It is no surprise that urban-radio heavyweight Tom Joyner's first
broadcasting experience came as the result of a social cause. A native of
Tuskegee, Ala., Joyner was an active participant in the civil-rights movement
at an early age. One afternoon in the 1960s, Joyner and others protested
outside a local station that played predominantly white “background music,”
as Joyner describes it, for the white-owned shops in the overwhelmingly black
The exasperated station owner approached the crowd and offered to give a
volunteer the last part of the broadcast day on Saturdays. “You can play all
the Motown and all the Aretha you want,” he said. “Who wants to do
Joyner raised his hand.
“I've been in the business ever since,” he says. “And I've
been protesting ever since.”
Along the way, the syndicated radio host—heard by 8 million people
every week on 115 stations nationwide—became one of the nation's most
generous supporters of African-American causes in the U.S. (In 2003, he ranked
just behind Oprah Winfrey and arts benefactor Eileen Harris Norton among black
philanthropists, according to Black
Enterprise magazine.) In particular, Joyner has used his celebrity
to support students attending historically black colleges and universities.
For the uninitiated, the nationally syndicated
Tom Joyner Morning Show is a blend of old-school R&B, PG-rated
jokes (“I saw a recent picture of Mr. T the other day. He looks like there
should be an F-A in front of that T.”), info-tainment newscasts and socially
conscious features like “Real Fathers, Real Men.” There's even a hammy
soap opera called It's Your World, set in
a town where all black people are prosperous.
The show's format was inspired by Joyner's black radio heroes, such
as Atlanta's Jack “The Rapper” Gibson, who launched the first black-owned
radio station, and Philadelphia personality Doug “Jocko” Henderson, a rap
radio pioneer. “I'm given credit for being innovative, but what I'm doing
is not new,” Joyner says. “I'm just doing it from a bigger platform and a
After graduating from Tuskegee University, Joyner paid his on-air dues
in Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, Dallas and Chicago during the 1970s and '80s.
In the mid '80s, he earned notoriety as the “Fly Jock,” commuting by
plane every day between a morning-show gig at KKDA(FM) Dallas and an afternoon
drive-time slot at WCGI(FM) Chicago. From 1986 to '93, he logged 7 million
In 1994, ABC Radio Networks began syndicating his morning show. National
exposure made Joyner a star—but the kid from Tuskegee wanted to do more.
“Tom really had a vision of building an entity and not wanting big
media companies to interfere with that vision,” says David Kantor, Joyner's
business partner and a longtime radio executive. The Fly Jock's decision to
part ways with ABC Radio in 2003, Kantor says, was “a freedom-of-content
issue and a freedom-to-expand issue.”
That year, Joyner and Kantor founded REACH Media. In addition to
producing Joyner's morning radio show, the company operates
BlackAmericaWeb.com, an informational Web site and fundraising arm that is
currently in full swing to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. REACH Media also
produces Joyner's slate of charity events, including The Fantastic Voyage, a
seven-day, 3,000-passenger cruise that raises college-scholarship money. It's
distributed through The Tom Joyner Foundation, which has raised $30 million
since 1998, largely through modest individual contributions.
For access to his radio audience, which is primarily African-American
and female, Joyner insists advertisers spread the word about voter
registration, U.S. Census participation and other public-service campaigns.
“When they show that they are concerned not only about selling their
product to our community but also about the community itself, our community
will wrap its arms around that partner and be with them [for life],” Joyner
says. Those “partners,” as he calls them, include Procter & Gamble and
Although urban network Radio One bought a 51% stake in REACH Media for
$56 million this year, the business has retained the feel of a family affair.
One of Joyner's sons, Oscar, is REACH Media's president, while the other,
Thomas Jr., runs the foundation. With his radio career still going strong after
25 years, Joyner is set to embark on a new venture: syndicated television.
The Tom Joyner Show, a late-night hour-long weekend show,
started Oct. 1. It has cleared 75% of the U.S. and 38 of the top 40 markets,
including Los Angeles and New York.
When he looks back on his achievements, Joyner is humble, but others
rave. “He's brought a lot of strength to the African-American community in
a lot of ways,” says Kantor. “I believe he is the most influential
African-American in the country. But he'd never admit that.”
Of course, there is a bonus to helping so many young people finish
college. “I get some great hugs,” Joyner says with a smile. “Nice,
googly, mama-and-grandmamma hugs.”
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