Campbell County man with autism lives out his dream on radio

Local News

LAFOLLETTE (WATE) – Radio station WLAF has been the heart and soul of LaFollette for 64 years. The sounds of Southern gospel are embraced by the people of the small town in Campbell County.

One young man has been listening and his own story to tell. Derrick Lee Anderson, who has autism, taped his own mini-newscast for Campbell County High School 17 years ago, knowing even then he wanted to be on the air.

Anderson, now 32, is living out his dream. He proudly arrives for work at WLAF radio every Monday and Friday.

It was at the 1,000-watt station four years ago that Anderson bravely knocked on the door to ask WLAF owner Jim Freeman for a job.

“And he said, ‘Jim, I’m Derrick Lee Anderson.’ He said, ‘I was at church last night, somebody told me I had a good voice. I needed to come see you at the radio station.’ And I’m like, I’m just blown away,” said Freeman.

“And the next thing you know, I went in Jim Freeman’s office and he showed me around the radio station, showed me around everywhere,” Anderson said.

Anderson started interning at the station, learning how to man the control board in the DJ booth, quicker than most. It was a blessing of high functioning autism. A curse is the struggle with one-on-one communication.

“He’s not the most talkative person, I guess, to sit down, get on the phone with you or just carry on a huge conversation,” Freeman says.

Freeman decided to give Anderson a chance to go live, on the air, as a WLAF DJ.

“Once he sat at the mic, it was like he fell out of the sky to be on the radio,” Freeman marvels.

“He does have a great voice. He has a great presence. His diction is perfect. I don’t know, what more could you ask for if you stick a guy in front of a mic?” asked the long time voice of WLAF, “Big Josh.”

What started out as an hour here and there became a full schedule twice a week.

“The first time I ever heard him, it brought tears to my eyes, because I was like, ‘That is my son on the radio! ‘ And it blessed my heart,” said Anderson’s mom Betty.

“I thought this couldn’t be him. Very stately voice, he was perfect for the position. I played a clip for my wife and I said, ‘That’s Derrick!” She said, ‘No way,’ I said, sure is,” said longtime friend Brent McNeeley.

The only one who wasn’t surprised by his on air magic was Anderson himself.

“Well, what I became so good about was my voice, because I got a voice for radio,” he said.

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