By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In 1995, ABC Radio Networks unveiled its new state-of-the-art broadcast facility on Montfort Drive in North Dallas, the biggest and most technologically advanced commercial facility in North America. With 13 studios and seven satellites, it provides programming to more than 4,000 affiliates nationwide. Another 2,900 stations broadcast the network's pre-packaged formats around the clock.
When ABC called Joyner in '92 and reportedly offered him a five-year, $15 million contract to host a nationally syndicated black radio show, the corporate giant was already gearing up for its future growth. Challenged once again by what had never been done before, Joyner changed his plans to retire. The money didn't hurt either.
He convinced WGCI and K104 to release him from his contracts early so he could prepare for the upcoming show. "When you listened to Rush Limbaugh," he says, "you didn't know exactly where he was coming from, but you knew it wasn't your hometown. I knew black radio was not going to buy a Dallas show--that just wasn't going to fly in Washington, D.C., because they hate the Cowboys." And a talk show, says Joyner, would have been easy to do, but a music-based show, "that's tough...I wanted a show designed for a national audience that still had the feel of a local show." Radio-station owners around the country liked the idea, telling ABC and Joyner that if he could pull it off, they would buy. On January 3, 1994, the Tom Joyner Morning Show hit the radio airwaves, broadcasting to its 28 affiliates. Noticeably absent was any Dallas station. K104 had the right of first refusal on his show, which it decided not to exercise, and that kept him out of the local market until October 1994.
Most big radio conglomerates aren't interested in micro-managing the programming of their many radio stations. "They just want to invest their money, get their money out, and everything is cool," says Joyner. So he was given a free hand to produce his kind of radio show, one that would be created in his image and be done his way, on his terms.
In March, 3,000 charged-up Nashville fans packed into Tennessee State University's Kean Hall for a sunrise party with America's premier breakfast host. Broadcasting live, Joyner and his comedy crew had taken their act on the road and were "partyin' with a purpose," as Joyner puts it. The crowd began to chant his jingle: Oh! Oh! Oh! It's the Tom Joyner Morning Show. He's got comedy, celebrities, special features galore. When Joyner's on the air, yeah, you never know what's in store. That morning, the funk group Morris Day and the Time would be the musical performers, joined by drop-in celebrity guests CeCe Winans, the gospel group Take 6, and Oprah's dad, Vernon Winfrey.
"Hellooo Nashville!" Joyner took center stage. "It's the Haarrddeesstt-Working Man in Radio."
The crowd roared with delight.
"I give my audience the Milk of Magnesia," explains Joyner later. "That's the serious stuff we deal with every morning. But I also add a whole, whole, whole lot of peppermint to it. That's all the fun and silly stuff we do."
Joyner's partner-in-comedy, J. Anthony Brown, makes his daily contributions from a studio in Los Angeles, where he lives. A former joke writer for the now-defunct Arsenio Hall Show, Brown made his debut on the Joyner show in 1995 with the weekly Friday feature "J. Anthony Murders the Hits," a parody of popular songs with Brown's own lyrics dubbed in.
Sybil Wilkes, the show's news director, is another of the show's regulars. Bright without being brainy, Wilkes has become the First Lady of the Tom Joyner Morning Show. "Sybil and I were together in Chicago," says Joyner. "She was like a sidekick who did traffic. That's how we met. We jelled, we hit it off really good."
Veteran comedian George Wallace delivers his Monday satirical commentary, "That's the way I see it. That's the way it ought to be."--and also exchanges "yo' mama" jokes with Brown. Also on Mondays, Myra J., another professional comic, parcels out humorous "Tips for the Single Mom." She is one of three writers for the show's radio soap opera, "It's Your World," set in the mythical town of Wellington, where everyone is, not surprisingly, well-off. Featured bits "Real Fathers, Real Men" on Tuesdays and "The Thursday-Morning Mom," honor deserving moms and dads with $500 cash prizes based on listeners' faxed-in nominations.
"Voodoo Priestess" Ms. Dupree ("She's got the gift, and she's got to use it"), played by Jedda Jones, appears every Wednesday, giving call-in listeners "psychic advice for entertainment purposes only," along with the lucky lottery numbers of the day and problem-solving potions. On Fridays, Joyner plays host to the flamboyantly gay character Melvin, portrayed by actor Kevin Woodson, who dispenses advice for the lovelorn on "Melvin's Lovelines."
Joyner has hand-picked his cast of characters, managing to maintain control of the show's format at the same time that he gives his actors creative freedom. The show's comedians have only two restrictions: no jokes about R&B's Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and no Oprah jokes.
Joyner offers his listeners no hip-hop or rap; instead the show's musical personality is fashioned out of classic R&B, old-school Motown, '70s-style funk, and a sprinkling of old-fashioned black gospel. "Radio has now become a little specialized," says Joyner. "You've got radio stations targeted to a hip-hop audience. You've got radio stations that target adults...after about two years, we decided we were just going to be an old-school show for older adults, and that made life a lot simpler."