CELEBRATING WOMEN OF COLOR IN MEDIA 2017, THEA MITCHEM, EVP OF PROGRAMMING/NORTHEAST REGION/iHEART MEDIA, PROGRAM DIRECTOR/WWPR (POWER 105) NEW YORK
Thea Mitchem caught the Radio bug at Hampton University’s WHOV. She started as an intern at WPGC in DC during the legendary WPGC and WYKS Radio battle. She held every position at the station, including MD and APD. She credits this experience as the catalyst for her Radio foundation: “We were all young, hungry and wanted to win.” Today she holds the dual position of EVP of Programming for the Northeast Region as well as the PD for Power 105.1 (WWPR) in New York, home of the legendary and nationally syndicated show “The Breakfast Club” with Charlamagne Tha God, who is fresh off the New York Times Best Sellers list with his book “Black Privilege.” In his book, Charlamagne gives credit to Thea and other Women of Color who are Radio programmers.
What is a day like for you?
12-hour days are the norm for me. Radio is 24 hours 365, so a traditional workday with the amount of stations and responsibilities I have isn’t realistic.
How does it feel to see a talent that you’ve nurtured (Charlamagne) become a best-selling author and to be credited in the book?
I love seeing talent expand their footprint. Great personalities, like Charlamagne, want to give their audience a 360 experience in their perspective and personality
often times that means, TV, books, podcasts along with Radio. It all complements their brand and the stations.
What do you think of his approach to Radio using it to educate, inform and
Charlamagne is a great talent who understands the power of the microphone. While given the privilege to entertain the listener, there is a responsibility to also educate and highlight areas that are important that will affect listener’s daily lives. The Breakfast Club is the ultimate listener companion and advocate of our listeners. If Urban Radio doesn’t do it, who will?
What are your thoughts on The Breakfast Club and your other shows?
The Breakfast Club is a movement. I always say they don’t report on the culture, they drive the culture. They are today’s pop culture, creating memorable moments that become legendary along the way. There is no other show that has created such a footprint in a short period of time. More importantly, they win! From New York to Houston to Miami and all in between, DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God work harder than most and are striving to put on an excellent show every morning that connects. I also have the privilege to work with an all-star team at Power 105.1, from The Breakfast Club in the mornings, DJ Prostyle in middays, ‘the voice of NY,’ Angie Martinez, in afternoons and DJ Clue and DJ Self at night. All of my team members are forces in their own right; together, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to go into battle with anyone else.
You also work with non-urban Radio shows. Do you think the opportunities are limited for urban radio people?
Urban Radio people are not exploring enough additional options? Radio formats are very segmented, Pop, AC, Rock, Country, Urban etc. All formats have a community of programmers, jocks, music directors who have specialized in their given format for years, just like we do in Urban. When positions come up, it’s harder to jump from one format to the next. If you are looking for a Rock PD, you start with the programmers who have specialized in Rock. I would say there is a perception that Urban programmers only like Urban music and that is wrong. We are equally diverse in our tastes. I certainly was, and that diversity allowed me to successfully program the Pop station WIHT-FM in Washington DC, taking it to number one 18-34 and beyond. My advice to any Urban PD or any PD who has another format they want to program is they have to go after it before the job is available. You have to educate yourself on the nuances of the format and actively reach out to the leaders in that format so you are top of mind when opportunities come.
What do you say to the naysayers that say Radio is a dying industry?
Radio’s reach is as powerful as ever. We are a true mass medium that can now amplify our brands and footprint utilizing technology like streaming and social media. Make no mistake an artist who wants to be a household name will have to dominate the Radio space, not just their streaming “tribes.” You can have millions of streams and the average Joe won’t know who you are, it is Radio that connects with the masses.
Do you think that the people who have a hard time surviving in today’s industry can turn their situations around? How?
Yes, but you have to diversify your skill sets. There are jobs. The hardest job to fill in Radio is producers. Finding an experienced producer who knows how to create content and or get the best content out of talent is a skill that is lacking in the industry.
What is the common denominator for anyone that you bring on board to work with you?
Drive, passion and the pursuit of excellence mixed with a knowledge base to back it up.
How important is it for the talent that you represent to have a social media presence?
Huge! I’m always shocked when I see a talent that has a few followers and treats their social extension as a chore. Why would you not want to invest in yourself and your brand? It only makes you more valuable to your station and advertisers.
What would you say are the tools for a Woman of Color’s success in the Industry?
I don’t look at it like that, the tools for success for all PDs are the same. Women just have it a little harder because we most likely will be the only women in the room of any color and we will face challenges that male counterparts won’t. I think Urban Radio does a better job of identifying and promoting women to Programming positions than other formats. I want to challenge women to get out of the shadows of their male programmers. What I mean by that is women tend to stay as Assistant Programmers and Music Directors longer than men do. I can tell you when I was ready to be a Program Director, I was very vocal that I was actively seeking that position. I was ready to bet on myself. No one is going to advocate for you better than you do for yourself. You have to have the confidence to leave and go make it happen. Assistant PD and Music Director positions should be training grounds, get all the knowledge you can, and then go.
How do you think Women of Color help or hurt themselves in climbing the ladder of success? What is your advice on what to and what NOT to do?
Fair or not, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt as much as your male counterparts when you are on the climb. You have to strive to be the best, meaning you have to work harder, show and prove more. I always say, make it so when the position you want comes available, your work and successes speaks for itself and your elevation to that role is undeniable. You can’t let things, issues, problems, barriers distract you. You have to have blinders on. You have to find what motivates you. That’s the only way you can stay on the path when things get difficult. I have two motivations, first I’ve always been determined to not be “put in a box’ and be told my limits or that I can’t do something because of my gender or race. I set my own limits, my own expectations, no one else. Finally, when I get tired, worn down, take a loss, something doesn’t go right, frustrated, intimidated, unsure or overwhelmed, I remember that what I’m doing is bigger than myself. I feel a great sense of responsibility because I’m aware of what I represent to women and people of color in our industry. That’s what I mean by ‘bigger than myself … what I’m doing is bigger than all my complaints or challenges and I have to kick myself into high gear and keep pushing. May sound heavy, but like I said, you have to find your motivation.
Do you mentor anyone?
I try to be a resource to young programmers and women. I just finished a trip to Miami where we had programmers, MD’s, APDs and talent of all market sizes come. It’s a voluntary meeting, but I attend this meeting every year because I know I’m going to meet folks in smaller markets and new people to Programming who have questions, but would be too intimidated to reach out blind. This meetup, opens the door to connect and it is as beneficial to me as it is to them. I also directly mentor Angela Watson “Uptown Angela, SVP/Programming in New Orleans.
Do you find that it’s more difficult to find Radio talent today or easier?
Everyone thinks they are a personality. I run into people all the time who say I want to be the next Charlemagne or Angie Martinez. My response to that is: How about being the best YOU? Charlamagne and Angie Martinez are where they are today because they weren’t interested in being anyone but themselves. There is power is self-belief.
Any words of advice for our Women of Color reading this issue?
Keep pushing! We are the tastemakers and backbone of this industry and our communities and we have to keep pushing and moving forward so we can open the door for more diversity at the highest levels. That’s the true challenge to our industry, making sure the boardrooms reflect the diversity of our consumers and are inclusive of women, people of color and young people. We can’t isolate ourselves and think research will give us the answer. All cultures and generations have nuances and a point of view that only someone from within the culture, who lived it, can share, no matter how much you think you like Hip Hop. You can’t research those nuances; you just need us in the room but WE have to want to be there. So, ladies, decide if you want to be in the room and go after it!
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