Hometown Stories Podcast

From hard-hitting to heartwarming, Hometown Stories will guide you through the Blue Ridge Mountains and into the heart of Virginia. Hometown Stories is a production of WDBJ7-TV based in Roanoke, Virginia.

In 2020, Frederick Miller was looking to buy a place in Gretna, Virginia to host family gatherings. He settled on Sharswood, a stately home with gothic architecture and a hidden past. He discovered a beautiful property and a family mystery. In this episode of Hometown Stories, WDBJ7s Makayla Shelton explains how the Millers unknowingly reclaimed the land once home to their enslaved ancestors.

March 22, 2023: Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke in the 1920s. Unknowingly, she would go on to change the world, thanks to her immortal cells - taken from her without her consent or knowledge. More than 70 years after her death, her hometown is recognizing her in new ways with the help of two local artists.

March 13, 2023: Three years. That’s how long it’s been since we first became aware of the threat of COVID-19. During her recent teleconference, we asked the head of the Roanoke City Alleghany Health District to reflect on this anniversary that is both somber and celebratory. Dr. Cynthia Morrow says there is so much we’ve learned from COVID-19. And while it’s hard to extract silver linings from tragedy, there is a lot public health leaders are grateful for.

March 1, 2023: A historian walks into the National Archives and walks out with something we’ve never seen before. Virginia Tech Professor Ed Gitre unearths forgotten surveys of WWII soldiers. In this episode of Hometown Stories, how history and technology are painting us a more intimate picture of life as a soldier, one Gitre hopes will allow us to better understand the Greatest Generation. (A note from the curators of the project, the archive materials contain sensitive historical documents that may be difficult to read, harmful and offensive and some may be unsuitable for children.)

February 2, 2023: In this episode of Hometown Stories, we speak with WDBJ7 reporter Janay Reece who highlights the history of slavery in Appalachia. Some people falsely believe it simply didn’t exist in our Blue Ridge Mountains. Now, the Glencoe Museum in Radford, Virginia is highlighting that history with a special exhibit and oral histories from locals and experts.

December 14, 2022: On December 8, Hometown Stories hosted its first ever in person storytelling event! We invited the community to hear from three guest speakers to talk about Hometowns - how they have been inspired by and continue to inspire their hometowns. Our guests included recently retired WDBJ7 meteorologist and anchor Robin Reed, Xavier Duckett (Humble Hustle and Imagine Me Mentoring), and Leah Weiss, award-winning southern writer (If the Creek Don’t Rise and All the Little Hopes). And we made sure to record it so we could share it with you.

December 1, 2022: This month, Robin Reed will bid WDBJ7 viewers goodnight for the last time. His retirement caps off a tremendous career spanning more than 40 remarkable years. We speak often of the impact Robin has had on his community. In this episode of Hometown Stories, a look at the impact the community had on him.

November 14, 2022: Renowned TV Chef, scientist and dog-dad Alton Brown, best known for Good Eats and Iron Chef, joins us to talk about his upcoming visit to Roanoke City! In this episode of Hometown Eats, we preview his Live show Beyond the Eats: The Holiday Variant. It’s a show that involves cooking, music, comedy game shows and things never before seen by human eyes! We talk about live audiences, laughing brains, rescue dogs and watch collections.

November 9, 2022: In a cafe along Main Street in Clifton Forge, Virginia the past and the present are brewing something unique for the town’s future. Caffe’ Museo has been open just three years. But the work to bring it to live has been centuries in the making. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we take you to the only Coffee Grinder Museum this side of the globe.

September 28, 2022: This is a story about big dreams, small print and making happier endings wherever you can. Jennifer Williams is on a mission to give away 1 million books. In this episode of Hometown Stories, a look at her years long journey to bring books to schools, jails and everywhere in between.

September 22, 2022: The man leading the Virginia Tech Hokies into battle this season isn’t new to the field at all. Head Coach Brent Pry made his first tour of Lane Stadium back in the 1990s. Coach has been the boss for almost a year now and we figured it was time to pry back the layers and get to know Coach outside of work. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we chat with Coach Pry about everything from his pizza preferences to his chances at winning Survivor.

September 3, 2022: Dr. Kenneth Garren, who sometimes goes by Kenny G, is known for his tenure leading educational institutions in southwest and central Virginia. But Garren also has a military career and a NASA Career under his belt, too. As NASA works to launch phase 1 of the Artemis mission, Garren recalls his time working on Artemis’ twin sister, Apollo.

August 26, 2022: NASA has sights set on human exploration of Mars. But before they run, they’ve got to walk and NASA leaders see the Moon as the perfect place for those baby steps. In this episode of Hometown Stories, a member of Artemis’ team at Kennedy Space Center details the plan to take us from Apollo to Artemis.

August 20, 2022: Longtime WDBJ7 Sports Director Travis Wells says farewell to broadcast sports. He is about to embark on a new career with the Virginia Tech Hokie Football team. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we sit down with Wells to reflect on his impressive 27-year career and the exciting adventure that awaits him.

August 16, 2022: After Roanoke’s national bestselling author Beth Macy wrote Dopesick in 2018, she was convinced she never wanted to write about the opioid crisis again. It was too frustrating, too depressing. But as she traveled the country, she found something that changed her mind: Hope. Macy is launching her latest book, Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis. She says it takes a look at the unique ways people are working to meet those with substance use disorder where they are and why it’s working. In this episode of Hometown Stories, I chat with Macy about Raising Lazarus, the inspiration for its title and the hope she hopes we find in its pages.

July 29, 2022: The James Webb Space Telescope has given us some of the clearest, deepest images of our universe yet. Webb was many years, many hands and billions of dollars in the making. And at various points - it struggled. In 2018, after almost three decades with NASA, Gregory Robinson was tapped see the project through as Webb’s program director. Born to a family of sharecroppers in segregated Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Robinson’s sights as a young man were set not on the far reaches of our universe. His journey to NASA and beyond has landed him on Time’s List of Most influential people of 2022. As Webb’s mission begins, Robinson’s comes to a close.

June 17, 2022: This is a story about a baseball team that played better than it ever has. And then... lost. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we take you to Blacksburg, Virginia where an underdog team is proving that some wins don’t show up on the scoreboard.

May 18, 2022: Bedford, Virginia is home to the National D-Day Memorial for a devastating reason. The small, tightly knit community lost more men on D-Day per capita than any other city in the United States. As part of its continuing outreach, the memorial is now offering a podcast, intended to reach people in Bedford and Beyond. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we speak with podcast host and professor John McManus about examining the pivotal moment in fresh ways.

May 10, 2022: Opera Roanoke is closing out its season with a show that’s not technically an opera. It’s a requiem - a Catholic Mass for the dead. More specifically, it’s Guiseppe Verdi’s Requiem. Opera Roanoke Conductor Maestro Steven White says they’re using the nearly 150-year-old music to honor those lost to COVID and war. In this episode of Hometown Stories, White shares a modern take on an ancient text.

May 2, 2022: Books and Crannies in Martinsville, Virginia found customers from all over the country during the pandemic. Givens Books in Lynchburg found a loyal customer who returned week after week for another Agatha Christie novel. And while Oracle Books in Wytheville opened shortly before the pandemic, the support it’s received from the community has them feeling right at home. In this episode of Hometown Stories, cozy up and join your next virtual book club.

April 18, 2022: God’s Pit Crew is a robust group of staff and volunteers dedicated to helping people following a disaster. They’ve been kept busy by the tornadoes and wildfires that have swept the southeast over the last several months. In this episode of Hometown Stories, one of those immediate responders sets down his chainsaw to tell us what he’s seeing on the ground.

April 14, 2022: In 2007 the Virginia Tech Campus became the focus of international attention when a gunman killed 32 people in one morning. For local journalists first on scene, what they saw and heard that day is forever engrained in their memories. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we sit down with the journalists who were the first to tell the stories of the horror that unfolded on April 16, 2007. Two reporters, a photojournalist and an anchor describe the camaraderie developed out of grisly work that tie them together forever. In this candid round table, they share the memories from that day that never made air.

March 20, 2022: NASA researchers have just shared an image of their record-breaking discovery from the Hubble Telescope. The image shows a red arc in a distant part of our universe. In the midst of that red arc, they discovered a star. The light from that star is so old, NASA says this Hubble image shows us the farthest star ever seen. They’ve called it Earendel. In this episode of Hometown Stories, NASA Astrophysicist Dr. Padi Boyd explains why Earendel is important, even if you’re not an astrophysicist.

March 25, 2022: In 1948 a man was arrested and fined $5.00 for refusing to sit in the Colored section of a train. That man happened to be Virginia’s first Black Olympic gold medalist and a Tuskegee Airman. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we take a look at how Norvel Lee’s fight in the ring and the courtroom is being recognized today.

March 11, 2022: WDBJ7 shares a special connection with Ukraine. Over the years, several journalists visited the country in an exchange program which also brought Ukrainian journalists to Roanoke. But many say the trip was farm more than just a professional exchange of ideas and had a profound impact personally. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we invite current and former WDBJ7 journalists to share their experiences with us.

March 9, 2022: GOES-T is going up. NOAA and NASA have launched a new satellite, GOES-T, that is top of the line for monitoring weather here on Earth and in Space. In this episode of Hometown Stories, satellite project leader Liz Kline filled us in on GOES-T’s mission right before it’s successful launch.

March 2, 2022: Globally, COVID-19-based restrictions are easing up as case counts seem to be stabilizing. So, what will the future of this pandemic look like? What’s next for us as we continue to fight back against COVID-19? Those are the questions we posed in this episode of Hometown Stories to Dr. William Petri, a leader at the University of Virginia’s Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health.

February 24, 2022: Botetourt County, Virginia features something thought to be one of the last remaining of its kind in all of southwest Virginia: An unassuming cabin and a crumbling kitchen. They are leftover relics from Greenfield’s history as an antebellum plantation. For the last several years a group of dedicated volunteers, including descendants from Greenfield Plantation, have been working to restore the buildings. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we take a look at how the group is pushing forward, even as the buildings continue their battle with time.

February 16, 2022: John Crews laid a wet bag filled with flopping fish onto the scale and stood back. He just needed to see the number 16 appear. When the final weight leveled out, he didn’t even bother to look at the ounces. Fists and fish in the air, the fisherman from Salem, Virginia looked out to the crowd victorious. In this episode of Hometown Stories, John Crews joins us from the bow of his boat as the newly crowned Bassmaster Elite champ.

January 19, 2022: The Transportation Security Administration says people are packing heat at record numbers in Virginia airports. In 2021, agents stopped close to 100 firearms at Virginia airport security checkpoints. The upward trend is true for airports nationwide. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we’re joined by a TSA spokesperson to take a look at the data, the things people try to bring on board planes and the excuses they offer up for them.

December 29, 2021: A lot of us tend to make healthier eating a goal for the new year. But how can we actually turn healthy ideas into healthy habits? While working at home during a pandemic? In this episode of Hometown Stories, Dietitian Clarence Tawney gives us practical solutions for eating our way into a better year.

December 21, 2021: Yes Virginia, there is a Mrs. Claus. And she lives in Roanoke, Virginia. In this episode of Lighter Fare, we introduce you to our Mrs. Claus and take you to her workshop, where magic, love, and memory make a WDBJ7 tradition sweet each year.

December 7, 2021: All the way from Quebec, a special delivery to historic Lexington, Virginia takes precise and detailed work to get just right. In this episode of Hometown Stories, reporter Bruce Young brings us to a place where the seemingly mundane carries a tune and a story from the past.

November 11, 2021: In Episode 1 of The Final Salute, we’ll take you to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Bedford suffered the greatest number of casualties per capita of any American town on D-Day. We’ll hear the stories about the 20 young men who were killed in the first 15 minutes of the invasion and how it affected an entire town for years to come.

October 28, 2021: Roanoke writer Beth Macy has seen her bestselling book Dopesick turned into a Hulu miniseries staring Michael Keaton. In this episode of Hometown Stories, veteran reporter Joe Dashiell talks with Macy about turning stories into screenplays, sticking up for Appalachia and her brief but tough cameo on set.

October 21, 2021: In the mid 1900s, polio outbreaks hit some communities hard - driving families to isolation and creative solutions to keep their children safe. Now, improved sanitation and vaccine campaigns have successfully eradicated most polio strains. Only one wild poliovirus strain remains. Dr. Bill Petri, Chair of the Polio Committee of the World Health Organization, joins us to talk about what’s next in the fight against what he says is an ancient disease.

October 14, 2021: In the summer of 1950, the rural community of Wythe County, Virginia had the highest number of polio cases per capita of anywhere in the country. We look back at an epidemic that has striking similarities to the COVID-19 pandemic - and what we can learn from both. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we examine the “Summer Without Children.”

September 29, 2021: What does it take to start your day? Opinions are as varied as there are ways to prepare your cuppa joe. September 29th is National Coffee Day. Our Editor Ben Riquelmy is using the day to find out which brew is best in the Hometown Stories series, Lighter Fare.

August 31, 2021: “We are literally made of star stuff.” The Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia is home to the largest fully steerable telescope in the world. From inside the observatory people, like newly named director Dr. Jim Jackson, are looking at the cosmos beyond us and within us. In this episode of Hometown Stories, Dr. Jackson helps us take a look at what’s on the horizon for the observatory and beyond.

July 20, 2021: Life after a stroke may be a lonely journey for the Rudder family. But by the numbers, they certainly aren’t alone. People living in Appalachia face greater obstacles when it comes to getting care for strokes. And we’ve learned, some of our hometowns have among the highest rate of strokes in not just Virginia, but the nation. In this episode of Hometown Stories in our series Bridging the Great Health Divide, we’re taking a look at the facts. And the faith that’s kept one Virginia family going, despite it all.

May 14, 2021: The Department of Health and Human Services is making it easier for more health care providers to prescribe a drug that could help people suffering from addiction. How might it make a difference for rural American in general and Appalachia in particular? That’s the focus of our conversation with addiction expert Cheri Hartman,

March 31, 2021: We invited Christine Baldwin, a peer recovery specialist from the Roanoke Valley’s Hope Initiative, and Dr. Robert Trestman, the Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, for a conversation In our round table discussion, we talk about resources for people looking for help for their substance use disorder

March 31, 2021: 2020 will be the worst year on record by far for fatal overdoses for Virginia. That was the grim hindsight projection forecast by one of the Commonwealth’s top medical leaders. But why? And what’s being done to stave off the power of the poppy in communities hit hard by both the opioid crisis and COVID-19? In this episode of Hometown Stories, part one in our series Bridging the Great Health Divide, we’re taking a fresh look at the epidemic inside the pandemic. And we’re looking at the bridges people in these communities are building to bring hope to those who need it most.

January 22, 2021: A Virginia WWII pilot left his cap behind when he returned home from the European theater. No one knows why. And up till now, no one in his family knew it even existed. But with the help of two strangers, a history buff in the Netherlands and a gemologist in Italy, Lt. E.B. Thrasher’s family gets a present that allows a glimpse into the past. In this episode of Hometown Stories, the cap comes home.

October 21, 2020: If the walls of a home in a small, rural town could talk, they’d hold many of the answers to questions Sarah Meadows has had nearly her whole life. Walter Reed the Medical Center grabbed news headlines this month. But Walter Reed the person has a connection to a southwest Virginia hometown that reporter Michael Alachnowicz discovered during a recent Google search.

October 16, 2020: In this episode of Hometown Stories, a story from a home project in progress. In a series we call, Lighter Fare, our Editor Ben Riquelmy puts in some manual labor. He’s shedding some light on the illuminating art of DIY and lessons learned in the shadow of failure, with a few words of wisdom from his high school shop class teacher.

October 6, 2020: Meteorologist Brent Watts is a local TV staple. Known for his trustworthy forecasts, his service to the community and his sense of humor, Watts now finds himself on the mic in a while new way. In this episode of Hometown Stories, weather for the ear.

September 7, 2020: Cities are getting hotter, but not evenly. Studies suggest poorer parts of cities are bearing the brunt of brutal summers. And more studies are working to prove that. Meteorologist Ian Cassette takes a drive around Roanoke to measure the urban heat island effect and discover ways to battle rising inequality with rising temperatures.

August 24, 2020: In a series we call Lighter Fare, our editor Ben Riquelmy tries to get to the bottom of his messy closet and initiate a quarantine clean.

August 14, 2020: It’s been three years since the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. What has happened since then? What is still to come? In this episode of Hometown Stories, we hear from WDBJ7′s Pete DeLuca who covered the events that unfolded that day. And we catch up with the families who were among those most affected by the violence.

August 12, 2020: President Trump just signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law. What could this mean for our local communities? And how did proper care of our parks, like the Blue Ridge Parkway, get pushed off for so long? In this episode of Hometown Stories, we’re taking a drive onto the parkway and detouring into the history of a bill so many are calling historic.

July 31, 2020: Just how well is your face mask stopping your spittle? Face masks are still one of the most widely recommended ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In this episode of Hometown Stories, we’re asking researchers at Virginia Tech to test their effectiveness in the lab, letting their own bacteria do the talking.

July 21, 2020: The Covid-19 pandemic has moved college lectures to living rooms and graduations to front porches. In five, 10, 15, or 100 years from now, what will be remembered about this time? In this episode of Hometown Stories, we’re meeting an archivist from Virginia Tech who’s not waiting until after the pandemic to answer that question.

September 16, 2019: Regine Archer says becoming an American Citizen was one of the best days of her life. She spent part of her teenage years in hiding. In Episode 1 of Hometown Stories, you’ll hear from Regine about growing up as a Jew in Belgium during WWII, where and her sister hid in a convent where only the Mother Superior and a priest knew their true identity. Now a resident of southwest Virginia, Archer recalls what it was like to hide from Nazis, live off of rations and experience liberation by the Americans.

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