cheered. This is the same studio in which he now announces the afternoon lottery.
He grew up in Chesterfield County, the youngest of three (he has two sisters, one just 11 months older), and attended Meadowbrook High School. There, Myers says, Bevins set new standards in flamboyance for a drum major with his exuberant strutting, high kicks and baton tossing.
While a teenager, “Silly Billy,” as his family called him, played saxophone in a soul band that was at first called The Uprisers and Show that later matured into The Shades, with a four-piece brass section.
The band gigged in places with names like the Hullaballoo on Staples Mill Road and the after-hours Black Cat Club (where the Exxon at Boulevard and Broad now stands); they were one of the opening acts when Marvin Gaye came to the Mosque. Once, when The Shades performed at the now-demolished Richmond Arena, somebody in the audience got shot. The band kept playing until management hustled them off.
The reason his church-twice-a-week Southern Baptist parents permitted him to play at these events was that two fathers of the band accompanied the boys. Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Craze prevented things from getting too, well, crazy. His parents must’ve had the foresight to know he’d run across living examples of bad behavior, and the experience worked better than any sermon.
“Light My Fire”
Bevins admits he wasn’t a good musician: “I could play parts, but not solo.” So he went into radio, taking some courses in Washington, D.C., at the Career Academy of Famous Broadcasters. But instead of graduating, he started his professional life.
His first gig was at WSVS, in Crewe, Va., airing on both AM and FM. “The voice … of Southside Virginia,” Bevins intones. He pulled two years of afternoons six days a week, plus a Sunday public-affairs show, for $80.40. When the janitor was drafted into the military, Bevins took his job for a $5 raise. It was in this capacity that he burned the trash in a barrel. Once, when he was in a rush to get to a date, some paper flew out and ignited the grass. The flames spread fast and approached the transmitter tower.
The station was used to summon the volunteer fire squad with a siren cue, followed by the announcer giving the location of the blaze and finishing with, as Bevins remembers it, “ ‘This fire warning has been brought you by Farmers Insurance,’ or whoever it was.”
Bevins followed protocol, giving the station’s address, 1032 Melody Lane. The general manager heard this and sped over to see what was happening. Firetrucks soon began arriving. “He was happy to see them,” Bevins laughs. “And he was glad I remembered to mention the sponsor.”
“A Satisfied Mind”
Bevins’ beloved uncle Jim was a salesman at Wards TV (which became Wards Loading Dock and later Circuit City) for 27 years. A number of his colleagues were promoted into the growing company’s executive suites. Though he was offered management positions for more money and greater authority, Jim said no thanks. He explained that he enjoyed selling, and how satisfied customers would return to the store and ask for him by name when replacing a television or adding an appliance. This satisfied.
Bevins has had opportunities to leave Richmond, where he landed after a stint at WHAP in Hopewell. He took a curious side trip in the mid-1970s during a brief hitch in his career. He asked the management of his employers, WRNL and WRXL, for a $5-a-week raise to supplement his $125 earnings. He was turned down. Meanwhile, Don Brown, the former program director of WRNL, had bought a station in Providence, R.I., and he invited Bevins to join him. For about a year there was a Bevins and Brown experiment.
Providence was followed by a short stint in New Bern, N.C., but WRXL 102 FM returned Bevins to Richmond’s airwaves in 1981 — for greater than $5 more. (He also supplemented his income by DJing at the Much More dance club under the moniker “Uncle Bull.”)
These days, he better understands Uncle Jim and his desire to stay in sales. Bevins hasn’t ever wanted to hire and fire people. He still gets a charge from what the numerous plaques and statuettes of appreciation and recognition crowding the walls of his Lite 98 studio and office attest to his doing, and well, for a long time.
Part of Bevins’ resonance in Richmond is his consistency, and he’s always somewhere, even billboards. He participates in product endorsement because he likes something. It’s in his contract that he doesn’t have to do any endorsements if he doesn’t want to. Bevins sleeps on Winndom mattresses because they’re comfortable.
“It Takes Two”
Bill Bevins spent hours of his life in a padded room talking to himself until one day, about six years ago, he decided he wanted Shelly Perkins as his producer and on-air partner. Seeing them together in the cluttered, photo- and cartoon-festooned studio is like watching two confident dance partners. Perkins fields phone calls, ushers in guests, closes the blinds as the rising sun blasts in the windows by the ceiling. Together they cut promotional spots and determine where to put them in the program’s order. Bevins sometimes re-arranges the music playlist (he doesn’t choose the tunes; most commercial DJs haven’t in about 20 years).
Perkins watches Bevins’ facial expressions, listens to his tone of voice, and says she probably knows his cues better than her own husband’s.
She came to radio out of the billing department of Overnite Transportation. Her résumé noted that besides her typing and computer skills, she knew all the words to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” This got her on the air at 96.5 The Planet. When program directors changed, she left, and then Lite 98 called her.
Working the on-air graveyard shift for a while, Perkins would see Bevins come in around 4:30 a.m. to prepare for his broadcast. It occurred to Bevins that maybe he’d like some help. She started doing little things; getting his newspapers together, brewing coffee. Soon, this led to a full-time job working with Bevins. Her first day — Sept. 11, 2001 — was one she’ll never forget.
“I walked into the studio from having signed my contract, and the second plane hit the tower,” she says.
Bevins says he was overwhelmed but managed to hold it together. Perkins needed to leave the room until she could compose herself. “There I was, the mean old radio guy,” he says. “I sent her out, ‘Go, get some coffee, come back when you’re ready to go on.’ ”
Lite 98, as a music station, wasn’t hooked into a network. Bevins brought in a television from his office and put a microphone by the speaker. This was illegal but also an extraordinary situation.
Bevins and Perkins stayed on air until past noon and didn’t play music for about three days. The board has since been equipped to switch over to an ABC network feed should the need arise. And a muted television hangs in a corner. It can get distracting, he says, but you never know. When something astounding happens, Bevins says, “People don’t need another Elton John song. They need information.”
Perkins says that she’d definitely not partner with anyone else and if the time comes, she’ll not do another radio stint. “When you’ve been with the best, why would you want to?” she says.
When the first high Arbitron ratings score was reported after Perkins joined, she wanted to crow about it on the air. Bevins admonished her. “Yes, the number is nice,” Perkins recalls him telling her, “and yes, we’re thankful, but that’s ancient history. It’s a lot harder to stay No. 1 than to become No. 1. So let’s get to work.”
Bevins’ on-camera wife Cheryl Miller first worked with him in 1986, when he delivered the weather on WTVR’s noon news. Today they’re on air together five days a week for Virginia This Morning.
“When you’re working in a co-anchor situation, it’s almost like a romantic relationship,” Miller says. “You try to find that common bond.”
Asked about her co-host’s quirks, Miller mentions his obvious dislike of snakes. Since the program’s inception, three different snake segments have slithered across the set. The first was a big boa constrictor. “Bill sort of couldn’t be found,” she says.
He was asked if he wanted to hold the constrictor, and Bevins demurred in favor of Miller, who had no problem. “Yeah, I’ve lived this long without it,” he says. “I don’t think I need to get to know about it now.”
Bevins’ other TV gig, his 1988 hiring for the lottery, almost got tangled in his beard. When he arrived at the lottery’s offices, he learned that the contract required him to shave. He wouldn’t sign with that clause. He didn’t want to go bare-chinned and he said if they could see him without a beard, they wouldn’t want him, either. He expected a laugh, but none came. He was instead asked why he wouldn’t shave. “Because I look like a softball with a big nose,” he replied. Again, no amusement. He said if they’d strike it, he’d sign, but the lottery officials claimed that people in rural Virginia wouldn’t want to see their lotto drawn by a bearded man.
Two days later, he was called to return, and Bevins read the contract where the shaving clause remained. Again, he refused, but perhaps because they’d run out of options and time, the officials marked across the hirsute line, and Bevins was in.
“When a Man Loves a Woman”
Bevins’ wife was delivered to his door in 1989. Debbie had heard him on the radio and knew him from around. She and mutual friend Anne Trapp worked in sales at WRVQ. They were trying to see a holiday play at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, but heavy snowfall was causing parking spaces in the Fan to vanish. Bevins was then living on Mulberry Street with an alley parking space. Trapp knew this. She called Bill to ask about his spot and asked if he would walk them to the museum.
It took a while for Debbie and Bill to have a real date after that snowy night. He kept asking and she would say no. She now doesn’t even remember why.
Bevins says it’s because she was smart.
Eventually she relented, though, and they had their first date on Oct. 21, 1990.
One year later to the day, over a dinner during which he listed the reasons she shouldn’t marry him — including, he says, his impatience — Bevins proposed and Debbie accepted. He describes his wife as a woman who likes a challenge.
What maintained his interest was her no-nonsense nature, “Which is completely opposite of me,” says Bevins. “I’m all nonsense.” It came down to whether he was serious or not, and if he wasn’t, Debbie told him, he needed to move on. It was his first and her second marriage.
Since then, Debbie says he’s been a conscientious partner. He puts the cap on the toothpaste and leaves the seat down, though he snores. “But so do I,” she laughs.
After living in the Fan for 20 years, Bevins finally left — his new bride wanted the countryside. “I married Ellie Mae Clampett,” he jokes, comparing Debbie’s love of animals to that of the character from The Beverly Hillbillies.
They found in central Chesterfield what had been an old hunting lodge, with a few additions, overlooking rushing, rock-strewn Falling Creek. Bevins at first objected because the house was just a mile from where he grew up. He’d even slung newspapers against the door during a newspaper route as a kid. “Gee, look how far I’ve come,” he said at the time. In the intervening 11 years, though, it became home, making it tough to leave when this summer the family decamped to a new home outside Ashland in pursuit of more open space and more room for their growing kids.
The day that the Bevinses closed on the Chesterfield house (Oct. 21 — that date again), they learned that Debbie was pregnant. Bevins became a dad at 45. “Whew,” he shakes his head. “Man, I tell you. It’s tough sometimes.”
Debbie works as an account supervisor for an advertising firm, and during her travels she’d seen pygmy goats and wanted some. Bevins found two in Smithfield, Va., when a very pregnant Debbie was on bed rest and could’ve gone to the hospital at any moment. He brought them home in the backseat of a Volvo. Debbie says with a laugh, “He was so proud.”
There are seven now. The greater menagerie includes four dogs, six cats and 15 or so chickens. The dogs are named in pairs, including cocker spaniels Ricky and Lucy and the boys’ miniature dachshunds Sam and Dave. Bevins can’t name all the cats, except for the Siamese, whose name is Jack. The boys, says Debbie, are campaigning for a donkey.
Bevins has conceded to the various demands for animals for one reason: He gets to build houses for them. He sends his voice and music into the air, but rabbit hutches and chicken coops are real. He built a treehouse for the boys at their Chesterfield home, an aerie that’s 11 feet off the ground and carpeted. “I used it more than they did,” he admits.
The boys collect eggs from the chickens every day and take care of the three rabbits. “There are two roosters — and they crow,” Debbie says. “ But Bill is gone by then.”
One early Saturday, the only day of the week when the morning DJ can sleep in, the rooster started doing its thing, and Bevins with groggy eyes shut an open window. One of the boys asked why. Bevins said it was because of the rooster crowing. His son responded, “But that’s what they’re supposed to do.”
15 Minutes With Ray Charles
Years ago at the 2001 VIP Supper Club, where the Stein Mart Shopping Center is now located, Bevins was the emcee for a concert by Ray Charles, one of his great favorites. He was ushered into a stark-white hallway with a few metal folding chairs. The concert promoter instructed Bevins to introduce the Ray Charles Orchestra and the Rayettes, but not Ray, who needed no introduction. A few moments later, a man guiding Charles entered the corridor and sat the singer next to Bevins. He reached over and tapped Charles on the knee, introducing himself as a big fan. He tried out two introductions he’d worked on.
“First, God is love. Love is blind. Music is love. Ray Charles is music. Ray Charles is blind. Ray Charles is God.”
Charles shook his head, telling Bevins, “Nah, man, you’ll get us both killed if you say that.”
The second one was, “We’ve all been taught in school that Columbus discovered America in search of the New World and to prove that the world isn’t flat. What’s not known is that Columbus had heard Ray Charles was coming, and he wanted to get here early to get a good seat.”
Charles chuckled over that one and then explained that this wasn’t going to be a good show. He said he had the flu and all he would be able to muster up was 15 minutes’ worth. Bevins asked if that was the case, why not cancel? Charles replied, “Man, if I did that, there’d be a revolt in the band, because every time we come to Richmond, everybody gets laid.”
On Air With George Allen
One of Bevins’ most uncomfortable on-air interviews occurred while he was at WMXB 103 with former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and then-gubernatorial candidate George Allen, two weeks prior to his 1993 election.
He didn’t want to ask typical political questions. Bevins had met Susan Allen and wanted to know what Allen had first found most attractive about her.
Allen froze for a full 10 seconds until Bevins said, “Sir, she could be listening.” The wheels continued to turn. Bevins coached, “Was it her smile, her eyes?”
Allen at last came up with, “She was really nice.”
The interview went downhill from there. Allen said his favorite superhero was cowboy Roy Rogers. In the background, Allen’s aides were running around in a seizure of mild panic. “I just thought they were good offbeat questions,” Bevins says. “But he was scared to death of saying something wrong.”
Bevins says that during commercial breaks Allen was more relaxed, and as governor he learned to loosen up on air.
Basketball With Kevin Bacon
Bill Bevins is one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. He was a man of the Fan for 20 years, and around 1993, he and Debbie lived on Kensington Avenue. Bacon was in a short-term place next door while he tended to his baby with wife Kyra Sedgwick, who was filming in town.
Bevins on occasion shot hoops against himself using a basket installed on his garage. Bacon asked Bevins if he could teach him about the game. Bacon was soon to star in The Air Up There. Bevins laughed and told him he couldn’t “teach him” anything about basketball, but they could throw the ball around. So they did. “He looked about 12 at the time,” Bevins says. “He’d come over and we’d play.” He shrugs. “I don’t think I helped him any, but it was fun.”