Get them to go ape shit and other lessons learned in radio

wjlb radio.jpg

I started writing this post reminiscing on my time working at a hip hop radio station in Detroit and remembering what I learned from Kris Kelley, the afternoon radio personality. She had a killer voice and attitude, she could edit an audio piece in no time and had a charm and ease that made us all flock to her fun-loving vibe. The afternoon DJ, Kim James, used to get on the ones and twos and we would all jam out to the lunch mix. As I was researching, I stumbled upon news of Kris' death, which happened over two years ago. I took sometime to collect my thoughts and I re-write this post in her honor. 


When I was fresh out of high school I interned at the hip hop and R&B radio station in Detroit, FM 98 WJLB. 

The second summer, post Freshman year of college, I interned again alongside the Assistant Program Director and afternoon personality, Kris Kelley. I was tasked to vet through incoming new CDs (you remember those?) and give her updates on what I thought of the latest hits that came flying through the door. Weekly appointments welcomed record labels into the inner offices, where she would broker air play and discuss the latest schedule. She trusted my initial instincts when I'd give her feedback on the latest tracks that came in the door. "This is hot, Kris. Listen to it!"

Kris taught me about trust.

The first summer out of high school I was part of the promotions team that went around town running events and attending concerts. At one of the promotional events where we engaged with the community, a group of enthusiastic women approached me and cried out, "Are you Kris Kelley?" I blushed and said now, I'm the intern. I guess I must have been sending out a radio personality vibe and channeling Kris. 

Kris taught me about charisma. 

Working at a radio station meant there were free tickets to events and live music all the time. If Kris had extras she would offer them to me. The concert that stands out most in my memory, and probably the best one I’ve attended, was Musiq Soulchild. It was in a small setting, we all stood in the audience and jammed to the live-band and Musiq’s captivating voice and energy. It was intimate and I felt truly connected the Musiq's music. 

Kris taught me about the power of live music.

Sometimes kids off the street would come into the office to drop off their latest track. A few were impressive enough to make it onto air, others were not as lucky. But I listened to them all because Kris insisted. And if it wasn't "radio" ready or "hot enough" then I'd have to gently let them down, but encourage their efforts. 

Kris taught me to be humble.

The entertainment world can be fun and sexy, sometimes feeling like a non-stop party, but it can also be slimy and dark. Kris made it clear the need to have balance within all the good and bad dynamics of the radio world and not get consumed in the hype and party, but focus on the music.

Kris taught me about standing firm as a woman in the industry.

Radio was, and believe still is, about community. Detroit gets hated on a lot. It doesn't have the presence of Chicago or the lights and action of NYC, but it's authentic and real and the people in Detroit and its metro area have heart and soul. We ran a lot of the giveaways and events in the community, and Kris was sure to get out there and show her face and be part of it all. It was sincere. It was connecting. It was inspirational. 

Kris taught me about community.

Ever heard a song initially and thought, “I don’t love this song.” Then after it has been played repeatedly into your head, the words and beat are cemented into your psyche and you find yourself going crazy and dancing to the very song you disliked weeks ago. This was the mix of tracks that were run more frequently, almost hourly. She said there was an art and science to getting the music right and playing it at the right time.

Kris taught me the secret to making us all go ape shit for music, the perfectly crafted heavy rotation.

Kris taught me about the inner workings of radio and the music industry, back in the day, before it was radically transformed with social media. Looking back at the work I did makes me see how music and its industry has evolved in the last 15 years, but the lessons Kris taught me are timeless.

*This post is dedicated to Kris Kelley. R.I.P January 2016