How the Rick and Sasha syndicated morning show (heard locally on OG 97.9) came together

Credit: Rick and Sasha morning show

Credit: Rick and Sasha morning show

Originally posted Monday, July 29, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Tom Joyner's announcement early last year that he was retiring at the end of 2019 left a hole in the R&B radio marketplace.

While Steve Harvey stole some of Joyner's thunder and many of his affiliates a few years ago, Harvey is only seven years younger than Joyner, who is 69. (He is doing well in Atlanta on Majic 107.5./97.5)

So syndicators are hunting for a younger, fresher show that could get them through the 2020s.

But the field is crowded. Russ Parr out of D.C. is heard in more than 40 markets but he's about 60. Dallas host DeDe McGuire - formerly part of Doug Banks' show - entered syndication last year. She is in her late 40s. (Neither have an affiliate in Atlanta.)

Reach Media, which is run by Urban One and was started by Joyner, is gambling on 50-year-old Rickey Smiley to transition from hip-hop to older-skewing R&B stations. (Smiley is now on Hot 107.9 in Atlanta.)

Sasha the Diva - via Atlanta-based Cumulus Media's Westwood One syndication service - is hoping she and Rick Party can be another viable alternative.

The Atlanta-based show, which debuted in January via the Westwood One Network, is already in 20 markets on stations in New Orleans, Kansas City, Charleston and Columbia, S.C., primarily on Cumulus properties. In April, once Sasha’s non-compete with rival Kiss 104.1 ended, the Rick and Sasha show arrived in Atlanta on classic hip-hop station OG 97.9.

Several more Cumulus stations currently airing Joyner are likely to pick up Rick and Sasha’s show  once he retires at the end of the year.

Sasha, who won’t reveal her age or real name, is a New York native with two sons. (She did an episode of “Iyanla: Fix My Life” in 2013 and wrote a book “Blended Not Broken” in 2016.) She has been in the radio business for more than 20 years. She had two stints on Cox-owned Kiss, first from 2002 to 2007, then 2011 until last fall when she departed to start her syndication show.

Six months earlier, the idea of doing a syndication cemented in her brain and she began hunting for a co host.

“I started thinking about who hustled, who started in radio,” said Sasha in a recent interview. “Not a celebrity or comedian. Someone who really loved radio, had the pipes.”

Party, who worked afternoons at an R&B station Hot 105 in Miami also owned by Cox, came up on her radar.

“He has the pipes,” Sasha said. “And the brother looks good!”

Sasha called him in April, 2018 to pitch the idea and he was immediately intrigued. “I was familiar with her,” Party said. “She sounds good.” So they made a demo just to see if the two clicked.

Party (not his real name either) gave a copy to friend and talent agent Gary Bernstein. He was quickly sold. "I heard something special," Bernstein said. "Chemistry was off the charts."

This left Party with two options: sign a new three-year contract with Miami’s Hot or take a chance with Sasha. He chose the latter.

With Bernstein, they pitched the idea to various syndication companies and Westwood One bit.

Party, 51, who moved to Atlanta last December, has spent a bulk of his career in Miami where he had huge success at different hip-hop stations. He then had a brief foray hosting afternoons at V-103 in the late 1990s that lasted all of 18 months.

"I did a lot of wild things at V-103," Party admitted two-plus decades later. "I had complete autonomy on my show which was my downfall. I did everything without permission. I got on [general manager] Rick Caffey's nerves!"

He would hold wild contests, asking women to come down to the studio with their pants cut out to win concert tickets or build the biggest Hawks banner and show up at the studio. Then he upset a Ford dealership by airing an unsubstantiated complaint by a caller on the air and upsetting the advertiser.

Party recalled Caffey telling him that he was more a liability than an asset and was released from his duties.

The jock grew up quickly and stopped being such a rebel. He worked at WGCI in Chicago and the legendary WBLS in New York, then spent several years doing voice-over work for the likes of BET and ESPN before returning to Miami radio.

Given that the new show is based in Atlanta, Party wants to fix things. “I made a lot of noise here, then I disappeared,” he said. “I wanted to come back here and make a more lasting impact.”

They hired a former Joyner producer Tanita "TeeTee" Myers. "As much as I love Tom and the Joyner family, I saw in Rick and Sasha what I saw in Tom," Myers said. "Seeing the two of them together, I said, 'I need to get some of that!'"

She taught them how to follow a syndication clock, which is often to the second to ensure the affiliates get their ads and traffic breaks in on time. Local shows can be looser about time.

“Tenita had us practice like crazy,” Party said. “Wax on! Wax off!”

Both Sasha and Party say they genuinely like each other, which isn’t always the case with morning teams.

“She has this thing about being so real,” Party said of Sasha. “Every woman can relate to her as a parent who struggles sometimes. She doesn’t hide her imperfections. If she messes up, she embraces that. People love that.”

She's also a stickler on being on time. "I'm a stickler for everything," she said.

“He loves his wife,” Sasha said of Rick. “He loves his family. He talks about his children. He knows what’s going on in the world. He keeps everyone connected. And he’s so fiiiine.”

They are visiting affiliates every two weeks, hosting local charity events and doing localized endorsements. For Atlanta, they do several bits each day just for the local audience.

They hope to emulate Joyner and his success at connecting with his listeners and embracing community service. They both talked to Joyner personally to get his blessing. “He’s always a phone call away,” said Sasha, who knew him when he did syndicated mornings on Kiss.

Party worked with him at WGCI in Chicago years ago. Last year, he visited Joyner at his home in Miami. “I saw him out of respect,” Party said. “He’s such a real person. He’s such a cool guy, a humbler person.”

So far, Bernstein is encouraged by Rick and Sasha’s early numbers in target markets.

At Kansas City's Magic 107.3 (KMJK), among 25 to 54 year olds, Rick and Sasha in May had a 1.9 share, up from a 1.4 in May 2018 when Harvey was the morning show. (Magic's overall ratings have fallen the past three months.)

At Charleston’s Magic 107.3, 25-54 ratings are up slightly year over year compared to Joyner. There is comparable growth in Baton Rouge’s Q106.5, according to Bernstein.

It’s too early to judge the show’s performance at OG 97.9, where the show airs from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays.