Urban Radio DJs Lack, Leverage, and Growth Opportunities


Being a Radio DJ on most Black radio stations today is challenging, confusing, and contradictory.  

radio dj
Photo by Sebastian Banasiewcz on Unsplash

There are aspects of both sides, the corporation and the jocks that I get, but imagine if your boss told you to

  • Be yourself, but watch what you say
  • Only do what we tell you to do
  • Represent the station
  • Promote the station but don’t promote yourself,
  • Get great ratings and do a great show
  • Play the handful of songs we tell you to play
  • Don’t do anything using the station’s name to build YOUR brand or name without our permission
  • Watch what you say on Social Media
  • We will be looking at your social media
  • You have to ask for permission to do anything outside the station pertaining to promotion
  • Come up with a weekly podcast
  • Wash my car before Payday.

What in the hell is left? How can you do a great show carrying that kind of weight into it?

It depends on what you bring to the table and most Black Radio DJs unfortunately have come empty-handed. So whatever the corporation serves they are forced to eat. When you come to the table with no leverage you get a handout instead of a menu.

Urban radio DJs are in the most unfortunate situation as you read this that keeps them from being the stars they could be.

I am greatly disturbed by this. We only get a short time to take advantage of our primetime and I see so many older DJs who regret not making more moves when they were younger.  

 The corporations don’t want stars, they want money hit records. Can I blame them for wanting money hits? No, can I blame them for protecting their brand? No, Can I blame the DJs for wanting to work? No, Can I blame the DJs for not creating more leverage? Yes.

Leverage is Key

I keep saying this over and over again. How do you want to see yourself 10 years from now? As someone who did or did not take advantage of a great opportunity? When you look at Steve Harvey it is evident he came to the table with leverage, and a business partner, he was not afraid to negotiate on that, and most important HE KNOWS HIS VALUE.

Same with Rickey Smiley, DL Hughley, Dede McGuire, Wendy Williams, Charlamagne and only a handful of others. If Charlamagne, for example, had stayed in Philly it would have taken him at least 10 to 15 more years to get to where he is right now. When he got fired it was the BEST thing that could have happened for him. 

Many of today’s Black DJs are still suffering from the mom and pop identity theft that took place in the 80s and 90s. This forces many of us to walk around with our heads down only mumbling “Yesim” to our bosses because we don’t want to rock the boat. Today’s Black Radio DJs don’t get much credit for their talents but seem to rely solely on their ability to get and keep a job?  This is not the recipe for success, it’s a recipe for stress.

Bryce_Sobotka_Skull_1What are you waiting for?

(pictured: Black radio DJ who leaves his fate in the hands of others)Waiting for someone else to determine your fate is not only torture it’s dumb. People care about themselves FIRST and everything else is secondary. That’s not selfish it’s wise.

I have known people in radio who have done both waiting and taking the initiative and I can tell you the ones who wait for a break usually never stop waiting, they never progress and they get stuck.

Once you get past the age of 35, if you are not full-time in a major market your chances are extremely slim.  You can WAIT for others to recognize you or MAKE them recognize you by showing up and doing the work. Which one will it be?

Resting on Tenure

I was talking to a Black programmer that told me he does not actively use social media and he stated that he did not see any value in it. So we get to a certain point in our careers and we think we no longer have to DO THE WORK? Do you think your tenure equals leverage? In this industry, your tenure equals leverAGE. Use it before it’s gone.

If you want to remain relevant and make money you have to keep learning, doing, being, seeking, and diversifying. When you think you don’t need to learn or promote anymore, you are going to get a lackluster result.

I would have to say that this kind of thinking will not only limit your options but it will keep you unemployed, making lateral moves and dancing to Rick James music at old school picnics and talking about what was instead of what is or could be…all this while white DJs are vacationing AND working in top markets traveling to Paris eating rich buttery croissants at the finest restaurants and you are stirring a rusty pot of All my chirens Best Grits.

We don’t have to age out in today’s industry, NOT if we utilize technology, leverage our experience, grasp new concepts, and educate ourselves. The number of black radio people on Clubhouse is surprisingly low.

Considering (and understanding) the corporate stringent rules, we do get the limitations as well and how that can deter one’s drive to succeed. If you are not happy where you are living…. MOVE.

We also welcome your comments, questions, suggestions as well. We want to see Black radio DJs take advantage of opportunities beyond radio.


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