It's 6:30 a.m. and I'm sitting in my car, bracing myself for a long day. My fingers hit the dash immediately. Radio on, right middle finger searching forward, right pointer finger pushing back. I love morning radio, where listeners call in and ask for advice about second dates, where hosts go back and forth on a slightly controversial topic. Those 20 minutes in my car in the morning ... those are some of the best minutes of my day.
You have to wonder, though, how many people still listen to the radio? With Bluetooth systems and commercial free music stations like Spotify and Pandora, do that many people even turn the dial to FM anymore?
The answer, quite simply, is yes.
Online radio listeners (which is a category separate from podcasts) have doubled since 2010, according to a report by Pew Research Center released last year. While listeners aren't necessarily sitting in their car, tuning into a station, they are still listening to the same program via their phone or computer. People are still consuming radio shows, albeit via different mediums.
Several Charleston area radio shows have grown increasingly popular in the past year. Kickin' 92.5's Jessica and Andy started their show in January, 2015, and it's now the No. 1 country station in the market, based on the latest Nielsen listener ratings survey trends. Mix 96's 2 Girls and a Guy reunited after a four-year hiatus, with the original crew of Tanya, Brooke, and Mike, taking home this year's Best Local Radio show in our Best of Charleston issue. And Star 99.7's Geno Jones has been the No. 1 afternoon show in the area for a decade now.
To find out more, we talked to the DJs at Apex Broadcasting, a locally owned and operated station located on Daniel Island. Here's what they had to say.
"I love the local aspect. We're here for our listeners," says Jessica Chandler, one part of the morning radio duo Jessica and Andy. Their station, Kickin' 92.5, touts itself as the only live and local country station in the Lowcountry.
Chandler has worked for huge radio stations like Cumulus Broadcasting, and she doesn't plan on returning. Like Webb says, "Radio got too big for itself. Apex can benefit people on an individual level." Chandler got to the point in her career where she had to ask for permission to say certain things on air. Kickin' allows much more freedom than that.
"We're not naive enough to think radio hasn't changed. Everything is so computer-based. You have to have Facebook. You're local, but in a digital age," says Webb. But it's the good old-fashioned banter between Webb and Chandler that keeps the show appealing. Even in our interview, the two can't help but poke fun at each other. "I'm too lazy, I couldn't do a real job," says Webb. Chandler quickly retorts, "I carry the show."
And she's kind of right. Chandler runs the boards, the broadcast console, a job that tends to fall to men in the industry.
But Chandler doesn't just run stuff here in Charleston, she also has a No. 1 show in Destin, Fla. Say what? That's the beauty of radio — you really can be in two places at once. She records the show in the afternoon, after she signs off of Jessica and Andy.
"It's a theater of the mind," says Webb, referring to both Chandler's dual career and radio personality. That cute back and forth banter that sounds so natural? That's generally rehearsed. "It's a two-day process," Webb says, showing me the piece of paper the two recently used for a show, with bullet points outlining different talking points. This is called a show map, with benchmarks, times designated for songs, and brief breaks where the two tease upcoming songs.
"We're like a married couple," says Webb. "Jess is strong-willed and an everywoman. I like to think I'm the boss hog, but I'm the put-upon husband," he laughs. Both Webb and Chandler are married, and Webb has a nine year-old daughter, so the two can cover wide-ranging topics from dating and divorce to parenthood. "What I do impacts people," says Chandler. "I take that for granted, but it's pretty dang awesome."
A Chicago native, Geno Jones started working at radio stations when he was in high school, and by radio stations, he means his school's PA system. "People could hear you in the cafeteria, and you'd play music until someone stuck a fork in the ceiling," laughs Jones. "That meant there was about to be a food fight."
Jones has come a long way since those food fight days. He attended Chicago's Columbia College, where he majored in media, and started working internships at local stations. "The rest is history," he says. The rest? Well, Jones was also a freelance entertainment reporter for BET in the '90s, he's currently a motivational speaker, and he's dabbled in stand-up comedy. Oh, and he's been on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Twice. Need we say more? "I've had incredible success," says Jones with a shrug.
"People have options," he adds. "Millenials consume everything from their devices." And yet people still listen to his radio show, Geno on your Radio, on Star 99.7 from 2-6 p.m. every weekday. "It's about being authentic, which is a buzzword now. I was authentic before people started using that word," he says.
While he describes his show as music intensive — Star 99.7 plays mostly old school R&B — he adds that he tries to integrate as much compelling content as possible, especially as it relates to audience interaction.
"Radio has changed so much," says Jones. "You have to change too. You have to generate and create value in terms of what you have to contribute." And Jones isn't done creating. He currently has plans to take his show on the road in a live seminar format. He also wants to make a documentary about his mother, who suffered from domestic abuse. "I never want anyone to go through what she went through. I want to let her tell her story in her own words," says Jones.
"I've always been into entertainment," says Sheila "Savannah" Johnson, Star 99.7's midday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) personality. Johnson hails from the Charleston area — one of her sisters is Gullah/Geechee advocate Elder Carlie Towne — and she prides herself on her local knowledge and attention to loyal listeners.
"It's not about me. I do this for the people," says Johnson. "I'm company for someone." Johnson describes herself as the "keep it real" radio personality, adding, "I let people know I'm going through things, too." Johnson isn't just spouting niceties, either. She's got proof, like the time someone called her from a Ross parking lot and said, "You saved my marriage."
Johnson has a few other accolades, too, like a MOJA festival award that pays tribute to her role in the media. Oh, and did we mention that the S.C. Statehouse passed a bill in Johnson's name in 2011? Yup, she's got that going for her too. H. 4326 reads, "To recognize radio personality Sheila 'Savannah' Johnson, and to commend her for her outstanding broadcasting career."
Johnson's studio space partner Dion "D-Nyce" McFadden has traveled the world, DJing for parties and meeting celebrities. As the mix show director of 99.3 The Box, which calls itself the No. 1 party station in Charleston, it doesn't hurt for McFadden to have a little street cred. The celeb hangouts started in 1996, when McFadden lived in Atlanta. At the time he worked with Ludacris, formerly known as Chris Luvr Luvr, on Hot 97.5. McFadden drops this fact quietly, smiling, but not boasting.
"I was on the road with Def Jam in 1997," continues McFadden, nodding his head as he messes with the boards, prepping for his show. He moved back to Charleston in 2002, and inspired by his father, who was also a local radio DJ, he started working on air. As for his personality? "I'm the comic relief," laughs McFadden.
When Steven Crumbley started in radio, he didn't have computers. "Every shift was live, you had no choice," he says. And there was one shift no one wanted to do, the night shift, starting at midnight Friday-Sunday. Needless to say, that unwanted night shift is where Crumbley got his start.
Crumbley is currently Apex Broadcasting's operations manager, and the company's program manager for Star 99.7 and 99.3 The Box.
Program managers are probably the most important people behind any radio show — they're the ones picking the songs that play. Crumbley can grab info from music databases that show current chart-toppers, but still, he's got his finger on the pulse of the city. "Music is 50 percent," he says. "The other 50 percent is how I make the radio station a part of your life. If I'm not in your life, I'm out of a job." To this end, Crumbley makes sure that Star 99.7 and The Box 99.3 have a presence in the community, sponsoring at least four events each year. "Anyone can play records," says Crumbley. "It's what goes between the records that separates the men from the boys."
2 Girls and a Guy is more than a morning radio show — it's a morning radio concept. Since the show's start, two females and one male have created an on-air trio. Tanya Brown, Brooke Ryan, and Mike Edwards worked together from 2007-2010, taking a break when Ryan moved to D.C. The gang recently reunited in 2014.
"I was 18 and needed a job," says Ryan of her start in radio. Like every other radio DJ I interviewed, Ryan started interning at a radio station and quickly picked up the necessary skills to be an on-air personality.
Brown, on the other hand, never had any plans of making it on-air. "I was working in the business office. I have a degree in accounting," she explains. But Edwards had a conversation with Brown — about 15 years ago — and he saw something in her. While Brown was hesitant to just start talking on live radio, it was her then-husband's words that ultimately inspired her. "He said, 'Tayna, you're funny, but you ain't that damn funny,'" she says. It was that challenge that spurred her on.
For Edwards, a career in radio was inevitable. "I knew when I was 12 that I wanted to get into radio," says Edwards, who started working in radio stations at age 14. Edwards is an on-air personality, but he's also Mix 96's program director, which made the trio's first shows together a little awkward. "We didn't want to work with our boss," says Brown. But the three had great chemistry, and Brown and Ryan's concerns quickly faded away.
The show has three roles: Edwards is, as Ryan and Brown say, "Pollyanna," or the peace-keeper; Brown is the mom (she's the only one with kids, too); and Ryan used to be the party girl, but now she's the newlywed, or as she explains it, "I went from raging to happy hours."
"The guy is there to make sure it doesn't become The View, " says Edwards. "It's a symphony," adds Brown, noting that three-person radio shows are uncommon. And while the show has been extremely successful since the gang's reunion in 2014, there have been a few hiccups. Most recently, Ryan announced on-air that Jordan Smith, the winner of The Voice, had a beautiful singing voice. And that she was a female. Ryan admits that while she gathers info from social media, she doesn't always have time to actually watch the show or movie people are talking about. Smith, it turns out, is a man, and after the phone lines rang off the hook for an hour, Ryan straightened things out. She assured 2 Girls and a Guy listeners that she realized her mistake, and she apologized for it before moving on with more celeb gossip. And listeners moved right on with her.
All in a day's work.