Urban Radio DJs Lack Leverage and Opportunity



Finding inspiration

Being a DJ on most urban radio stations today is far too challenging, confusing and contradictory.  As a radio pro and a business owner there are aspects of both sides 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 and represent the station, promote the station but don’t promote yourself, get great ratings and do a great show but only 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 and finally do the NaeNae on 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 urban 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 20 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, D.L. Hughley, Dede McGuire, Wendy Williams, Charlamagne Tha God and only a handful of others. If Charlamagne Tha God, for example, had stayed in Philly it would have taken him at least 10 to 15 more years to get where he is right now. When he got fired it was the BEST thing that could have happened for him.  Many of today’s urban 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 ship. Today’s Radio DJs don’t give much credit to our talents but seem to rely solely on our ability to get and keep a job?  This is not the recipe for success.

Bryce_Sobotka_Skull_1What are you waiting for?

(pictured: Urban 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 an urban programmer that told me he does not actively use social networks (or anti social networks which is indeed what they really are) 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? You think your tenure equals leverage? In this industry, your tenure equals leverAGE. 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 pot of Mama-n-Nems 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. How many vet Radio DJs or programmers reading this right now are going to CES in Vegas in Jan? This is truly one of the most mind-blowing conferences I’ve ever been to when it comes to technology and the future of the music and the industry. If you are ready to retire and you feel you have done the most that you can do, so be it but today’s self promotion in the music and radio industry is ALL about social networking. Considering (and understanding) the corporate stringent rules, we do get the limitations as well and how that can deter one’s drive to succeed, henceforth, over the next few weeks we are going to dig deeper to find some solutions and tips on getting around the corporation rules and promoting yourself. We also welcome your comments, questions, suggestions as well. We want to see urban radio DJs take advantage of opportunities beyond radio.



  1. Great Article. With almost 30 years in this game, I could write a book on it. Very few Urban Programers are talent builders these days. Most are looking for the Goose that can lay the Golden Egg. Or they’re simply looking for “Seat Fillers” or “Robot Jocks”. But to give a break to hard working Programmers. In a world of PPM. Who has 2 years to build Announcer Brands?
    Its hard to build your name in an Industry were every radio station sounds the same. Same Songs, Same Promos, Same Cliché. And ultimately, the same owners.
    But, for every jock that is willing to do it. Radio is still a game of the streets. Building loyalty thru personal contact. If you’re a jock. You must get elected everyday. Therefore you must campaign everyday!
    Frank Ski
    [email protected]

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