Many urban radio people, including PDs (still), feel it’s better to maintain a low profile to maintain a more neutral stance with their respective corporations.
This story originally ran June 11, 2017. Several years ago I was getting constant videos and segments from a radio show at WJMH. Kyle Santillian was on a hustle to do greater things. I ran the segments because it was almost unheard of for black Radio DJs to promote themselves and as an industry news trade it made my job very difficult but I understood the resistance. Many urban radio people, including PDs (still), feel it’s better to maintain a low profile to maintain a more neutral stance with their respective corporations. I also understand the corporation’s need to protect its branding. Nevertheless, Santillian found a way to slip through the cracks and do what he needed to do. The industry took note including industry vet Derrick Brown who took a chance by bringing the vet to a major market to do the morning show after a previous morning show at GCI failed. Before that WGCI had been running syndicated shows.
Kyle Santillian was born in Philadelphia and raised in Franklinville, New Jersey, a small rural town about 30 minutes from downtown Philly. He started his radio career in 1999 as an intern at WJMH (102 Jamz) in Greensboro, NC. while he was a Junior at Winston-Salem State University. He was then promoted from intern to promotions assistant. Promotions assistant to part-time on air. Part-time on-air to full-time nights in 2001. He hosted nights for two years. Then he hosted Mornings from 2003 to 2014….amazingly all at the same station. After that, his 15 year run at Jamz, ended and he was unemployed for about six months then he landed at WGCI doing mornings in Chicago.
I remember before the WGCI gig your online hustle was hard. You were obviously determined. How did you motivate yourself?
KYLE SANTILLIAN: I was just motivated by not wanting to be a failure. Not wanting to be a person who lost their job and was never working in radio again. I was using the only outlet I had at the time, the internet.
Did/Do you have any mentors?
Absolutely! I would say my first mentor was Kendall B most recently of KS 107.5 in Denver. He was working Nights when I was interning at Jamz. He was the 1st person to allow me to touch the board and even run his board for a portion of his show. From there, I’ll just list some names of some people that have given me great advice and have been an inspiration to me at different times in my career.
- D’ Cherie of WNAA 90.1 Greensboro (Rest in Peace)
- Brian Douglas of WJMH Greensboro
- Uzi D of WPEG in Charlotte
- Sammy Mack aka Buckwilde formerly of 95.7 Jamz in Birmingham
- BJ Murphy of Charlotte
What has been the greatest asset to your career?
I personally believe that it’s the ability to be a “real person.” I was trained from day one to be a personality…be who you are on air, rather than just a “liner Radio DJ.” Let your personality show & don’t overemphasize your words.
What has been the greatest challenge?
Sometimes the challenge is maintaining the balance between work and family. I try to do my best to handle both accordingly. Sometimes there are conflicting things on my calendar but overall, I think I’ve done pretty well with it. It’s not easy though.
Many radio people say that syndication sucks but if they are offered the chance to do it, they will jump at it. Is that fair?
It’s a catch 22. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream of one day having that national audience as well.
What’s a typical day like in your working world?
A typical day starts at 4 am. On air from 6-10 am. Depending on the day, after work is either meetings, recording promos or commercial/sponsor reads. Hopefully get home with enough time to catch a power nap, before the kids get out of school. Juggle their after school activities and helping with homework, dinner, family time. Then spend a couple of hours on prep for the next day, searching the internet for tomorrow’s news, topics or soundbites. After all that, some nights there are evening events to attend and sometimes I can just shut it down, but it just depends on the day.
Are there any industry people that you greatly admire?
Absolutely. I grew up listening to Power 99 in Philly, So I have great memories of Cater & Sandborn in the Morning. I always admired them. (Rest in Peace to Brian Carter.) Also, Lady B was influential to our whole generation of Hip Hop! Then, of course, Colby Colb’s “Radioactive” show. As far as those who are currently on-air, I’ve always loved Big Boy’s show in LA. I have a lot of respect for Charlamagne and The Breakfast Club Radio Show. I also used to listen to Angela Yee on XM before they all formed the Breakfast Club. Because I started radio in NC, I admire all of the people before me who began or spent their early days there and went on to achieve great things. People like Skip Dillard (WBLS and WLIB), Derreck Corbett, Bushman, Mad Hatta, Tre Black (RIP), Afrika Perry, Angelique Perrin, and many more!
Where do you see the industry going in the next couple of years?
I see the industry continuing to evolve and further utilizing Digital. The radio industry is already utilizing all the available digital platforms as a way to extend our brands and I expect that to continue.
How do you feel about technology?
I have a love/hate relationship with it. I’ve always had a love for electronics, technology, recording equipment, computers and things like that. It’s dope to have the world at your fingertips BUT always being on your phone can make you MISS what’s actually in front of your face. Social media is consuming people. We have to find a way to balance and use it productively without it dominating our lives.
How important is social media to do your show?
When it comes to our show, it’s very important. It helps people get a glimpse into who we are. It lets them know what’s coming up. It allows people to follow up on what they may have already heard on-air. I find that most importantly, it allows people to connect with us. When you meet people in the street that follow you on social media, they talk to you like you’ve been best friends for years. Lol. I love that about it.
What’s the greatest mistake that you find many radio people constantly make?
Trying to be too cool. Just be you. Be fun. Be vulnerable. Be emotional (at times.) Just be a real person.
What do you think makes a Charlamagne vs a local radio Radio DJ who is stuck in a market for years?
Exactly what I previously stated. He has always been unapologetically Charlamagne. He is who he is. Also, people don’t network like they use too. You may work in one market, but who do you know in other markets? Who can you reach out to another city if you had to? For YEARS I was in Greensboro trapped in a bubble so to speak. Then maybe 2-3 years before my run ended there, I made every effort possible to go and meet people outside of my market. I think that helped me when I found myself looking for a new job. I also think that, even when you’re trying your best to be local, you have to work on having a sound that can also resonate in other markets.
What would you be doing if you were not in radio?
I used to make a MEAN hoagie back in the day when I worked at Wawa! Lol. But honestly, I don’t know. Other than Hip Hop itself, radio is the only thing that kept my attention long term.
Being in the 3rd largest radio market how do you stay grounded from the “industry life?” (separating personal and professional)
Two things. #1 is my family. All that “celebrity stuff” means absolutely NOTHING inside the walls of my home. My wife and I are trying to raise responsible kids who will achieve their own greatness and also have an understanding of the struggles of our people, past and present. The second thing is, I was an adult before I ever got into radio. I remember what real life can be like, and will never let me allow an “industry” life to get me jaded. I do enjoy being in the industry and participating in industry events but at the same time, I kinda vowed to never fall into that “industry” mindset.
What’s the best way to develop lasting relationships in the industry?
In my opinion, being genuine, humble and listening more than talking.
Do you think it’s possible to have true friends in a lifestyle industry?
Yes. And if not, just have a friend who’s NOT in the industry. Personally, I had enough family and friends before I got into this, so I’m good. I’m the oldest of damn near 30 1st cousins…they’re my friends. Lol.
What are some of the things that you are working on to build your branding?
Being consistent with my on-air features, appearances in the community and have a presence in the Chicago social/entertainment scene are my priorities.
How do you educate yourself about the future of the industry?
Mostly through conversations with people like yourself and various friends and PDs around the country.
Any advice for a young Radio DJ interesting in radio?
Dedicate yourself to being the same person on-air that you are in real life. Utilize the platforms that you have to develop your skills. Create your own content. Develop your own audience. Listen to those who’ve done it before you. Don’t expect the station to put you in a position to do anything. Be a self-starter!
Do you come across young people who are interested in radio or has that dwindled over the years?
Of course! I JUST got a call from someone who wants to do radio and is looking for advice. Also, I’ve recently spoken to a classroom full of media students. The interest is strong.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
Gainfully Employed. Lol.
Yeah man, I’m happy to be in Chicago! The city has been good to me since day one. Shout out to Derrick Brown for returning my email and bringing me on board here at WGCI! Lol. Seriously though, I’m just grateful to still be doing this every day. Has it always been easy? No. But I do believe that it’s always been worth it!