Well before the coffee is perking in many folks' homes on Sunday mornings, Eddie Harris is opening the studio in the dark.
Known as "Minister Eddie Harris" on the air, he is the voice behind the live call-in gospel music show carried from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. on 96.3 Kiss-FM.
It's one of the most-listened-to broadcasts in the Augusta area for its time slot, according to Arbitron ratings. Depending on the hour, he sometimes reels in 39 percent of the radio audience.
The Rev. Harris mixes songs, commercials, public service announcements and weather reports while keeping the beat and an eye on the request line.
"I was the first African-American to do gospel music on FM in the CSRA as a call-in show. I made a little history there," said the Rev. Harris, who started his program in 1999 and figures he has been in broadcasting about 38 years.
About two hours into the show, he opens a segment called church roll call, when callers report anniversaries and other goings-on in their congregations. Calls come in even from outside the Augusta area, including Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., said the Rev. Harris, who was ordained by Catch the Wind Ministry in Augusta.
Sometimes people just passing through Augusta will call and express their appreciation. It amazes him.
"Man, but it does make me sort of a little nervous that these people will call and say these things," said the Rev. Harris, whose life got a rough start.
He never knew his father. His mother abandoned him to a woman he came to know as his grandmother.
"I was kind of like Moses. She (my mother) put me in a little basket, sat me on a front porch, knocked on the door and stepped away behind some bushes. And there I was crying and going on," he said, recalling the story of how he came to be reared by Jancy Walker, of Jacksonville, Ala., who said she had been born into slavery.
Though she could neither read nor write, "she taught me a lot of things," the Rev. Harris said.
"She always told me to pay close attention to things, try to do the best, don't half-do a job," he said.
Whenever the church doors opened, she took him.
He remembers their house stood on brick columns, high enough above the ground that he could run under it. If he looked up, he could see through the boards. He hoed okra and tomatoes and fed their hogs and chickens before walking to school, carrying in a bucket the lunch Ms. Walker had made him.
"I had clothes with a lot of patches all over them. The kids would just laugh at me at the time and pick at me. I fought every day as if a day didn't pass I didn't have a fight," he said.
At Christmas, she made lots of candy, cakes and pies.
"Truly, today I can say it was a great blessing. It was more than a toy because we could eat and be full," he said.
When he was 8 or 9, he was sent to a foster home in Anniston, Ala., because Ms. Walker was too old to care for him. People there said he would never amount to anything, he said.
During high school, he got interested in electronics. He graduated in 1968 and joined the Army Signal Corps in 1977. He developed his broadcasting skills as he moved from assignment to assignment, working for a civilian radio station one place or helping a church get on the air in another. He was still in the military when he came to Augusta in 1992, working first for Davis Broadcasting, then Clear Channel.
"His radio ministry touches so many people's hearts, souls and spirits that we are proud to be associated with his program," said Barry Kaye, the vice president and general manager of Clear Channel Radio CSRA. "His listenership and ratings are nothing short of phenomenal, which shows that thousands of listeners tune in to his show every Sunday."
The Rev. Harris doesn't prepare for the show other than praying and studying the Bible before he goes on the air, he said.
"When I do that, it flows just like clockwork," he said.