Zealous Sheryl Underwood’s Plan to Leave Her Mark on Radio

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Incorporating Tech and Vintage Radio Concepts

Sheryl Underwood may be most familiar to many readers as one of the hosts on CBS TV’s The Talk but Radio Facts readers may also know that Underwood has been featured on many syndicated radio shows over the years like Tom Joyner and she’s a natural. To that end, her love for radio started by being on and watching industry icon Tom Joyner noting his dedication to the HBCUs and the community. Nobody can deny that out of all the syndicated hosts old and new Joyner has been at the forefront of the community and used his show as a platform on many occasions (Joyner will be retiring at the end of 2019).

Currently, Underwood is running her own syndicated radio company, Sheryl Underwood Radio, in many markets and worldwide. She targets the often overlooked college radio industry in the states like HBCU’s but she’s also got a bigger plan. Currently, Sheryl Underwood Radio hosts four shows: Sheryl Underwood Radio (afternoon drive show) Late Night Cupcaking (R&B slow jams), Da House Party (Hip-Hop/ R&B) and Spiritual Nourishment (Gospel Music).

Underwood is very knowledgeable about how the radio industry works but she also has great ideas to use that knowledge and take her brand and leverage to the next level. I can honestly say it is rare that I talk to someone who does an urban radio show who is also committed to the future of digital technology and podcasting the way she is. Many seasoned radio pros look at doing a podcast as extra work not grasping the fact that it could literally be their OWN radio station and a greater financial ticket.

We have been talking about the podcast explosion on this site five years before it happened. To that end, it’s incredibly refreshing to talk to someone who gets it and is ambitious about the future of the industry and merging all the tools to create a great overall brand.

Kevin: How’s your day today?

Sheryl:  You know, everything is going very, very well. I am really excited about even talking to you because, I just think that right now, more than ever, radio, as it evolves, it can still do some great good and speak to the people.  We’ve got to get people ready for the evolution of our country.

Kevin:  What do you think about the state of urban radio right now

Sheryl:  I think it’s very exciting.  When I was working with Tom Joyner , and I was like, “well I want to do an afternoon show.” You know, mornings wasn’t really my thing. I learned a lot from what Tom was doing. Tom has always been the place to go, if you wanted to get elected to something, the City Council, Congress, Senate, even President, you had to go through Tom Joyner to reach the community.  And I always admired how he was doing something for higher education with HBCUs.  So, looking at that, and that history and when you’re talking about keeping R&B and Funk alive too he’s made the best effort, you know, it was just a combination of things and I was like, Wow!  I want to be a part of this, but then I want to do something that’s my own thing, my own signature too.  So then, when you go, “hey, I want my own show, well you know, Urban radio can be considered patriarchal in some ways, even though your audience is almost 52 to 53% female, your leadership is male.

Kevin:  Got it

Sheryl:  So, then they say, ‘Well, nah, you know, a girl can’t do that.’  But then, other people get a show.  I’m proud that Rickey Smiley, DL and Steve Harvey got their shows.  What it showed is, comedians, especially those who have something to say, be it entertaining or be it political or both, we could be this next wave, so when it came time for me to do what I wanted to do, I just looked back to old school radio, and I looked to Cathy Hughes, we are both girls that grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and I’m like, listen, I don’t take your ‘no’ as the final word, I say, I take it as a ‘no(t) right now!

So, I’ve got to put myself in the position, so when you say, what do I feel about the state of urban radio?  I’m very excited, because, you’ve got internet radio, you’ve got HBCU radio, you’ve got satellite radio, you’ve got Low Power FM radio, you’ve got commercial radio. You’ve got companies, mainstream companies that bought up all these spaces, selling them, now at pennies on the dollar, because, it wasn’t that you can’t make money off of them, you just don’t know how.  That’s the first thing.  Then the second thing is, this is supposed to be the place where the new Radio DJ and the new radio talent, learns its zone, and we’ve got to make syndication something that keeps jobs, not something that gobbles up jobs.

Kevin:  Yeah. my radio brethren will get pissed at me for saying this but I personally think urban radio has been too comfortable for too long and the advent of not just the various kinds of radio that you mention but also internet radio, podcasts, audiobooks, streaming and personal options for music on cell phones have all weighed heavy and created massive competition for urban radio and at the end of the day, it’s all about leverage.

It appears people either want talk or music but rarely both these days and I think syndication is about to take over the commercial airwaves because it brings leverage to the industry and it’s less expensive (well depending on what syndicated show you are). Not to mention the MOST important factor being that major corporations are readily rerouting their ad budgets online. Point and click access is king and podcasters are the new breeds of DJs, basically. To your point, they have something to say and it’s more than talking about an appearance or having a question of the day about which brand of potato chip has the best crunch. It’s time to step all the way up to the plate.

Sheryl:  That’s right.

Kevin:  Without all the corporate and station politics the other advantage is that podcasters are also entrepreneurs. As a vet entrepreneur myself, I can honestly say when 100% of the profit comes back to you … there is no greater joy. I like what you are doing and I think that the timing for your show is great because
anything that’s syndicated, where the radio corporation or the advertiser can come to you offers the greatest leverage and it’s going to work to your advantage, more than somebody who’s coming to a station and just looking for a job.

Sheryl:  And it’s, in the non-traditional, what you’re saying, Kevin. is also the non-traditional access and how you tabulate that.  Because, to me, what I’m looking at is, these podcasters and this streaming stuff, is Radio DJs that used to be on the air that lost their jobs because of syndication, going to get a podcast, or going to stream.  You know what I’m saying?  Let’s be real, there is a skill and a technical mechanism to being on the radio.  And quiet as it’s kept, you may be podcasting all day long, but there are certain things that you have to have, and there are certain realities you have to exist in and now, this is like when cable came, and everybody went, “uh, TV is dead!” Just like everybody that wants to buy stuff online, but you want to return to a brick and mortar. You want to buy online, but you want to walk into Walmart and Target to return.  So, what we’ve got to do, is keep traditional radio alive and strong, so that we can have podcasting, and we can have streaming, and then the money, the advertisers, have to understand that you could advertise across all platforms and get a bigger bang for your buck.

Kevin:  Mm.  You’re very ambitious. I like that (laughing) I think a bit differently though even though I did think that way at one time. You make great points but I think it’s too late for commercial radio but I do see some smart moves like bringing back the Quiet Storm. I think they waited too long, just like cable companies waited too long to offer smaller cable packages. They were greedy and if you have time to watch 500 cable channels how are you having time to work to pay the bill? 

There was a time I was very much against syndication but now I’m all for it when I look at today’s digital climate. iHeart recently bought up one of the biggest podcast companies for fifty-five million dollars and they’re bankrupt. So, I mean, the writing is on the wall.  They’re going to take those podcasters who come with the numbers already, as well as celebrity and they’re going to start finding a way to integrate them into the radio business … watch! You would be amazed at the low amount of commercial radio Radio DJs who actually do podcasts, more do internet radio which has not quite caught on as much as podcasting but there is a huge worldwide audience for it.

Sheryl:  I agree and you have to be ready a syndicated show personality should be talking more about their podcast. Or to your point, you may have some syndicated radio stars that don’t upload their podcasts at all. One of the things that we wanted to do on Sheryl Underwood Radio, is I wanted to be more portable. I wanted to be able to take a terrestrial old-school radio feel, and be more portable, and include podcasting so, I want to be on the ground floor of this.  Now granted, if I had the money and the backing that Steve Harvey had, and the money and backing that Tom Joyner , and Rickey Smiley, and DL Hugley had, I think I would probably be further along, but what really wanted to do was keep my independence because I feel the grassroots will always stay alive.  They’ve got to figure out how to stay afloat, and, yeah, I do, I agree with you, they waited too long to get into this. That’s because they were already fat, dumb and happy with what they got. And now Ford and Kraft, and all the traditional advertisers for urban like McDonald’s, you know, they have all said “well I’m gonna take my money somewhere else,” now you’ve got to figure out how do I follow where that money is going so I can keep my piece of the money, right?

Kevin:  Right. With all due respect to Steve and his show, and everybody else, I actually think the syndicated space is about to become more solid. No more dumb jokes or cackling subservient women in the background sounding like they are trying desperately to keep a job instead of having a well-deserved presence on syndicated radio shows. There is nothing more annoying than to hear people (including men) hole kissing and fake laughing at something that is not funny. People can see right through that. There is certainly a new breed of syndication coming to the airwaves and it’s about time and I embrace it and look forward to it because now commercial radio has had to rethink the methods, its now about content it’s about COMPELLING content.

I think people like you, DL and The Breakfast Club Radio Show are ahead of the game and that’s a requirement for success in the future of a game like this. It’s so easy to get comfortable when we see PPM and that what we are doing is working but I can tell you from experience, small successes are not the time to rest they are the time to GROW and IMPROVE. I’m sure you understand.

Sheryl:  Right I don’t know what the local hair salon is cutting the perm solution with to keep bringing me back for a touch up in four weeks but the local Radio DJ should know that!

Kevin:  Right.  I’ll tell you, one of the biggest complaints I hear from radio stations around the country about syndication. It is that the hosts of syndicated shows (one person in particular) consistently turn them down for appearances or throws them an unrealistic price tag. I get both sides of this. However, and I can’t blame them, this is having some radio stations rethinking the benefits of local morning shows too. So, syndicated shows are going to have to figure out how to work this out. I think that over the next year or two, you’re gonna see a lot of changes with, not just the station itself, but also with some of the bigger syndicated shows. I know of several stations right now looking at canceling certain shows. 

Sheryl: That is why like I have a set of promoters that I work with all the time. And those promoters, they were putting me on shows with acts like Frankie Beverly and Maze. So, I sit down with these brothers and I say, “listen, I want to go visit my affiliates,” right?  So, since we wanted to start with HBCUs, we’re going to Voorhees, Benedict College, ‘cause they’re affiliates of Sheryl Underwood Radio.  We’re bringing them in acts for their Homecoming show because we want to move toward music festivals on these campuses that connect with affiliates, so if I can, if I can get corporations to want to sponsor, then I bring the whole community, to not just the HBCU, or wherever that location is, I’m going to bring them to my affiliate, which is an affiliate visit. It is the Sky show, it’s the music of our history, and you don’t have to pay for it.  See, that’s the
other thing that we don’t want to do.  We don’t want to charge stations that are struggling to pay for us. We want to be in partnership with you to help you make money. And we want to use my presence on tv to do it, so when I go to a corporation, I want my salespeople to be able to go, “you’re not just going to get Sheryl Underwood Radio,” because you may not have the right PPM numbers, but you’re gonna get Sheryl Underwood Radio, all shows, if you can take liners, you take liners, if you can take sponsor spots, you take sponsor spots, if you can take full commercials, if you’re an affiliate that can do that, we’re going to do that.  But you’re going to get my social media, our Sheryl Underwood Radio growing social media, and you’re going to get my name and my likeness, and if you throw in an integration over at CBS The Talk, come on Kevin!  That’s power, isn’t it!

Kevin:  That’s smart.  It’s an even exchange and it’s connecting you with a new generation. But unfortunately, there are some people out there who are very greedy.  And the thing is, that is how you make money too.  As you said, you go to the campuses and you do, not just concert tours, but you also can do book tours etc etc

Sheryl:  That’s right.

Kevin:  Why did you decide the college circuit versus commercial radio?

Sheryl:  Um, well, my dream was to bring back the Lou Rawls telethon, for HBCUs.

Kevin:  Oh.

Sheryl:  That’s my dream.  And so, I felt that college stations getting this type of programming.  We talking politics, but we still black people. You know, with a white person on our show who doesn’t talk about his boo, he doesn’t start to talk like us, he tells us about white entitlement.

Kevin:  Mm-hm.

Sheryl:  You see what I’m saying?  So, I felt that college was a great place for us to come and for us to grow.  You know what I’m saying?

Kevin:  And it’s often ignored.

Sheryl:  On the college campuses. Say it again? Yes!  And I also wanted to find a place where I could find interns, where I could put black students and HBCU students in real-world scenarios, so you can have a career in radio. That’s the dream.  And then the dream is, Kevin, let’s go back and find the talent. Athletic talent, scientific talent, political talent, entertainment talent. It’s about where these kids are and where they are going.

We went to BET, we were trying to reboot Soul Train and take it through HBCUs, because black kids are where you get the lingo and the style. The dances, everything. But it’s an old-school feel because our following is more loyal.  So, definitely I wanted to go HBCUs, but then, what I found was mom and pop low power stations needed something too. And I’m waiting for the laws to change for them to be able to sell advertisements.  So, then I thought, where else can I go? Can I go to gospel stations? I never thought I would be on in Cambodia, and Vietnam, and, two stations in Australia, and two stations in England to where I wanted to get to fly-aways, so maybe we could get people to travel, so all I thought, was, whatever we, the team that I put together, Pack Rat Foundation for Education, uh, Pack Rat Productions of Sheryl Underwood Radio, whatever ideas we got, let’s just try ‘em!

Kevin:  What are the stipulations as far as college radio stations that you find you are up against?  Can you bring advertising, or is it because it’s an edu that they have stipulations where they can’t, I mean, how does that work?

Sheryl:  Sometimes they can or can’t.  Sometimes they can only accept, um, “this portion of Sheryl Underwood Radio sponsored by.” And that, I’m gonna tell you, that’s the difficulty in pulling together a sales board. Because most people, when you talk to a lot of people, they bring you what they know, they’re not looking at what you got. And that’s a debate, so see, so if somebody wants to come to me a go, “Sheryl, I see everything you’ve got, I see what you’re trying to do, now let’s see where these HBCUs are,” because once we start bringing them unrestricted funds, right? And then, you start bringing them events, then you can change curriculum, and then you can get more people to come to us, so when they’re challenged in the state political government, we can say, “no.  This may have originated as African-American, but it is open to everybody.”  So that’s why this is so important to me, and especially, if you had to go to them and make them pay for services, they can’t do it. So, my job is to bring the notoriety and to work with them as long as I can.

See more about Sheryl Underwood Radio Here


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