Radio jock Tom Joyner's letter this week to his Chicago listeners was an eye opener. The nationally syndicated radio host, who got his start in morning radio in Chicago, will no longer be on the air in that market. I don't listen to the radio very much - even more rarely in the morning - but when I do, I tune in to theTom Joyner Morning Show because I like what Joyner is doing. To me, our urban radio DJ personalities are powerful people. They have the ear of their listeners at least five days a week. Even if you go to church on Sunday, and Wednesday night for prayer meeting, most black people who listen to the radio regularly are exposed to their local DJ a lot longer than they are to their pastor.
What's going on in black radio? I haven't done any research, but I could imagine how XM radio, IPods, and CD players have reduced their audiences, along with the broadening of black listening habits. For the upwardly mobile, well educated set who has to let you know they aren't "typical", the line "I listen to NPR" has as much cachet as vacationing at Martha's Vineyard in the summer does.
Joyner's show losing ground is symptomatic of how changing demographics and the economic slowdown are going to affect all black media companies in the next couple of years. The Johnson Publishing Company has admitted that falling revenues from its flagship publication, Ebony Magazine, and its sister publication, Ebony/Jet Digest, have put its business at risk. TV One is suffering its own budget woes, even as the country's first African American president presents a prime opportunity for the cable network to expand its reach.
But back to the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Getting rid of Tom's show is one thing. Replacing it with The Steve Harvey Show - now that’s a travesty. You can't drive five miles in the morning without hearing to Joyner give someone somewhere some money to stay in school, remind his listeners to donate to a black college, or promote something related to higher education. There is no black radio DJ in the country who demonstrates his level of commitment to increasing the number of black kids who go to college.
Not one. Not even close.
To do this week in and week out in addition to all the other community issues he explores and promotes while still producing a show that entertains a mass audience is tougher than tough. Ask the people at NPR's News and Notes if you don't believe me - this black issues oriented news is either off the air or will be soon due to budget cuts, but the reality of their situation that I'm sure was taken into consideration was the size of their audience - I would imagine that it wasn't big enough to be near the top of the NPR food chain, even with nationwide distribution.
The reality that Joyner has to face is the age of his audience. I need to look it up, but I think the bulk of his listeners are in the 35 year old to 55 year old range. I have no idea what marketing guru decided that getting new customers for your brand should take a major share of your advertising budget. I've got a sneaking suspicion that the people over 30 make most companies much more money than their new ones will, but changing the conventional wisdom in the ad game is well nigh impossible.
So the Tom Joyner Morning Show - or the "TJMS", as they refer to it on the air - won't go on forever. So I'm glad Tom got his money out of TJMS while it was hot. And you don't have to feel too sorry for Mr. Joyner - he is a significant, if not the majority shareholder in Black America Web as well as a host of other media properties. His "Party With A Purpose" might have a smaller audience, but I’m certain the party will go on.