Sondra Woodward '96: Voice of the morning

  • Voice of the morningIf you have ever listened to National Public Radio's Morning Edition in the Hampton Roads, Va. area, chances are you have listened to Sondra Woodward.

    Photo courtesy of the W&M Alumni Association

    Voice of the morning
If you have ever listened to National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in the Hampton Roads, Va. area, chances are you have listened to Sondra Woodward.

Or, as she is known to some, Donna Woodward. The morning radio news and traffic host picked up the air name "Sondra" right before her first-ever radio show, when her boss realized the station already had a Donna. After a few moments' discussion, Donna emerged a Sondra, and got her official start as a radio talk show host.

Despite her dedication to the radio world, Woodward didn't anticipate getting into that field. Upon graduating from prep school in Hampton Roads, she started at the College of William and Mary as an intended pre-med major. She thought she would become a veterinarian; after all, while growing up she was "one of those kids that had the horse craze."

Unfortunately, a rough first semester led to Woodward's parents pulling her out of the College. She "stumbled" into radio when a friend of a friend landed her a job as a receptionist at the country station WCMS. From there, her time spent in the newsroom and the booth led her to her first show at the news and talk station WNIS — one of the first stations in the country to carry Rush Limbaugh. Woodward did "pretty much everything" from collecting and reporting news to hosting shows.

As her radio career grew, Woodward went from news and talk stations to soft rock, and even to traffic. Her jobs took her from the Hampton Roads area to Baltimore.

"People tend to move around a lot in radio," she says. While she enjoyed herself and loved her jobs, she woke up one day and said to herself, "You know what? I really need to go back to William and Mary and get my degree." She quit her radio job, reapplied to William and Mary, and was accepted.

This time around, Woodward decided to earn her degree in Linguistics, thinking ahead to potentially getting into broadcast law. At 26 years old, however, college was a bit different than her first experience with it. Woodward took a full course load of 18 credits each semester—something any student would find very difficult—and balanced a job in Colonial Williamsburg as well. Though she started in retail, she eventually got into an apprenticeship program through which she learned to make 18th century shoes. Woodward says she "really got into the history of it," and as a result became intrigued with the history of women working in nontraditional female trades.

Despite her intense schedule and workload, Woodward managed to graduate from the College in just three years. She didn't return to radio immediately, though—she continued her apprenticeship in Colonial Williamsburg, and stayed in the area. As she puts it, "The streets in CW are paved with glue... it's great work and hard to leave." After spending nearly 10 years in Colonial Williamsburg, Woodward decided that while she loved living and working in the small town, she didn't want to be a "lifer" — she wanted to go back to radio.

She started doing some freelance work, and became involved with Multiverse, a science-based radio program. Her voice and writing skills caught the eye of a producer at sister stations WHRO 90.3 and WHRV 89.5, and she ended up with her current job: producer and local host of NPR's Morning Edition. Woodward starts her day at 3:45 a.m., and is at work by 4:30 a.m. From 5 to 0 a.m., she reports and discusses news that she's researched the night before, as well as traffic reports. After the show, she prepares for the next morning, and then spends her afternoons on some of her hobbies. Woodward writes and researches for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which is based nearby her in Norfolk, Va. She creates fact sheets for PETA, explaining that she likes "people to see the facts and make their own opinions about things." In addition, Woodward enjoys photography, and hopes someday to show her work on the outdoor art show circuit.

Though her path may have been not of the ordinary, it's obvious that Woodward is extremely happy with her life and career. Through her radio jobs she has listened from the press box during presidents' speeches, spend the day with Penn Jillette (of the famous magic duo Penn & Teller), and witness the somber homecoming of the damaged USS Iowa.

The overarching theme to her job that Woodward finds most important is that as a reporter or newscaster, one has "a real responsibility to report the facts. Everyone's got a slant, and as a reporter it's your responsibility to take that out of the equation." Unconventional as she may be, perhaps that's what has helped give Woodward such great radio success.