On down the road: WNRN’s longtime morning show host Anne Williams departs

Anne Williams signs off from WNRN on February 15. “I just want to say thank you for being such a loving town,” she says. Photo by John Robinson Anne Williams signs off from WNRN on February 15. “I just want to say thank you for being such a loving town,” she says. Photo by John Robinson

In the summer of 1999, Anne Williams had just relocated to Virginia from Ohio, and she brought along some on-air experience from Yellow Springs’ WYSO that helped her land an interview with independent radio station WNRN.

Williams says she was driving on Interstate 64, headed to the interview with her radio dial tuned to 91.9, when Icicle Works’ “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)” came on, followed by the song “All Star” by a new band named Smash Mouth. The programming impressed her, and she knew she was going to the right place.

“It spoke to the eclectic nature of WNRN, to what it was then, and to a certain degree now,” says Williams. And she thought, “Wow, this would be great to be here. I would love to keep on doing this.”

Almost 20 years later, on Friday, February 15, Williams will pull her final shift as the host of WNRN’s morning show, a role that has made her an unassuming icon in local radio, and a champion of music in central Virginia. She’s moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, for an off-air gig as the operations/development director at WDVX, and “looking forward to being part of one of the only all-Americana stations in the country,” says Williams.

The Americana radio format had just begun to coalesce on a national level when Williams joined WNRN, and she made the genre the focus of her “Acoustic Sunrise” show. On weekdays beginning at 6am, Williams played popular favorites like Alison Krauss, Steve Earle, and Lucinda Williams, and introduced listeners to new acts such as Lake Street Dive and St. Paul & The Broken Bones before they gained traction.

“I remember our meet and greet with station VIP members, and St. Paul & The Broken Bones had about 10 people when they played the Southern Café & Music Hall,” says Williams.

Staying musically curious helped her wake up between 4 and 4:30am each weekday for her show, and Williams says it’s also been a factor in her support of developing acts in central Virginia.

“Some of my favorite times were giving local folks the opportunity to play live on the air,” says Williams. “I have a really vivid memory of doing an interview with Danny Schmidt during my first summer here, and of Devon Sproule when she was 16.” She also found satisfaction in championing the talents of The Steel Wheels and watching the career transformations of Bryan Elijah Smith and Jason Isbell.

Charlottesville singer-songwriter Carl Anderson, who’s now making a name for himself in Nashville, says he grew up listening to Williams’ morning show. “It was her support of local music in particular that encouraged me to wonder if perhaps my own voice might one day come through the speakers,” he says.

Williams plans to continue lending a hand to touring bands. Those who stop by to play WDVX’s “Blue Plate Special,” a live hour of programming six days a week at noon that supports up-and-coming acts, will now be greeted by a friend.

“I look forward to seeing Charlottesville bands come through Knoxville, and I’ll be right there clapping,” says Williams.