Kashon Powell is a respected industry vet who is this year’s Women of Color in Media, Radio Executive of the Year honoree. She started her career at KBXX in Houston, TX, where she rose through the ranks to Programmer. Then she headed west to Los Angeles, CA to work as the Urban Editor at the now-defunct Radio and Records magazine. Other stints include PD for WUSL/WDAS and as the Director of Urban Programming for iHeartMedia Norfolk and Richmond.
Powell joined Radio One (a second time after KBXX) in 2015 as the Program Director for WMMJ. She was then promoted to Operations Manager in 2017 then was recently promoted again from OM of the Washington, DC cluster to Vice President of Programming. She oversees Radio One’s Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia stations and also programs Majic 102.3/92.7 (WMMJ/WDCJ) as well as the syndicated Russ Parr Morning Show.
Congrats on your recent promotion. How is it going?
KASHON POWELL: Things are going very well in the new position. Every day I’m challenged (in a good way) and every day I leave the office with such a great feeling of accomplishment. We have some great things going on at Urban One/Radio One.
Where are you from?
I am from Marshall, TX, a very small town in northeast Texas two hours east of Dallas, and also the home of George Foreman. I moved to Houston to attend the University of Houston and started working at KBXX in my sophomore year. That was not only my first radio job, but my first job ever.
At one time you worked at the now-defunct R&R. What drove you to leave radio to do that?
The opportunity came my way after I had been at KBXX for 10 years and I thought it was an interesting opportunity and challenge. I was married at the time and he was a comedian so we thought Los Angeles would hold great opportunities for both of us. I loved my time at R&R, but ultimately, I returned to radio because that is my true passion.
What insight did you get after that experience?
I learned the importance of a truly symbiotic relationship between radio and the record community. The success of one hinges [up]on the success of the other. When both work together, this industry operates like a well-oiled machine.
Do you ever get used to uprooting your life and moving around the country in radio?
I’m not sure if moving is ever something that you quite get used to, but I’ve been blessed to live in great cities and make lifelong friends while also experiencing new cultures within our culture. It’s also been such a great learning experience programming radio in different markets and understanding the nuances of each city, market [and] station. Plus, I think I have the moving process down to a science [laughs].
What would you say have been some of the best changes in radio over the last decade?
The integration of digital technology and social platforms has been the greatest advance in the last decade. Radio has traditionally been the fastest media outlet. When newspapers had to wait to go to print, and TV had to wait until the next broadcast, radio only had to wait until the next break. Now with social media, live streams, and other digital elements, we are able to connect with our listeners instantaneously. Station apps allow anyone to find and listen to the stations of their choice. Digital technology has truly changed the game and it makes the possibilities in radio virtually limitless.
What have been some of the most challenging changes?
While technology is the best change in the past decade, it has also been the most challenging. Keeping up with the technological changes and the various social platforms is strenuous. Understanding the most effective way to incorporate these tools into your programming strategy can be arduous.
What advice would you give a young woman of color who wants to be a programmer in the industry?
- I would tell her that this is not an industry for the faint at heart. It is important to have thick skin and a sense of humor. This doesn’t mean that you should ever tolerate mistreatment or harassment of any kind. I would say hold fast because this industry will test your tenacity.
- Careers do not come with roadmaps or instruction manuals. Each journey is different. While it is important to learn from the experiences of others, everyone must make their career their own. There is no magic pill for success.
- I would also encourage her to find a mentor that will be a great guide through her journey.
Would you suggest she aim higher than programming or tackle one position at a time?
I will always encourage young women of color to follow their dreams no matter the heights. They should have the confidence and capability to shatter the glass ceiling. I would, however, caution them not to rush the process. Success is incremental and it doesn’t come without hard work and [it] can sometimes take years to reach your ultimate goal. I say this often to some of the younger members of the staff – that too often, we focus so much on “what’s next” that we don’t focus on “what’s now.” I tell them, if you’re fully focused on “what’s now” and giving 100%, then “what’s next” will happen!
What would you say are your most valuable assets at this time?
My most valuable asset is time. With time I can make money and gain experience. Without it, money and experience mean nothing. Time is one of the most precious resources in life.
What would you say were your most valuable assets when you started your career?
I would say my thirst for knowledge was my most valuable asset when I started my career in radio. I would study my program director (Robert Scorpio) to gain an understanding of his methods and the philosophy behind his programming style. A strong work ethic is also valuable; the willingness to work hard to get the best results.
What would make a programmer’s job easier?
More hours in the day [laughs].
Give me three of the hardest or best overall lessons that you’ve learned.
- The importance of being a perpetual student. The quest for knowledge is a continual journey. You can learn something from everyone and every experience.
- The importance of establishing a healthy work-life balance. Often times because we work in a “fun and exciting” industry, we overlook this. But it is imperative that we maintain balance.
- Drown out the noise. Ninety-percent of what worries us is trivial and does not matter at all. Focus on what’s important.
What would you say are some of your tried and true overall theories about the industry?
- Nothing beats hard work!
- It is important that we never lose perspective. Perspective organizes issues and it allows you to see what is important and what isn’t. It is what keeps us connected.
- Failure isn’t fatal, and oftentimes what we perceive as a failure, isn’t. In the world of ratings, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, especially when they aren’t what you want to see. A bad book “failure” is never the end, it’s merely an opportunity for growth.
- Reputation [and] credibility is everything.
How do you respond to those who have mistreated or didn’t believe in you during your career when you run into or encounter them?
I respect everyone and I don’t hold grudges. I don’t put energy into past wrongs because I prefer to focus on my goals and let my work speak for itself.
Do you think radio will be able to stand on its own in the near future, or do you see a widening broadcast industry (podcasting, streaming, audiobooks etc.) that has to work in concert?
I think that it’s safe to say at this point there are probably very few, if any, terrestrial radio stations that do not have a digital footprint. I think that, in order for the radio industry to stand the test of time, it is imperative that we continue to embrace technology and stay ahead of the curve. The radio industry has embraced technological changes in various ways (streaming, podcasting, etc.) and as I mentioned earlier [that] I believe the possibilities are endless.
Are we in a deficit when it comes to finding new radio talent?
Like many other industries, there came a point in radio where we had to down-size and everyone took on several duties. That made it harder to find the time to cultivate new talent because everyone wears so many different hats. With that being said, we have to be creative in finding the next generation of great programmers, on air talent, etc. to continue the growth of a vibrant industry.
How can the industry start to attract more talent to radio?
We must stay competitive. The same technology that allows us to connect with our listeners instantly is the same technology that has propelled talent into “insta-fame.” It is important that we are constantly creating station-branded content and experiences. Nielsen just released a study finding that radio is still the number one platform, so if we continue to highlight the power of the platform the talent will come.
Where would you like to see more women of color in the industry (i.e. what positions)?
I would like to see more women of color in every position in the industry. It is important that women of color are represented everywhere from on-air [and] programming, to engineering, to finance, to executive management, etc. I would like to see the day when our representation in the industry is truly reflective of our various contributions to the world.
Do you think you have to have on-air experience to be a good programmer?
I have never been on-air and I’ve had a great track record as a programmer. To be a good programmer you must possess an intuitive understanding of people and an ability to connect with them. Immersing yourself in the cultures and sub-cultures is imperative. It also helps to have a passion for music and the community. Programming is truly a lifestyle career.
What are some of the reasons the industry needs more women in programming?
Women represent a little over half of the U.S. population and we make up the majority of household buying power. We also largely influence the media and entertainment consumption in the household. It is only logical to have more female voices in the programming chair.
What are some of the common mistakes that you see urban radio announcers making?
The biggest mistake that I see announcers making is thinking that they know it all. Being unteachable is one of the quickest ways for talent to self-destruct. I always say if well-established talent like Donnie Simpson and Russ Parr, whose careers span across decades and generations, are open to learning new things, then everyone should be. Failing to prepare is also a common mistake. I’m a stickler for preparedness. Another mistake that talent often make is thinking that they are bigger than the platform.
Should there be more comraderie amongst urban radio programmers, or just radio programmers in the entire industry, or is competition always at the forefront before making connections?
While I welcome a bit of healthy competition (okay, I might be a bit competitive), I think that it is important that you have a network of other programmers. Your network is key! Those are the people that will provide you with support, understanding and new ideas. We should all support each other. By supporting each other we’re all building our individual success stories.
How would you hope that the people who work for you would describe you as a boss if asked?
I would hope that they would say that I’m a fair and honest leader. Most importantly I would hope that they respect my hard work, knowledge and passion for radio.
What would you tell the Women of Color in Media reading your interview?
I would say to the rising star to cultivate a strong network, never be afraid to ask for help and always be open to feedback. Sometimes people can provide us with insight into ourselves that can illuminate things that may have gone unnoticed. But it’s very important to build your career based on what you want and not on what others want for you.
To the seasoned pros I would say that there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve true diversity and inclusion in this industry. As leaders, it is important that we take an active role to ensure that we create change to open more doors for future leaders.