Alumna serves community as longtime broadcast journalist

855
woman speaks into a microphone in front of screen with the words alumni awards dinner projected on it
Karla Heath-Sands emcees the Alumni Awards dinner in 2015. Mercer University photo

Mercer University alumna Karla Heath-Sands was moonlighting as a performer at the Crystal Pistol Music Hall at Six Flags Over Georgia when she got a call that changed her life.

She was on summer break from her job coordinating Bibb County schools’ partners in education program and often returned to Macon on her days off from performing. On one such trip, she came home to a message on her answering machine from the news director at local television station 13WMAZ. He wanted to meet.

Turned out, the station’s longtime weathercaster and community service director was retiring, and management wanted Heath-Sands to take the job. She was hesitant at first about the weather part of the gig. She majored in English, not science, at Mercer. But the station promised to train her, so she accepted.

woman stands in front of news van
Karla Heath-Sands stands in front of the 13WMAZ news van. Photo courtesy Karla Heath-Sands

“When an opportunity knocks at a door, even if you don’t have all that’s needed at that point, go ahead and take advantage of it because you never know where it might lead,” said Heath-Sands, who graduated from Mercer in 1984.

For her, that opportunity in 1989 led to a 35-year distinguished career in broadcast journalism. Today, she works at WALB in Albany, where she anchors the noon and 4 p.m. newscasts, co-anchors the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts, and hosts “Dialogue,” a public affairs program.

In 2002, the Georgia Association of Broadcasters recognized Heath-Sands as Best On-Air Personality during its GABBY Awards. She also was honored with a Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Award in 2011 and by 100 Black Men of Albany for outstanding service in the media field in 1999.

Growing up, Heath-Sands loved performing and entertaining. She wanted to be a singer, and when she visited Mercer during an All-State Chorus audition in high school, she knew it was the college she wanted to attend.

At the University, she joined the Mercer Singers, where she performed alongside Dr. Stanley Roberts, who now conducts the group as the Arthur Lowndes Rich Professor of Choral Conducting. Majoring in English gave her a solid foundation that could benefit any career.

After graduation, she worked at GEICO and Tribble & Richardson before taking the job with Bibb County schools. She often appeared on 13WMAZ promoting the partners in education program. Many folks in the community also knew her from her stint as Miss Macon in 1982. That same year, she placed fourth runner-up for Miss Georgia.

While serving as community director and weathercaster at 13WMAZ, Heath-Sands continued performing in the community. She was invited to sing at Steward Chapel AME Church, where she met her future husband, the Hon. W. Louis Sands, a Double Bear who now serves as a senior U.S. District Court judge for the Middle District of Georgia. Sands, a Mercer trustee, graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1971 and the School of Law in 1974.

“He was a minister of music at Steward Chapel AME,” Heath-Sands recalled of their meeting. “I was invited to sing at his church on a program, and long story short, he ended up being the accompanist for me.

“I went to church for a rehearsal, and after the rehearsal, a mutual friend said, ‘Well, let’s go get something to eat. So, the three of us went to the Rookery, which now holds a special place in my heart, and so we started dating after that.”

The couple moved to Albany in 1995 after Sands received his federal appointment. Heath-Sands relishes her time at WALB.

“No two days are alike. There’s always something going on in the community that you want to cover. Those stories could be tragic stories, good news stories, news you can use stories, and we cover the political gamut,” she said. “I want to tell stories that are of interest to Southwest Georgia viewers.”

As current host of “Dialogue,” Heath-Sands has interviewed politicians, community leaders, athletes, entertainers and other prominent figures. The talk show started 30 years ago to give minority-focused issues a platform that they did not have in mainstream media at the time.

Among Heath-Sands’s favorite interviewees was track and field athlete Alice Coachman in 2019. Coachman, an Albany native, was the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

“That is probably one of the highlights for me because of her spirit and her competitiveness and how she talked about growing up here in Albany,” Heath-Sands said.

the woman on the left embraces the woman on the right
Karla Heath-Sands, left, is pictured with Olympian Alice Coachman. Photo courtesy Karla Heath-Sands

She also has talked to guests about more serious topics. Albany was a major hot spot during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Heath-Sands interviewed doctors over Zoom, a video conferencing platform, to help inform the community.

“It was a scary time, but it was also a time to share information and help the community to try to learn what’s going on here,” she said.

She has continued entertaining as well. She’s often invited to sing or emcee at events, and for 30 years she performed with the Bob Cummings and The Reflections band.

Heath-Sands is deeply involved in many civic organizations, including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., The Links Inc., Georgia Humanities and Georgia Women of Achievement. She also chairs Mercer’s President’s Club.

She and her husband have two grown children, Billye Sands and David Sands.

 

Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing den@mercer.edu or submitting this online form.