Tom Joyner has used his talents and opportunities to redefine the role of radio host beyond the traditional perception of disc jockey (DJ) throughout his media career. Joyner expanded his influence to the national level, used his media platform to inform as well as entertain his audiences, supported a variety of causes related to the African American community and others, and generated financial support as well as publicity for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Tom Joyner was born in Tuskegee, Alabama around 1949. His father, Hercules L. Joyner, was a former Tuskegee Airman, a member of the first group of African American pilots during World War II, and his mother was a secretary for the military. One of two children, his only sibling is his brother, Albert Joyner.
Joyner attended nursery school through college in Tuskegee with Lionel Richie, who went on to fame and superstar status as a singer, songwriter, and musician. Joyner was also a singing member of the Commodores, the local band formed at Tuskegee Institute (now University) which included Richie and others. He left the group before they went on to fame with Motown Records in the 1970s and later said (in jest) that it was his greatest mistake in life.
Begins Radio Career
Joyner remained in Tuskegee through his college years and married his first wife, Dora. Two sons, Thomas and Oscar, were born in the course of their relationship. Joyner began his career by accident a few years earlier, when he was involved in a protest of the only radio station in town, which would not play records by black artists. When the station agreed to do so, he volunteered his services, even though he had no experience.
Joyner also worked as a student announcer, which helped with his college expenses, and kept a weekend job at the local station. After he graduated from Tuskegee in 1970 with a BA. in sociology, his next position was as a radio newsman and disc jockey at WRMA-AM, an African American-owned station in Montgomery, Alabama. While working there, Joyner was first influenced to use media to positively impact the African American community, and he continued to do so as he developed his radio career.
Joyner left his home state to pursue additional opportunities as his career progressed, working at WLOK in Memphis, Tennessee; KWK in St. Louis, Missouri; and KDKA in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. By the early 1980s he had settled in Chicago, where he worked at several radio stations, including WJPC (owned by John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony magazine), WVON, WBMX, and WGCI. In 1983 Joyner was hired to do the morning program at KDKA in Dallas, and his show became the second most popular radio broadcast in the area.
In 1985 Joyner found himself renegotiating his contract with KDKA when he was approached by one of his former employers, WGCI in Chicago, about doing an afternoon radio program. After researching travel arrangements and weather patterns, he took the unprecedented step of signing contracts with both stations. While neither knew about Joyner's decision to do both jobs at first, he convinced executives at KDKA and WGCI and his family that the unique arrangement would work.
- Born in Tuskegee, Alabama
- Graduates from Tuskegee University
- Begins radio career in Montgomery, Alabama
- Settles in Dallas, Texas after several radio jobs in other states
- Works two daily radio jobs by flying between Dallas and Chicago
- Begins nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS)
- Establishes Tom Joyner Foundation
- Becomes first African American in Radio Hall of Fame
- Marries fitness expert Donna Richardson
- Receives major support for foundation from corporate America
- Gains ownership of TJMS through his company, REACH Media, Inc.
- Increases wealth when REACH Media is acquired by Radio One, Inc.
From 1985 to 1993 Joyner hosted the morning show in Dallas, flew to Chicago, did the afternoon show there, and returned to Dallas by late evening. His exploits drew national attention, and within three years, both shows became first in their markets and time slots (program schedules). As a result of his on-air and in-air schedule totaling ten shows and eight thousand miles each week, Joyner became known as the "Fly Jock" and literally one of the hardest working men in the media and entertainment industry.
The stamina demonstrated by Joyner in handling the stress and fatigue involved in maintaining his two-city commute was attributed to his easygoing personality, as well as good general health, consultations with doctors, and wise time management, which included rest and relaxation. He made it clear to observers that his work of talking and playing records was not stressful, as compared to other occupations.
Joyner's personality was also considered his greatest asset in terms of the success of his radio programs, presented in the urban contemporary music format, which featured recordings by African American singers, groups, and bands in a variety of musical styles. He was also gifted with the ability to relate to all types of people from all walks of life and used his broadcasts to inform as well as entertain the audience.
In the late 1980s Joyner explored radio syndication for the first time, with a weekly show called "On the Move," highlighting the most popular current recordings in a countdown format. This show reinforced his reputation of travel and awareness of the latest issues and trends in African American communities and prepared him for the next major phase of his media career.
In 1993, ABC Radio Networks approached Joyner with an opportunity to do a syndicated morning show, which would allow his program to be carried by a number of radio stations throughout the nation from a single base of operations. Joyner accepted and made history by becoming the first African American to host a nationally syndicated radio program. When he ended his airline commute, he had accumulated over seven million frequent-flyer miles with American Airlines, paying a $30,000 annual fee. The airline also retired two seats in his honor, in appreciation for the favorable publicity received from the "Fly Jock" arrangement, to be used in his radio studio.
The first broadcast of "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" (TJMS) took place in January 1994, and was heard in nearly thirty radio markets from north to south and coast to coast, including Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. While the music focus remained on the urban contemporary format, Joyner's new show incorporated some different elements, including a live band in a Chicago radio studio, Joyner and his crew of announcers in Dallas, comedy segments, and a variety of celebrity guests.
Key members of Joyner's on-air team were comedians J. Anthony Brown, Myra J., Ms. Dupree, and news anchor Sybil Wilkes. The show's daily format included news, commentary on current events, politics, guest interviews, sports, and comedy, as well as music. Previously taped introductions by Joyner led to traffic and weather segments by local announcers, which provided useful information to listeners regardless of their location.
The show was an immediate success, and in its first two years of syndication grew to include over sixty radio stations. From a marketing standpoint, Joyner's program usually drew its highest ratings and response from black-oriented radio stations, whose local ratings also were helped as they added TJMS to their programming. The successful track record of the program interested additional station owners and executives, and by the late 1990s TJMS had expanded to outlets in nearly 100 radio markets, with an audience of eight million listeners. The TJMS theme, "Oh, Oh, Oh, It's the Tom Joyner Morning Show", became a catchphrase in the African American community and further evidence of the show's appeal.
Expands Influence with Advocacy and Philanthropy
Joyner's profile and influence grew to new levels after the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, appeared on his program. Joyner was also introduced to Tavis Smiley by Clinton during a White House conference in 1996. Smiley had also worked in radio, prior to landing a position as a talk show host with Black Entertainment Television (BET) during the same year. Shortly afterwards, Joyner began featuring Smiley's commentaries twice weekly on TJMS broadcasts, bringing yet another dimension to his radio program.
The Tom Joyner Foundation, established in 1996, became widely known for its efforts to assist historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and African American students attending these institutions. Joyner was sensitive to these concerns as a graduate of Tuskegee, one of the flagship HBCUs, and used a number of creative approaches to bring attention to the schools and raise much-needed funds for them. He stated at the time that assisting HBCUs was the primary and only purpose of the foundation.
Joyner partnered with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), an organization founded by Frederick Patterson, a former Tuskegee president, and eventually established relationships with a number of corporations to support his efforts, along with his use of TJMS to encourage direct giving to the foundation from his listening audience. His oldest son, Thomas Joyner Jr., a graduate of Howard University, another HBCU, was installed as chief executive officer (CEO) of the foundation. Oscar Joyner, his younger son, earned an M.B.A. from Florida A&M University, and assisted his father with other aspects of his business enterprises.
Joyner and Smiley used the national platform of TJMS on numerous occasions to address political and social concerns facing the African American community, including campaigns with the NAACP to encourage and increase voter registration and participation in the political process. They decided to literally take TJMS on the road, using the theme, "Party with a Purpose," broadcasting the show live and free of charge from selected cities, requiring the audience to provide proof of voter registration or register on-site for admission.
In recognition of his many accomplishments, Joyner received numerous honors, including the Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the NAACP President's Award, Best Urban Contemporary Air Personality from Billboard magazine (four times), the 100 Black Men Man of the Year award, and the Harold Washington Award, named for the first African American mayor of Chicago.
Joyner won the Best DJ of the Year Award from Impact magazine so many times that it was renamed the Tom Joyner Award, in addition to the publication's Joe Loris Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. He made history again in 1998, when he became the first African American ever inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.
The response from fans of TJMS led Joyner to expand the concept to an ongoing series of thirty shows each year. Southwest Airlines signed on as a corporate sponsor in 1999, and he became the "Fly Jock" again with the "Tom Joyner Southwest Airlines Sky Shows." He also continued to stress voter registration, featured African American musical artists in live performances, and tied the Sky Shows in with the work of his foundation by using HBCU campus venues in areas where they were located, and establishing the "HBCU of the Month," where different schools would receive funds generated from contributions during the time period.
TJMS continued to balance fun and entertainment with serious concerns, such as support and criticism of African American celebrities and leaders during times of controversy and protests of corporate policies and activities that were insensitive to African Americans and other ethnic groups. Among the companies singled out were Christie's International Auction House for plans to sell items related to slavery, Katz Media for refusing to buy advertising time on black radio stations, and CompUSA, the computer and technology retail company, for insensitivity to African American consumers of its products.
Joyner's involvement in certain activities caused a good deal of criticism and controversy of him as well, especially when all the facts about a situation were not known before taking action. This was the case with CompUSA in 1999, where negative information about African Americans attributed to the company turned out to be false, and Joyner came under pressure from the company's lawyers and his own employer, ABC Radio Networks, for rushing to judgment and launching a protest. At one point the network threatened to take TJMS off the air, but Joyner still held firm, with the support of Smiley and his audience. As a result, the company did make changes in its marketing to African Americans and advertising in black-owned media.
The year 2000 brought major life changes for Joyner, even as he continued his many ongoing commitments with TJMS, the Tom Joyner Foundation, and other business and professional obligations. He launched another new venture, the Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage cruise, another "party with a purpose" where fun and entertainment were mixed with serious information, while a portion of the proceeds were given to the foundation to benefit HBCUs.
Divorced from his first wife some years earlier, he married fitness expert Donna Richardson after a three-year courtship. They met when she was a guest on TJMS in 1997 and was very outspoken to Joyner about his personal health and physical fitness. Despite the initial friction, he was intrigued and asked her to develop a diet and exercise program suitable for his lifestyle.
The relationship was all business, until they spent time together in Italy and Tahiti and discovered their mutual interests. Donna Richardson Joyner continued her career as a health/fitness expert, appearing on cable sports channel ESPN, NBC's Later Today and Weekend Today shows, and also served on the board of directors for the Tom Joyner Foundation.
Joyner returned to work and teamed with Smiley for "Black Agenda 2000," a special radio broadcast to encourage voter registration, education, and participation in the November 2000 elections. The town hall format included participants such as Kweisi Mfume, executive director of the NAACP; Maynard Jackson, the first African American mayor of Atlanta, Georgia; famed attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.; Randall Robinson, founder of the TransAfrica Forum; Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network; and Iyanla Vanzant, author and inspirational speaker.
Takes Activities to New Levels
Not all of Joyner's relationships with corporate America were confrontational, as his national influence translated into advertising revenue and sponsorships for TJMS, contributions to the Tom Joyner Foundation, and financial support for new undertakings. These activities included the BlackAmericaWeb.com Internet site he launched in June 2001, with links to web sites for TJMS and the foundation, along with a variety of health, educational, financial, inspirational, and cultural information. Joyner also continued his annual Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage cruise in partnership with Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and numerous other corporate sponsors. In 2002 General Mills Inc. presented a $600,000 donation to the Tom Joyner Foundation, the largest single gift in the history of the organization to that point, and Kellogg supported fund-raising galas for HBCUs featuring Joyner with a $110,000 contribution.
In January 2003 Joyner founded his own multimedia company, REACH Media, Inc., and made more history when he purchased TJMS from ABC Radio Networks. In February of the same year, Joyner celebrated Black History Month by promoting his new book, Interactive Guide to Historically Black Universities, which was developed in partnership with the William J. Clinton Foundation and included an accompanying compact disk (CD) with detailed information on 104 HBCUs.
To publicize the book and CD, Joyner and former president Clinton appeared on CNN as guests on Larry King Live and used the occasion to emphasize the continuing importance of HBCUs. Joyner indicated that the CD was being sent to every public high school in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and to every public school with more than fifty black students in the rest of the country. Black Enterprise, Essence, and Vibe magazines also distributed the CD to their subscribers.
Despite his many involvements, Joyner managed to balance his career and his marriage, as more opportunities continued to come in his direction. McDonald's, the world's largest fast food company, featured Joyner in commercials promoting his "365 Black" concept celebrating African American history throughout the year. Proctor and Gamble also entered into major advertising and sponsorship agreements with Joyner, which were incorporated into TJMS, BlackAmericaWeb.com, and other enterprises under the REACH Media umbrella. The company successfully launched the first annual Tom Joyner Family Reunion during the 2003 Labor Day weekend, again partnering with Walt Disney World and attracting more than 7,000 people to Orlando for the event.
In 2004 Joyner continued to use his celebrity and success to positively impact and influence individuals, HBCUs, and the larger community. The foundation established a $700,000 challenge to raise funds for student scholarships at HBCUs, and later in the year offered $500,000 to help Barber-Scotia College, one of the smaller HBCUs with serious financial problems. In 2005, the foundation made available scholarships of $1,000 each to students from Xavier, Dillard, and Southern University in New Orleans who were forced to leave their schools during the tragic consequence of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and who, the interim, transferred to other colleges. Other activities included "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day," with cooperation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the March to Vote rally in Miami, Florida prior to the November elections. Joyner continued to receive honors, as the National Association of Broadcasting presented him with the 2004 Marconi Radio Award as the nation's top syndicated radio personality. He was also inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, as he had made Dallas his home and base of operations some years earlier.
Joyner signed a contract with TV One during the same year, a new cable network targeting African American viewing audiences. As a result, the TJMS Sky Shows would broadcast live on both radio and television. In November 2004 REACH Media, Inc. was acquired by Radio One, Inc., for $56 million in cash and stock, making Joyner a very wealthy man. Radio One was also black-owned, founded by Cathy L. Hughes in 1980, and had become the seventh largest radio broadcasting company in the nation.
Joyner's personal financial resources became such that when he offered to buy Morris Brown College, an HBCU in Atlanta that had been closed due to financial and accreditation problems, it was not assumed that he was being humorous. While he no longer needed to work, Joyner remained committed to his extensive broadcasting schedule out of love for his audiences and the sheer fun of doing his programs.
The Tom Joyner Foundation continued its valuable work, partnering with the National Education Association in 2005 to increase the number of minority teachers in urban and rural public school systems. Joyner remained the man in the forefront as well as behind the scenes, "partying with a purpose," making invaluable contributions through his entrepreneurship and philanthropy because of his passion for life and people, particularly those in the African American community.
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Fletcher F. Moon