TOM JOYNER We don’t save, and that is why we had a weekly feature for the past 25 years just dealing with money, because that is one of the things black people need to be concerned about; our money, our health, our education, everything that we have done on the air, our family, we addressed everything that affects the African American community.
A legend has spoken and we have all listened, and the truth is we have been listening intently for the last 25 years to a true icon. He’s one of the greatest radio personalities of all time. The Tom Joyner Morning Show wraps on December 31, 2019, and radio history has been made.
Tom Joyner has not only established himself as one of the most prestigious and recognizable figures in radio, but his legacy transcends the airwaves as a powerful HBCU Foundation advocate and supporter as well as a black community supporter. He used the airwaves to lift the community in a way that has rarely been done. He went beyond entertainment and focused on educating the community.
Tom Joyner has not only been the host to a nationally syndicated show but he’s a savvy entrepreneur. Over the years, RadioFacts has had a lot of fun with Tom, I will admit sometimes I took a bit too far and so I made it a point to attend the last cruise and to personally apologize for anything offensive I’ve written about him over the years.
He told me “I have no idea what you are talking about” with a smile. I’m sure that was his way of saying all is forgotten.This is one of the best interviews I’ve ever done with Tom he was very forthcoming and honest about a lot of things I didn’t know that we get to share with you. Enjoy
RADIO FACTS: Hello, Tom. How are you?
TOM JOYNER: I’m good, you okay?
Everything's great. I know you just got through with your show, so I am going to try not to hold you for too long.
No, no, no. I am good. I am through with everything with the show. This is the first day to start a vacation, so, yeah, everything is good with me.
Does it feel like you're winding down or winding up?No, no, no, no, no. I’m in the final rehearsal, I have been practicing every weekend retiring.
But I'm saying after you retire does it feel like you are winding down or winding up?No, I’m winding down definitely.
So, are you going to chill after retirement? Or are you going to work on some other projects?
No, my thing is going to be the foundation, the foundation only. That is what I am going to be doing. I am going to be trying to sell out this cruise and trying to get all this money that we collect from the cruise in the hands of students at HBCUs with the challenge that these students that I give out scholarships to between now and November will register people to vote.
I was going to ask you – and I'm just curious about this – why didn’t you decide to change – I don't know if it was all your decision – just decide to change the name of the show to the Rickey Smiley Show instead of keeping the brand alive, like calling it “The Tom Joyner Show starring Rickey Smiley,” or something like that?
Because Rickey Smiley is a brand unto himself and is part of a rich family of Reach Media brands.
So, will you be doing any kind of radio podcasts or will you make appearances?
I will make appearances on all the brands to talk about what we are doing with the foundation and promoting these students who get scholarships.
Let's talk about the foundation for a minute. I understand that you've done some features on ESPN?
Yes. I have not seen them yet. I saw one was our first full-ride scholar, but I have not seen them yet.
Tell me about that one you saw?
It featured our first full-ride scholar who is now a successful lawyer who, even though she gets big cases and stuff, she does a lot of community work. Her name is Brittany Wilson; we gave her a full ride to Howard.
How does that feel? I mean to see, I don't know how many people you've seen reach that level of success, but how do you feel when you see that happen?
Oh, man, I feel great, man. It is the best. I don’t cry, but if I did I might tear up before some of these hugs from people who have gotten these scholarships. And Brittany is an exceptional case.
Of all the work that you've done over the years in radio…and the foundation, what is the most rewarding?
That’s a tough question. When it comes to the foundation, the most rewarding is the cruise because…we get probably 95% of the money that we donate…off the cruise. This is cruise number twenty-one coming up and it's not going to stop until the end.
How do you plan on promoting the cruise from this point?
We are still promoted on all the brands.
You're based in Dallas and Florida, correct?
I am now based in Miami; I’ve moved.
So, let me ask you, why did you decide to retire? What brought you to that decision? Do you just think that you've done it long enough? Or what were your main reasons?
It was money. Every contract was cut in half, cut in half, cut in half to the point that I said, “Okay, I can’t go any lower, so I’ll just quit here and live my life.”
Would you think that was attributed to growing networks [podcasting, online] for ad spending?
The industry is not what it used to be – oh Lord – it’s not. I was making a lot of money and now not as much. So, it kept getting lower and lower. There wasn’t any interest after the last contract; there wasn’t any interest that would make sense.So, moneywise it just made sense to leave. To get up at 3’oclock in the morning, if it is worth my while, I will do it. So that is why I decided it was time.
Were you still having fun?
Oh yeah, the most fun in the world ever is when I’m on-air. And then living my best life…because of the fun I have. I have been able to serve AND save and so I can live this lifestyle for the next 30 years. I have got it all planned out.
So, let me ask you, through the years you've had some changes on the show. What are some of your fondest memories and some of the memories that you wished would have gone another way?
(pauses) Well, we had the chance on a deal a long time ago before Steve went to Premier to host his show, but we couldn’t work that deal out. I wish that we could have and that was many, many years ago.
It goes back to when it first went to Premiere. We had the chance to add Steve to the Reach roster. Wow, wouldn’t that have been something?
How did you feel about J. Anthony Brown's departure?
That I didn’t feel well about, but we worked it out now so starting yesterday I started playing “Best Of” with J. included.
It is amazing the stuff that we did and now listening back to it, actually, I am listening to it for the very first time.We would do stuff that was so funny, so phenomenal every quarter-hour. I never repeated stuff. Like everybody repeats a good bit now and then. I never repeated a bit. I never heard it until now. This is the best; I love it.
I was told the same thing about old posts on the site and I’m finding that out. Using old bits can be gold. You have the same audience and a new audience for it so there is still interest. Have you considered doing the Best of Tom Joyner?
I have been doing that for the last year. The problem was we didn’t get permission to play J. because he is over there with Steve, and so we just got permission. So all of the bits that we did, we had to surgically cut out J.’s voice, J.’s laugh, J.’s jokes – anything that had Jay’s voice on it we could not play it and still do our show.
So, there are all these bits that…I just got permission to play.When you are doing it, you are in the moment, and I never listen back because I have got another quarter-hour that I have to do something. So, I never listen to all this stuff and it is fresh to me. I love it.
So, you are saying that even though J. was on your show first, you still had to get permission from Premiere in order to play the stuff that he did even before he went there?Yeah.How did you feel about the Tavis Smiley situation?
I didn’t like that. I hated that we did a lot of good things together and when he left it was weird. It was weird when he left; I did not understand why he left. I know that he and Cornel did not like Obama ‘til Obama was out of office after the eight years, and now that Trump is in office about to be impeached, we never heard a word about Tavis criticizing the Trump administration and it is really weird.
We did, I don’t know how many years. I think he said that we put together like seven years or something like that, and I remember him saying when we departed, he said: “I've never been with anything or anybody for seven years and you're the first.”
He's right. I actually worked with him before you did. We worked together at The Beat in LA when it was a legendary station in the early 90s and they made a decision to get rid of – anybody who was black, who knew black culture, and bring in people who could emulate the culture instead. That was a really interesting and very weird situation.
I didn’t know Travis then. I knew nothing about Travis until he approached me about doing a segment and I said, “that is a good idea,” and the rest is history, great history.
Let me ask you this – when he was on the show and you guys were doing the whole campaign against CompUSA, is there anything that you could tell us that was going on that we didn't know about on the air?
I put everything on the air even to the threat of ABC to put me off air. There was nothing behind the scenes. Everything we did we put it on the radio.
Was there a time that you thought that maybe that wasn't a good idea?
We came on air after that night, after the night that they told me not to do it. I got a call that night that said drop this thing. I said, “no, I’m not doing it.” And I came on the air and I said, “testing, testing, am I on the air? Hello? Anybody out there?” (laughs) And we went on with the show and talked about it.
Do you think that that whole situation was part of their demise?
I don’t think it helped. I think for CompUSA their time was coming anyway; their expiration date had pretty much come up, I think. Look around, not only do you not see a CompUSA, you don’t see anybody.
I know like Circuit City and I really don’t know how Best Buy survived.
They kind of came first. It was a bad time; it was a bad time for them.
Out of all the shows that you've done, what is the one show, or maybe one or two shows, where you had guests that you said, “I'll never have them on again”? I’ll tell you who it is; he just died. John Witherspoon.
Oh wow, really?
He cursed so much that the machine we use to edit couldn’t work and a lot of what he said went over the air. But he kept cursing. John was a pro; he had never done this before and we had him hundreds of times, but this time was different.
We decided to put a stage in the studio with the lights like at the Improv or something and set it up like a club.We turned the lights down in the studio and put the spotlight on. It looked just like a club and it obviously felt just like a club. So this little stage – he wasn't feeling well, first of all, he was sick but he's a trooper so he just dug down to what he knew best to do – and he did a routine where he cursed and cursed.We couldn’t get it all out so we had to say we would never have him on again. We never had FCC complaints about it.
I know that in doing RadioFacts for 25 years, I know a lot about the industry. You become somewhat of a statistician; you learn some really general things about the community. What do you know for sure about black people at this point that you may not have known before, good and bad?
Serving the community is important. That's something I didn't know. And I learned that from the late John H. Johnson (owner of EBONY magazine) in the five years that I worked there, he told me that in our business what you can do, what you [are] going to do to be successful is you have to…just simply serve our community.
And so I didn't know the effect that advertisers had on our listeners and viewers because I learned that and – take the cruise for instance. Black people weren’t cruising and we said to the cruise lines, “they'll cruise with you if you just ask them.”If you ask us, we'll do it. And so we started that. Not everybody has a black division. Carnival goes right after us and so does everybody else. We did that and I’m most proud of that. We showed that if you ask us, we will be loyal to you, and black folks are cruising now.
What about things like our financial habits, our psychology, the way we deal with racism, are there some… – I'm asking are there some things that maybe you did you weren't so sure of before that you see a pattern now? Like, for example, how do you think we are with our money as a race in general?
We don’t save, and that is why we had a weekly feature for the past 25 years just dealing with money, because that is one of the things black people need to be concerned about; our money, our health, our education, everything that we have done on the air, our family, we addressed everything that affects the African American community.Money is no different.
We had Mellody Hobson every Monday for the past, I don’t know how many years, saying, “save, budget, don't overspend for Christmas, put something away for your kids’ education, get a 401k retirement plan and don’t dip into it no matter what.”And that is the message that we have done over the past 25 years, but you know what? We did not start that. When I first got into radio, black radio was doing that then. I mean all the way back to like 1969.
So for many years you were doing “The Fly Jock” and you had worked for other stations, but eventually, you became an entrepreneur. What was the best thing about being an entrepreneur; what was the upside and the downside?
It has been all up. I’m living a great life.
Let me ask you this, what would say the key is to be a successful black male entrepreneur?
Surround yourself with people who know how to do things that you can’t and who make you look your best. I know a little bit about a lot of things, but I am only good at being on the air. For those things that you need in order to be an entrepreneur, the key is just surrounding yourself with people who can do the things you can’t.And I have been lucky for these many years…to be around some people who really make me look good.
I have noticed it.
And it is so good. There's really no downside to it because I take all the credit and I have not been blamed for anything and that is because the people that surrounded me have made me look great.
Has it always been that way?
It pretty much has. I can comfortably say back to when I was with John Johnson at EBONY, if you didn't know me, you would've thought that I was the biggest black DJ in the world because my picture was always in Jet Magazine’s photos of the week almost every week and that was because I convinced him – he didn't want to pay for billboards and commercials.
I said you don't have to, you got Jet Magazine…going directly to the south side and west side of Chicago.And so he would run ads in there for WJPC and the numbers went up.
At our height – we were number three in the city and we were a day-timer, all because he kept running these ads and Jet Magazine went everywhere.So, if you looked in Jet Magazine you saw this guy, Tom Joyner, you see he must be the biggest disc jockey in the world when I was just a local DJ.
I actually remember when I was in high school seeing you in Jet Magazine when I was in Buffalo.
Yes, you didn’t know who I was but could say, “damn he must be big.”
What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen other entrepreneurs make?
Not having a plan, no real plan. After they fail, they cannot seem to get back up. I have been fortunate to – for everything that I have failed in, I have been able to learn from that and move on. Most people don’t have that luxury. I have always had something to fall back on. Entrepreneurship is not a science, it is an art…
You roll the dice and you look at the odds you go for it.And if it was a science, everybody would be doing it and be successful at it. I have been very fortunate in surrounding myself with people who know what they doing, and I didn’t have any trust issues because they were already doing it.
I know you won't miss getting up at 3:00 in the morning but what will you miss most about the show?
Just going on the air. I have the most fun the four hours that I am on air. It is like when you hear ball players say that they're going through a lot of stress and stuff – people may die, a business may go bad – but when they get on the field or they get on the court,… or performers once they get on stage, everything goes out the window and all they think about is the fun that they're having.
That's me.My four hours on the air is the best. I'm not going to lie, I will miss that fun. I laugh every 15 minutes; it is a lot of fun.
What do you think of Charlamagne?
He is good. Why are you asking?
Just curious. What about a Headkrack?
He is on the Reach, so yeah.
So any parting words?
It has been a fantastic ride. It is 25 years of the syndication show, but I think I got into radio in ‘69 and all I have ever done is radio. This is really like 50 years. I'm not getting up ‘til noon. I am going to do some foundational work try to sell some cabins, give some money to students at HBCUs.
And I am going to work out and have a real good time doing something or nothing.I am on this beach, my house is complete. I won't be going to bed ‘til like 3 o'clock in the morning.
Okay, well Tom, I definitely will still stay in touch and check-in with you every now and then. I greatly appreciate your legacy and your contribution to the industry and you're making history.
Thank you, man.