The sun looks a little less bright, the trees are a little less green.

The sad news is spreading around the community. Local gospel singer and popular radio personality Lester Lec'k White is retiring after 40 years.

"It's been 40 years and I still enjoy it," White says. "Due to circumstances, you have to do what you have to do. I think it's that time.

"I want to make way for young people," he says. "Also, I have a little voice defect. I didn't want that to define me."

On July 22, White will be honored with a retirement celebration at the Savannah Civic Center that will precede the Rise Up and Praise with Gospel Legends concert starring Shirley Caesar.

"The promoters called in to promote it," White says. "When I told them I was retiring, they said they'd give me the opportunity to come on stage and be congratulated for my 40 years in radio. I think God blessed it so it fell into play."

At 6 p.m., White will do a photo op and meet-and-greet with fans. Then the tribute will move on stage, where he will be presented an E93 Lifetime Achievement Award.

"For my faithful audience, I will officially say goodbye and show my appreciation," White says. "This is it, it's over. Forty years and I'm signing off."

White spent his entire radio career at Cumulus Broadcasting's WEAS-FM 93.1 on the dial, known by most Savannahians as E93. Gloria Adams was the station's general manager.

"We were hired at the same time," she says. "Later, I became the station manager.

"Lester, how do we describe Lester? He is a sweetheart. He is a dedicated worker.

"He seems to draw people to him, no matter what," Adams says. "When we would pick up the mail, three-quarters of it came for Lester, from various places, too."

White inspired his coworkers.

"He fed the hungry, had a special Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless," Adams says. "I remember the Lester Lec'k White Community Center. He did a lot of good for teenagers, like helping them with tutorial work.

"He was so dedicated, an inspiration to us all. Everybody loved Lester."

While both Adams and White started in gospel, it was different styles of gospel.

"He knew urban gospel and I knew Southern gospel," Adams says. "It didn't take me long to develop a love for that music and he did the same with mine.

"I still can't believe he's actually retiring. He is the one everyone listened to.

"We all have aged, he has not," she says. "He is an inspiration in whatever you need done."

White got involved with radio almost accidentally.

"Deacon Charles Palmer was doing the program at the time," White says. "He knew my family and he and my father were good friends.

"Every Saturday morning, he would call and say, 'Mr. White, get that boy up and get him out here.'

"I used to get so mad, because I wasn't really interested. I didn't want to get up so early.

"But for my father's sake and Deacon Palmer's sake, I started going," White says. "Then I fell in love with it. Eventually, they offered me an hour's program and from then on, I was in it."

At first, White worked as a volunteer. Later, he became a full-time, paid employee.

"Forty years later, it seems just like yesterday," he says. "When I go out and mingle with people, some tell me they've been listening to me for years."

For 30 years, White has hosted the award-winning "Gospel with Lester." He also has appeared on television, at BET's "Bobby Jonas Gospel," at the Stellar Music Awards and "Larry King Live."

White was a columnist with the Savannah Herald, SOUL in Hollywood, Calif., and the Florida Singing News. He hosted WSAV-TV's popular public affairs show and WJCL-TV's "Gospel Hour."

Mayor's John Roussakis, Susan Weiner and Floyd Adams Jr. all recognized him with Lester Lec'k White Days. White has long fought to serve Savannah's poor, the hungry, young people, those who are jailed and those who are homeless through his work as a singer, composer, columnist and community activist.

Some people were not only listening, their lives were being changed.

"One lady came to the station and told me she had been contemplating suicide but changed her mind after listening to my show," White says. "She said a comment I made and the music I played behind it made it seem like I was speaking directly to her. That changed her mind.

"That was a highlight for me," he says. "That's when I knew getting up at 6 a.m. to do a radio show is worth it."

That's not the only life White changed.

"There was a man who had just gotten out of jail," he says. "He told me my program was his church.

"He said that it had really impacted his life," White says. "He said, 'I came by the station to show you I have a suit on and am going to church.'"

Radio has changed a lot since White began working.

"Music wise, we've gone from LPs we used to play on a phonograph," he says. "That eventually moved into eight-tracks, cassettes, CDs and now digital. Everything now is technology.

"I think it has changed attitude-wise, as well. We have a lot of young people getting into radio.

"They don't understand the FCC rules, they just know they can get into radio and talk," White says. "It actually takes a lot of practice and a lot of them don't do that."

Personality is a big part of radio, too, White says.

"If you don't have that personality to ground you in radio, it's hard," he says. "You have to learn to get along with people. You have to learn to take criticism."

Gospel music itself has changed.

"It went from traditional to hip hop and contemporary," White says. "I tried my best to change with the times and to be relevant. Some of the music I didn't like, but I knew I had to play it because I knew I had an audience for it."

Long before he got into radio, White sang with his family's gospel group, the White Family Singers. That included his parents, the Rev. James and Sarah White, and his sister Kathleen.

"That really was the start of it," White says. "We used to sing around town and throughout the Southeast.

"We eventually recorded a piece of music, but a lot of the jocks didn't want to play local music at the time. But E93 did.

"We started out a program, 'The White Family Hour,' to play our music and other local and national artists," he says. "The White Family Singers did a couple of LPs and traveled throughout the Southeast."

The group made an impression on a lot of people, including senators, governors, mayors and even Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt.

"He sent me a letter about hearing our music and the impact it had on society," White says. "We don't sing as much now because it's just my sister Kathleen and myself.

"I did a solo CD and it did pretty good," he says. "But I felt lonesome without my family."

Over the years, White has worked with Michael Jackson, Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Shirley Caesar, CeCe Winans, Al Green and many more. He hosted a public affairs show on WSAV-TV and "Gospel Hour" on WJCL-TV.

White is proud of the many "firsts" he has achieved.

"I was the first DJ to do gospel on an FM station," he says. "I was the first one to incorporate music other than gospel into a gospel show.

"I felt there was music out there that could help somebody, so I incorporated the Staple Singers' 'I'll Take You There.' I played James Brown's 'Don't Be a Dropout.'

"That got some controversy at the time," White says. "After explaining it to some people, they said they'd never thought of it that way."

White was the first DJ in Savannah to do a simulcast on three stations.

"I was the first to do an Easter marathon, which lasted from 6 a.m. to midnight," he says. "We did a lot of firsts in Savannah that helped to just take me where I had to go these 40 years."

Fans are going to miss White.

"One young man I met in a store the other day said, 'What am I going to do? I was raised up listening to you,'" White says.

"I get comments like that, with so many people telling me I helped them out of situations. I feel I have made a difference.

"I utilized the microphone as a pulpit," he says. "As a result, I started working with other organizations in the community and initiated programs to try to bring the community together."

It was White who started the Mr. Black Teen Savannah scholarship program to inspire young urban men to stay in school and showcase their talent.

"We did the Feed the Hungry for 12 years until Union Mission took it over," White says. "We started a program to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving."

White also began the Lester Lec'k White Community Center on Bull Street for latch-key children who had nowhere to go after school.

"That's my joy, serving," he says. "That's why I have been in radio for a while. I never used it as an ego thing, I used it to serve people."

For a time, White wrote columns for magazines and newspapers.

"So many people shared things with me that inspired me," he says. "I started writing for the Savannah Herald when Floyd Adams was editor and moved on to the Singing News, a Southern gospel magazine in Florida that was an all-white publication. There were three or four papers I did columns for."

His many projects and works resulted in numerous awards for White and mentions in such magazines as Jet. But misfortune struck when White began having difficulties speaking.

"The doctor I went to about my voice told me I didn't use my voice properly," White says. "Acid reflux is what damaged my esophagus.

"It wasn't radio, it wasn't singing, but I have good days and if I stick to a good diet, I'll be okay," he says. "That's hard to do because I love to eat. But in order for me to survive, I have to do what I have to do."

But White has no intention of disappearing, in fact, he's writing a memoir. Still, radio fans are heartbroken he's leaving the airwaves.

"Most definitely he will be missed," Adams says. "People who listen to the radio on Sunday mornings used to wake up to Lester.

"Gospel music in Savannah is Lester Lec'k White," she says. "It will not be radio without Lester."


What: Retirement ceremony for Lester Lec'k White

When: 6 p.m. July 22

Where: Savannah Civic Center foyer, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.

Cost: Free