STEP TO THE MIC: I came to the newsroom at Voice of America (VOA) right out of school in May 1994. The VOA is operated by the federal government. It broadcasts news in 40 languages to 86 million listeners across the world. I was reporting and rewriting when in July 1995 my mentor suggested that I fill a producer spot in the "English to Africa" division. They sat me in that chair and I took to producing immediately. Five years later, when VOA decided it wanted to reach younger audiences, my boss asked me to develop a half-hour pilot mixing music, entertainment and educational elements. That's how "Hip-Hop Connection" was formed. It airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. [You can hear it via the web at www.voanews.com/englishtoafrica.]
ALL ABOUT THE MIX: Most of our listenership comes from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, and we're picking up more in South Africa, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Ghana. We get e-mails from them weekly -- along with lots of requests to hear Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z and R Kelly. I use the deejay skills I developed in college, blending hits, classics and songs by up-and-coming artists, weaving in interviews with stars, but also adding news, particularly about things affecting young people over there, like AIDS.
BRANCHING OUT: Our listeners in Africa are more accepting of different types of music than American audiences are. They like to hear the radio play more than just their favorite artists' popular tracks; they want to hear the album cuts as well. So we try to give them those.
GETTING TO THE CHAIR: I'd suggest that anyone who wants to get into radio get to know other deejays. Club deejays have a good feel for what people like to listen to; they give you more exposure to the different music and remixes out there, choices beyond the songs that radio deejays have to play off the station play list.
MOVEABLE FEAST: Radio can be very competitive, so you need to really love what you're doing. For example, chances are that in your career you'll have to move around a lot for work, looking for other opportunities. You won't want to do that if you're not really into it.
NAME YOUR SOUND: You may have to start off with a music format you don't really like. But with radio pretty much owned by three major companies -- ClearChannel, Infinity Broadcast and Radio One -- you can be moved from one format type to the next, once you put yourself out there.
As told to Yawandale Birchett-Thompson