Making the music spin with a feminine flair in New Orleans
28th June 2016 · 0 Comments
By Michael Patrick Welch
In the fourth installment of Louisiana Weekly’s series on famous New Orleans radio DJs, two local women discuss their particular career paths and the challenges that came with being a woman in the traditionally male-dominated field of radio.
Known for her Saturday night live show on Power 102.9 (as part of the Stepkids crew with DJ Chicken), radio personality Fresh Johnson always dreamt of being a disc jockey.
“I wanted to work inside the radio with CJ Morgan and Monica Pierre,” Johnson laughs. “I thought they were tiny people, working literally inside the radio.”
As a little girl, she particularly looked up to DJ Monica Pierre. “When you hear her, you would think more news than entertainment radio,” says Johnson, “But her articulation while still being entertaining has always made me take notice. Then of course there’s Uptown Angela, and her eternal youth. She doesn’t age, and at a station geared toward a younger crowd she still is able to just be herself — the same woman I heard growing up.”
Then 19-year-old Johnson’s first internship at Citadel Communications in Lafayette turned into her first radio job: a sales assistant position eventually became an on-air slot in 2008. Wanting a bigger market, she eventually made her way back home to New Orleans.
Though Johnson herself prefers old-school music (“Marvin Gaye, Teena Marie, Chaka Khan”), her station plays the most popular hip-hop. However, 102.9 plays more New Orleans artists than 93.3, which Johnson likes — though she admits she has no say-so in the matter either way.
“Oh, zero,” she laughs.
“Our program director [Talus Knight] does all that. But he actually knows who is up and coming in New Orleans. He is good at building relationships with artists who are trying to make it.”
Working for the bigger station also won Johnson the chance to work with one of her heroes, CJ Morgan. “The morning show was on vacation,” Johnson brags, “so CJ and I filled in for a week!”
Johnson hasn’t been in the industry long enough to remember a time without computers, but does wish there were more of a role for modern DJs. “They started making the radio more about the listeners than the jocks. The station wants to highlight listeners. And that was what kind of pushed me to doing voiceovers,” she says. “Radio’s changing so fast, you have to find your backup lane. So I do a lot of voiceover work for a few local businesses, plus Subway, T-Mobile—commercials I may never hear because they play outside local markets.”
Johnson is glad that radio DJing has become open to women. Still, she faces challenges: “Getting into the general market is hard; you have two things against you, one you’re a woman, and two you’re a Black woman,” she explains. “It’s not too much of a race thing anymore. But still, I myself am cornered in the ‘urban market’ instead of the ‘general market.’ I may not get a voice over gig because they want a general market voice.”
In the radio game for just 17 years, Tierza Guggenheimer (know to local B97 listeners as T-Pot) hasn’t faced the same struggles as female DJs of previous generations. T-Pot does however agree there still exist certain difficulties for women in the industry.
“It can seem like a boy’s business, right down to the sales department, with the guys kind of handling everything. They do everything, and no one ever bothers them on the radio,” says T-Pot. “There is a lot of negative blowback, as well. No one is ever going to call a guy at the station and say ‘I hate you.’ But I have had so many women call and say ‘I hate your voice. I hate you.’ If someone walked up to a [male DJ] in [public] they might say, “You look different than I thought.” But they walk up to me and say, ‘I thought you were a fat white girl.’”
At the same time she was being mistaken for white, Guggenheimer faced the challenges of being Black. “I remember we used to broadcast like from Kenny’s Key West around 2004, and we used to do their commercials together live on air,” she recalls, “until the club, they actually said they didn’t want me doing their radio spots because ‘we don’t want that element in there.’ No one even knows I am Black! it’s crazy.”
For the most part though, T-Pot’s voice and talent have paved her way. “I first got into radio [by] accident,” she admits. “I was an Xavier computer science major, but I didn’t know I had to have a lot of math. I failed pre-calculus. Then after I failed calculus I decided, ‘I am changing my major, screw this.’ I switched to communications.
“Two weeks later. I called B97 for a class project — I called J Love, the night guy at the time,” she remembers. “He said, ‘Hey you have a good voice, why don’t you come in for an interview.’” T-Pot started her career officially in May 1999, interning at B97. By May, she was on the air overnight. Guggemheimer has worked exclusively with B97 ever since.
“I stopped doing nighttime when we got our new program director, Mike Taflin, who wanted the station to go younger,” she explains. “He said, ‘You are young and so you are going to just get on air and do this. He didn’t give me many instructions. I’d been using my real name though… T-Pot is a family nickname, and Mike said, ‘That’s who you are going to be on the air.’ And he put me on morning with Stevie [Guggenheimer] and a guy named Raven who got fired because he cursed at 5 a.m. and didn’t have the delay function on. Stevie and I did that for five months.”
T-Pot and “Stevie G” were married after Katrina, and continue on the air together to this day.
Unlike some of the older DJs interviewed for this series, T-Pot considers her current job a very creative one. “I always just enjoyed the basics,” she continues, “like learning the board, editing phone calls, how to give away prizes. When I first started it was no downtime — I mean, when I was interning we had a reel-to-reel machine, and that’s how they edited phone calls. By the time I was officially on air though, everything was digital. I was coming in at the tail end of having to do everything. It is much less demanding these days.
“More than anything, I liked that I could go to work in my pajamas,” she laughs. “I am a laid back person and like to be comfortable. That I could dress how I wanted and no one would see me was a big plus.”
T-Pot says she does feel challenged by the new social media aspect of her job. “Now we have to post a certain number of times each day. It just opens us up to more criticism,” she says. “I think social media has had a negative impact on media in general. People feel like they have a lot of power. I’ve had people make fake Facebook accounts to complain about me, and then delete the account.”
She says however, that the hate does not deter her, or damper her enjoyment of a job she says she loves.
“If the criticism is on Facebook, I tell them ‘Well I am not forcing you to listen.’ If it’s a person in real life who walks up and says, “Oh my god, I hate you,’ I just tell them, ‘Well, I am not for everyone.’”
Editor’s note: Longtime radio DJ Uptown Angela could not be reached in time for completion of this story.
This article originally published in the June 27, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.