Tom Joyner flew in from Dallas last week to Kiss 104.1 headquarters in Atlanta before his appearance at the annual Flashback Festival. He met with staff and clients of the station, which has aired his morning show for the past two decades.
"Twenty years," he mused. "It's still fun. I have a lot of support. They make me look good!"
He was one of the first radio personalities to venture into syndication as radio began consolidating. He is now heard on more than 110 radio stations and 8 million listeners a week.
Better yet, he partly owns Reach Media with Radio One, which also distributes shows featuring Russ Parr, Yolanda Adams (locally on Praise 102.5), Rickey Smiley (locally on Hot 107.9), Al Sharpton, D.L. Hughley, Roland Martin (locally on WAOK-AM) and James Fortune. (He launched Reach Media but sold a majority share to black-led Radio One in 2004 for $56 million. In 2013, Radio One combined their syndication operations with his and raised its ownership stake to 80 percent.)
One of the only major syndicated black radio hosts he does not oversee? Rival Steve Harvey, heard on Majic 107.5/97.5. Joyner happened to be in town at the same time as Harvey's big Neighborhood Awards weekend.
Joyner has no animus toward his competitor. "We're frat brothers," he said. "We go way back together." When he was a road comic in the 1980s and early 1990s, Harvey would promote his shows on Joyner's local program in Dallas and he even opened a comedy club in that city in 1993.
And Joyner has built a reputation as a workaholic. For eight years in the 1980s, he would fly between Dallas and Chicago every day to host two different shows. The result: he carried the nickname "The Fly Jock." (Technology today precludes the need for anybody to do that anymore.)
He has a loyal staff, surrounding himself with fellow hard workers. "You come by at 8 or 9 at night and you'd think it was 8 or 9 in the morning," he said with pride.
At age 64, he doesn't even recognize the word retirement. "For what? Sleep is overrated," he said. "You miss stuff when you sleep. Little babies figure that out!"
He is modest about his business acumen. "I'm a radio DJ. I let [Reach Media CEO] David [Kantor] and my sons run things. They sign my check. I don't get involved. I stay in my lane."
Joyner's strength, he said, beyond being a good DJ, is connecting with fans face to face, handshake to hug. "I'm where the people are," he said. "That's my thing. I love to party!"
Indeed, he holds a Tom Joyner Family Reunion every year. Later this month, it's from August 28 to September 1 in Orlando. (You can buy tickets here.) He says it draws about 15,000 people a year. And next April, he will be hosting an annual Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage week-long cruise for his charity foundation.
"The secret for black radio is hugging and touching people," he said. "That's been the case from the beginning. The difference is now I do it on a broad level with technology as well."
He receives thousands of text messages a day and has staff sift through all that feedback. "I have someone who answers every text," he said. "These are my loyalists."
One frustration he has is that two million people have uploaded his app and he knows a lot of people listen to his show via streaming. But that's not measured by Nielsen Audio and he can't easily monetize those listeners the way he can his traditional radio listeners.
I met him the day James Brown biopic film "Get On Up" had come out and he loved the film. He also recalled the one time Brown did one of his Sky shows. (The Sky shows were live shows that visited more than 20 cities a year, including Atlanta, from 1999 to 2007.) He was to do 10 minutes per hour. He had two people working his hair. After ten minutes, he was soaked with sweat. The 50 minutes, he dried off and had his hair fixed up again. He repeated this four times.
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