Jethon Williams says his life has followed a singular track: to be in the right place at the time he’s needed. This was true back when his community college was launching a film editing suite in upstate New York and it is now, as station manager of Monroe County’s television station, MCTV. 

“I’ve just always been called to places that need me,” he said, shrugging. 

It’s hard to peg him as an IT guy (computer) or TV guy because he’s both. His background is neatly tailored to his position with Monroe County, though. He said he spends most of his time managing the TV station, but lends a hand when techs are inundated with computer work, as well. 

He has a fascinating background — early computer geek, young DJ, student of radio and TV, and fair housing advocate. It’s the last that brought him to Key West in 2004. In upstate New York, where he was largely raised, he worked for the Urban League and then the Jubilee Homes Land Trust in Syracuse, New York — both relied on his self-taught computer skills. 

So, how did he come by those?

“My mother worked for a computer company in the mid-’80s,” Williams said. “When the company failed, they sent everyone home with a personal computer, including my mother who was an admin. She brought it home and I asked, ‘What’s that.’ She told me it was a computer and handed me the manual. Believe me, it was rare to find a home computer in the projects in the mid ’80s.”

From there, he took an interest in radio and DJ and rap. He remembers a particular house party, where he was the first DJ in the area to deploy two portable CD players. Upon enrolling at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, he immediately started working at the campus radio station. Within a few semesters, he was the general manager of the station. From there, he was drafted into the radio and television career track, and away from the humanities he’d been studying. 

Williams stitches together technology to enable Monroe County to fully embrace video communication — whether that’s a meeting or educational programming. SARA MATTHIS/Keys Weekly

“The radio and TV program director called me up and told me there had never been a radio station manager that wasn’t enrolled in radio and television classes. They started me on second-year coursework,” Williams said. “In fact, now that I think about it, they didn’t give me much choice in the matter!”

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At Onondaga, Williams was on the frontline of the digital revolution. He remembers the initial radio equipment he had to work with — reel-to-reel machines with “huge dials like a submarine. It was like something out of ‘Das Boot.’” And then, much later he wandered into an unlocked room that housed three unused, top-of-the-line MacIntosh towers for video editing and taught himself that, relying on cutting and splicing and editing the sample clips embedded in the software. 

After college, Williams started his own computer repair and multimedia production company while working at the Urban League and then the Land Trust. The land trust had a business incubator magnet where Williams taught a variety of computer classes. In 2003, the national conference for like-minded land use programs was held in New York. It wasn’t long before the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust of the Florida Keys called Williams up and offered him a temporary gig that led to a year’s contract — setting up its own computer system and rehabbing some machines for a community computer lab. 

“I don’t even remember how I got those donated computers working, but I was able to install Windows 98, and cobble together solutions using old computer parts I had in my closet back home,” he said. (Editor’s note: he also used a lot of technical jargon here, but it went right over our heads.)

Now, Williams has been working for Monroe County for 14 years. In 2019, he was honored as an employee of the quarter.

“Jethon has a can-do attitude no matter what the task,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. 

His work has been instrumental during the pandemic — keeping officials and staff connected when social distancing is required. He realized the necessity for Zoom meetings early on and began making preparations.

His work has been instrumental during the pandemic — keeping officials and staff connected when social distancing is required. He realized the necessity for Zoom meetings early on and began making preparations. 

 

Williams credits Monroe County with realizing the importance of a video channel. Back when he was hired, the TV station did nothing but broadcast PowerPoint presentations. Now, citizens can watch county commission meetings on Uverse or Comcast or even the Roku channel. The county has the ability to broadcast live from non-county facilities, and pump out post-hurricane information for viewing by evacuated Keys residents. Those advancements are due to the county’s decision to invest in the equipment and infrastructure as well as Williams’ own efforts. 

“It’s important to me that I have the trust and respect of my peers,” Williams said. “And, as a person of color, that trust enables me to make lives better for other citizens.”

 Again, it’s that thing about being where you’re needed.

 

Now for the fun stuff:

Who are your favorite artists? Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny and J Dilla.

What’s your genre? Hip Hop. I grew up in the Golden Era — Run DMC, Diddy. I remember breakdancing on a piece of cardboard in the driveway.

What’s the best movie you’ve watched recently? “Tenet,” starring John David Washington. Really, I like to watch a lot of BBC and SKY shows. 

What’s your guilty pleasure? Gummy bears, Haribo brand. 

What was in the last Amazon box delivered to your house? Japanese green tea Kit Kats for me, a Valentine’s Day gift for my girlfriend, and a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolate for the whole office.  

What’s on your bucket list? Suborbital flight. Maybe a trip to Mars, but not to establish the colony; I don’t want to be among the first colonists. 

How many dogs is the right number of dogs? Two. I have a black Labrador and a Jack Russell.

How did the pandemic change your life? Less people time. I’m a hugger and I miss that.  

What are the three most used apps on your phone? Email, camera and my Samsung Health app. 

If you could have lunch with anybody, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat? I’d have a burger and a beer with former President Barack Obama. 

What three things would you want to have on a deserted island? A mirror, a plastic container and nylon rope. What can I say, it’s my Scouts upbringing!

What’s something most people don’t know about you? My grandfather was invited to the White House (Clinton) twice to talk about fair housing. Unfortunately, his health didn’t allow it either time. I’m proud that my family and I understand about giving back. We know the struggle.

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