Making the music spin with a feminine flair in New Orleans
21st June 2016 · 0 Comments
By Michael Patrick Welch
Editor’s Note: In the third installment of Louisiana Weekly’s series on famous New Orleans radio DJs, the focus turns to local woman who discuss their particular career paths and the challenges that came with being a women in the traditionally male-dominated field of radio. This week is Downtown Gina Brown.
Gina Brown’s radio career technically began at WBLX in Mobile, Alabama in 1987, but New Orleans always provided inspiration for the budding disc jockey. “Even when I was younger I’d come to New Orleans every summer because my parents are from here, and I always remember hearing and liking Papa Smurf and his show ‘Mellow Moods,’” she says. “Everything else would stop when his voice would come on. I heard it and thought ‘I want to sound that good.’”
Brown not long after found her first home at WBLX. “I was an on-air personality first,” she says. “Then I started doing club spots, where I went into clubs and did my thing. But it was old guys on the blues show at the AM station who taught me how to mix and blend music for both on-air, and at the club.”
Gina Brown has since left radio, but remains a DJ—if only at her own concerts, where she sings modern and old-school R&B “Now, when I am booked for events,” she explains, “I can come and be the DJ or I can lead the band. It makes some DJs mad at me because it puts them out of a job. But the hustle don’t stop; it’s real out here.”
Brown says she prefers club DJing, because it gives her musical autonomy. “I started on-air first with my show ‘Jazzy Sensations,’ where I had a little more freedom about picking the music,” Brown remembers. “I mostly formatted the music myself. It was only for an hour, but I made sure I had a wide variety of music, different instrumentation. I liked turning people onto to old music, plus bringing them to back in the day reminisce.”
In 1987, Brown was one of a very few female DJs. “You have one famous DJ—Spinderella, who worked with Salt-N-Pepa—she came into the picture and it became fashionable to see a female DJ. Before then, I’d never seen a female DJ before. I always played up the fact that I was the only female DJ in my area.”
Today it seems inconceivable that women’s voices would be shut out of radio. “When radio started all you heard was male voices, from Wolfman Jack to Casey Kasem… Men just made it a man’s thing to do,” Brown explains. “Men were fascinated by having the big sound, the big voice, and being a DJ, so they made it, like, a man’s job.”
Still, Brown rose through the ranks at WBLX. “I eventually became an on-air specialist, and I’d get people to buy radio by creating a commercial for them. Making the commercial first made it easier to sell it to them. I was interested in the production part of it, and the effect people would have when they hear me speak.” It also gave Brown her first professional singing job, belting out jingles for the commercials she made. Even today she is the voice and face of Louisiana Lottery, and for companies like Priority Health Care and Merchants Bank.
“After Katrina I moved back to New Orleans to work at WQUE, then to WYLD when they were on Gravier.” A performer by nature, Brown isn’t thrilled by the style of new-school corporate radio. “Back in the day, it used to be about the personality. But now the music, it’s automated. Everything’s just a laptop. Whereas, in the club, you have to pay attention to what people are responding to,” she says. “If people don’t get on the floor then you’re not bringing the party.”
Brown has traveled the world singing with various bands, and says her time in radio gave her a good ear for sequencing songs for live performance. “Once I started singing with people like Michael Ward, it helped me to format my concert show like a DJ. That’s one thing I might have over some other artists in the city, I can format my own shows.”
Brown though, will still come be your personal DJ. She also still enjoys singing jingles, as it keeps her voice on the radio. “I used the gift God gave me,” says Brown, “and I created a job out of it.”
This article originally published in the June 20, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.