A late-stage cancer diagnosis inspires a veteran Atlanta radio host’s next step

Silas “Si-Man” Alexander plots his most meaningful production yet

Silas “Si-Man” Alexander

When Si-Man’s cousin Gary “DJ Mix Master Mitch” Mitchell, found out that he, too, had stage 4 pancreatic cancer earlier this year, the two Atlanta radio hosts decided to launch a podcast—Cousins with Cancer—to spread awareness. (Editor’s note: Mitchell died on December 8, after this story went to press.)

Photograph by Sydney Foster

Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is veteran radio host Silas “Si-Man” Alexander, as told to Kamille Whittaker.

It came as a complete surprise when I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer this past July. I was losing weight and didn’t know why. I had gallbladder surgery, and complications during the surgery revealed a growth on my liver. The growth was tested and found to be cancerous; it originated from the pancreas. I guess the complication was a blessing since I found out what was going on with my body. Had it not been for that complication, I still might not know why I was feeling the way I was feeling.

Now, when I open my eyes every day, I’m thankful that I can open them—that’s the first thing. I’m thankful that I have another opportunity to make a difference at this point in my life. When I wake up, it’s about trying to get through the day with as little pain as possible and trying to find some energy from somewhere to get things accomplished.

My top priority right now is capturing memories so my grandchildren can at least know what their grandpa looked like, what he was thinking at certain times in his life, and what their father—my son—was like growing up. So, my pet project has been setting up a library of videos and pictures so they can have access to all the images and recordings in a digital form.

My family would tell you that I’m the one who always showed up with a camera. Everyone would be mad at me for sticking the camera in their face, but then, they’d be the first ones to want to see themselves afterward. I was the kid who walked around with a tape recorder, trying to record everyone and everything and trying to sound like the people on the radio and on the TV. One of my favorite Christmas presents from my parents was a very simple, black cassette tape recorder. It could record, play, fast-forward, and rewind. That was it. But it had a little microphone on it­—and, oh, did I have fun with that. That’s where my interest in being on the mic started.

When I got to high school, a guy I knew got me in the door at WXPQ 1528 AM, a little country radio station in our hometown of Eatonton. My job was to basically play syndicated shows on the radio. I eventually got the opportunity to get on the microphone and talk a little bit and got a chance to do a show, over time. I’m very thankful to my friend for using his influence as a high schooler just like me to help me get started.

From there, I had radio broadcast stints in Milledgeville, Macon, and Athens; and, in 1988, I landed in Atlanta. I worked at WIGO 1340 AM for a little while; worked at KISS 104 for a little while; worked at V-103 for a little while; went back to KISS 104; and then Radio One Atlanta.

So, I’ve been in the Atlanta market for more than three decades. It’s a major blessing in our industry. Most people have to leave town.

I never imagined myself being able to cover events like the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in ’88. Jesse Jackson was running for president and the whole atmosphere in the city was very energetic.

When the bombing during the 1996 Olympics happened, I was working at 11Alive as a news editor. I was one of the first people to edit the video about it that went out for the morning newscast. And then, I talked about it on the radio that evening. At one point, I was working four different jobs at the same time. So, to get to the point where I can’t be as busy is a tremendous life change.

I would love to get stronger again so that I can continue to engage with the community. I miss interacting with school children on career days, or being needed to emcee a program or host a mayoral town hall. Those were the ways I kept in touch with my community. I want to get back to that at some point.

But family comes first. I’m missing them already, thinking about what my future could hold. So, I’m using all my skills and know-how in broadcast to preserve my family’s memories, because nothing is more important to me than that. It’s been a motivator for me to stay busy and stay in the game. I’m going to take the hand I was dealt and play it.

This article appears in our December 2021 issue.