There are some radio people who make a great deal of money and LOVE the company they work for in Urban radio. They are able to pursue outside opportunities, work reasonable hours, maybe at a unionized station and they get paid well for appearances. They are heavily promoted by the station and given carte blanche to use social media to promote their platforms in and out of radio. This is how it should be across the board but unfortunately, these people on the Black side are rare. This weekend, Black radio industry vet Kris Kelley was found dead in her apartment. Is this unfortunate?
Yes. Is it shocking? No, Is she the first one? No, as a matter of fact, three black women in total who worked at WGCI have been found the exact same way. Val Landon in 2004, Karen Jones (Shannon Dell) in 1998 and now Kris Kelley. There have been many more black Radio DJs over the years who have been found the same way. Alone, in an apartment, dead. I am confident that the thought has run through just about every Black radio pro and music industry exec’s mind who is about to read this story and that is… it could happen to any of us. After so many years of learning how to disconnect because of frequent moves, if we are not parents or in a current or longstanding relationship, those years of struggle can take a toll on our relationships and on us.
I am actually from radio but I have never had the love and attachment that so many Black radio people have for it. I wanted to be a singer and used it as a way of becoming one. I have worked for some of the most greedy black owners and a few of the most corrupt black programmers you can ever imagine but I learned more than I could have ever imagined about the industry and life as a whole. Those mom and pop stations were inevitable instant vestibules that were worthless unless you got everything you could get out of it before you were fired for something “stupid” like um I don’t know… poor ratings? That was one of the first lessons I learned, when you walk into a situation not willing to “do the work” you will be fired, in a record amount of time, for the same reason.
What was most disparaging was the Black station owners that trained black announcers by robbing them of their value by telling them how worthless they were and that they should be glad to have a job because the white stations were never going to hire us. These were not white owners, no sir.. these were BLACK station owners who jumped like whores through a hoop when the corporations came along and offered them a ton of money (for their services) to abandon ship in the mid to late 90s. Most have not been heard from since. Unfortunately, the damage was done and I realize now it was a cruel and dirty game that those black owners played on us because we were young and impressionable.
Truth be told, it was not US that the white stations were not going to hire… it was THEM, the black station owners.As age breeds clarity then it’s evident that this was their way of controlling us and keeping us on board. Unfortunately, many of us left thinking that was our truth and limited ourselves to only working in Black radio our entire careers when many of us had/have the potential to do so much more. Many black owners didn’t encourage us they discouraged us. This was not the reality for all black Radio DJs but it was for a majority of us. Like the baby elephant that is tied to a pole with a rope and can’t move even as that rope eventually becomes a tiny string to a full-grown elephant. He is so trained to think he can’t break that string, he doesn’t even try anymore. This is what has allowed comedians to come into our industry and take what was rightfully ours, what WE earned but because they came with leverage and confidence, and they were not damaged by black station owners (who were damaged by the industry years prior) they got the glory.
There are a few exceptions but nowhere near in comparison to those who are stuck. As a champion for the underdog, I thought it was my duty to be a listening ear over the years to those who have lost their way and couldn’t take what they had learned and turn it into a GREATER opportunity. Those who could no longer find work and were suffering from depression that could easily be linked to the well-known disconnect this industry grants you when you are no longer working but the truth is, I can’t.
I don’t think anyone person has the capacity to do that without it deeply affecting them but I am always trying to find a way to do it through the Radio Facts medium. Let’s face it, in this industry, the one that we love so much, most of us have very few true friends mostly because I learned a long time ago that when you are not working 98% of the people who you are dealing with today won’t take your calls next week. If you don’t believe that’s true then God bless you. No harm done and you can’t be pissed because it’s just business. I can respect that, so as a result, I don’t go to many industry events unless it’s client or business-related because I never bonded with those people intentionally and I’ve never been good at being phony but I have still extended a favor or two to them from time to time when they are between jobs etc.
“We fail to understand that the time to “DO THE WORK” is when you ARE working. That’s the worst time to relax.”
We must all have better ways to allocate our time and who we spend it with and understand this is the Music and Radio BUSINESS. I got it early on and it makes sense. As with ANY business, when you can’t do anything for people they throw you away but that doesn’t mean you have to relegate YOURSELF to the garbage bin. Unlike most other industries, Radio and Music is a “Lifestyle” occupation and it’s very easy to cross the lines and to really believe that these people are your friends. That’s not to say some are not but we all must be realistic and understand that for the most part…. it’s BUSINESS and it’s WORK FIRST.
Time and again I have seen people who I once admired rise through the ranks, get older, lose their jobs, get sick or whatever and disappear into lonely isolation. Even if I have never had a conversation with them, I may get an email or a message on FB or even a phone call on my cell phone, (when I did not give them my number). They put things in the subject line like “Call me.” There is no “Hello,” or “Nice to meet you” or “How are you?” just “Call me” like, drop everything because I owe it to them. I can tell they are really hurting on the inside and they are trying to maintain a level of previous dignity. I have gotten attitude when I don’t call them and nasty responses but for the most part, I laugh it off and try to return their calls because I get it.
It’s the wounded ego, accustomed to everyone being at their disposal… looking for a band-aid. Urban radio people tend to make half if not much less than pop radio counterparts in the same markets but there are some Black Radio DJs who are so dedicated to the game it’s akin to addiction but the glass pipe is a glass ceiling and most of the time a self-imposed one because we don’t exercise our leverage when we have it. We fail to understand that the time to “DO THE WORK” is when you ARE working. That’s the worst time to relax. I see people in their 40s, 50s and even 60s still waiting for their big break, instead of jumping on technology or making their own way they get stuck and remain in the mode of “Who’s gonna hire me next?” They get validation and joy by being affiliated with call letters. I have seen countless Black Radio DJs die while looking for another gig, even part-time.
For some, it literally becomes their identity. So what’s the solution to all of this? At this point, there are two types of people in the industry. Those who are working and those who are not. Unfortunately, that’s really what it boils down to. Those who are working are trying so hard to keep their jobs, remain relevant and progressive that they have to keep their eyes on the prize. To their credit being in a race and turning to the sidelines affects your ability to win. I have talked to both ends and I get both sides. Those who are not working want validation they want those who are in the race to cheer THEM on and to know that they have not been forgotten about. They want to reach out to people who they talked to before to express their frustrations in hopes of being offered employment sometimes just validation.
The people who are working have informed me that if they took all those calls they would never be able to do THEIR jobs. One told me “Man, I don’t have time to talk about yesterday and the old industry, I’m trying to keep a f$%kn job TODAY.”When we are depressed it is always advisable for us to reach out to others. Working in an industry that is so exclusive like radio and music, no one can understand us like other industry people so when we reach out and we are rejected that could be the catalyst to even more harm being done. What’s the solution? Understand the concept. Cherish the memories and find a way to create NEW ones perhaps in another industry.
If you feel that radio is all you know, then challenge yourself to learn something else because unrequited love is not only heartbreaking it can be hazardous. In addition, people who are currently WORKING don’t even talk to each other much, ESPECIALLY on the Urban side. Talk to people WHILE you are working so that you can KEEP working. Take someone you don’t need anything from to lunch from time to time. I do it all the time and learn so much in the process and THIS is how you develop true long-term relationships. Join organizations within or outside of the industry and be a blessing to someone who needs YOU. Call and check up on an old industry friend from time to time and if they ask you for work be honest with them and don’t string them along. What you give out of your heart comes back in the most rewarding ways. Finally, do yourself a huge favor ask yourself four questions:
- Do I trust the people in my life that I call my “friends?”
- Am I a part of a local organization where I am accountable and people respond to me on a regular basis
- Who could I call if I needed to go to the hospital and who would stop everything and take me (and who would make up excuses)?
- If I really needed a friend to be there for me during a crisis, who would come through, and who would not?
In addition, you MUST be all these things to others if the roles were reversed. Whoever doesn’t make the list don’t make the mistake of calling them friends and limit your time with them or replace them. We MUST establish a life outside of the industry and surround ourselves with people who care about us OUTSIDE of business. Isolation is not the answer just because other industry people won’t talk to you and you are not working. I’m open to suggestions from readers as to how Radio Facts can help to resolve this issue as I have just heard today that at least 2 more former Black programmers are in trouble.
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