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The Soul Pitt Quarterly full interview

The Soul Pitt Quarterly contacted me for an early-2024 feature, and provided a set of written questions as a framework for their 500-word article. It was published in print in the spring edition. Below were my responses to the questions, including details and reflections that I hadn’t covered in previous interviews (Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, …). Enjoy

1. How long have you been a Syndicated Host and Producer?  Since 2017/2018

2. How long have you hosted the “Soul Show”? After joining The Soul Show in 2006 as co-host, I took the reins in 2009.

3. Please explain the difference between a Syndicated Host/Producers/DJ? Well, in the context of a music-oriented program like TSS, a host is essentially the same as a DJ.  A radio producer selects and sequences the music, inserts the underwriting messages and commercials and plans the narrations of the show.  If a show is created away from a radio station, production can mean the full end-to-end recording of the show.

4. Was WYEP always the home of the “Soul Show” in Pittsburgh until the WZUM pick up?  Yes.  The show was created in 1995 by Stephen Chatman and Don Patterson.  It aired on WYEP through late 2022, then moved to WZUM.  

5. Who or What influenced you to become a Syndicated Host/Producers/DJ? After having hosted The Soul Show locally for years, I was pulled aside by, actually, a new staff member of WYEP, who told me that the show was ready for expansion, and offered to teach me how to produce syndication-ready programming.  Obviously, he didn’t have to offer twice.

6. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?  One is to never be complacent.  Over the last few decades, radio has been forced to deal with the changing winds of the internet, etc.  Another is to learn from everyone you can.  Stef taught me laptop music management for the radio, and a station engineer taught me home production.

7. What challenges have you had to face in your chosen career?  Moving from being a volunteer host to an independent producer meant setting up my own studio, finding stations to air my show, learning the ins and outs of public radio broadcast requirements.  

8. What is the funniest or most embarrassing story you encountered in this business?  The time when country music came on and I couldn’t turn it off.  During one of my first live, solo broadcasts, I couldn’t get any music to play through the system.  After 2 minutes or so, country music started playing over, and I knew it wasn’t from my laptop.  While I was frantically troubleshooting, the studio phone rang.  When I answered, a listener started laughing. “Dude, that ain’t soul!  Ha!”  The laughter settled me down, and the problem was solved quickly.  Everyone has a funny story.  That’s one of my faves.

9. What is your favorite memory?  Perhaps getting a call on-air from Geri Allen, the head of Pitt’s Jazz Studies Department.  I admired her from afar, but had never interacted.  She called me while I was live to say how much she enjoyed The Soul Show.  

10. What are you proudest of in this career?  Realizing that the product I create is truly national quality

11. How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?  When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to try college radio.  After obtaining my FCC Broadcaster’s License, I never went any further until halfway through my formal career as a mechanical engineer.  Upon deciding to revisit the radio possibility, I decided to wiggle my way into a public radio station as a volunteer.  I figured it would take 5 years to graduate to actually hosting a show, but the stars lined up and I was on the air in 3 months.  The next major milestone was that Stef Chatman left three years later.  After some encouragement, I launched a second program in 2017, then began the larger syndication a year later.  So, the difference from what I imagined?  That I’d turn a teenage dream into a self-produced program that reaches a lot of people every week.  It happened, and it got kind of big!

12. When did you learn that WYEP was going to drop the “Soul Show”?  I was called in for a meeting, but I already felt the vibe.  

13. Can you please talk about “WYEP debacle”?  Contrary to what some may believe, I don’t believe it was the cancellation of The Soul Show.  It was, in the face of setting new goals for diversity with its DEI organization, WYEP made a major PR gaffe by changing a logo color from red to blue to “match their eyes.”  I was later asked in an interview if it was racist, and I said it was really more about cultural cluelessness.  Stepping outside of their own comfort zones and asking a friend or two of color, WYEP would have almost definitely been advised not to do that.  If you’re trying to increase diverse listenership to, at the very least, improve the station’s fiscal situation, the blue-eyed move was really, really counterproductive.  What is even more painful was that I made people-of-color consultations to the DEI committee just two weeks before The Soul Show’s cancellation.

14. A little soul on the jazz station is quite a surprise, can you please explain how that happened? DEI is a question on social media at WZUM as well, will you address that at the station?  From a 10,000-foot level, jazz-oriented public radio stations are bringing a little R&B into their mixes, maybe to spice it up or to draw some more demographic.  At the local level, I found myself tagged in a Facebook discussion about soul on WZUM.  We talked, but shelved the idea until the WYEP cancellation happened a year or two later.  I do know that there were some TSS listeners who advocated for this.  We launched within a month.  Regarding DEI, I do believe that TSS is a sincere dipping of toe in new waters, and I hope that the experience encourages the management to do more diverse programming.  My show is definitely drawing listeners to WZUM, and has really helped TSS find new audiences in the region.  Let me clarify one thing: I’m an independent producer with close ties to WZUM, but have no more direct decision-making power there than I did as a WYEP volunteer.  However, influence generally grows with time and with good reputation, and WZUM does provide latitude for me to do things like community news programming.  Folks in the Pittsburgh music scene know that I am advocating for even more DEI involvement.  Stay tuned!

15. What advice would you give to others who may also be interested in becoming a Syndicated Host?  Having been groomed over a significant number of years, I can’t emphasize the importance of having a “big sibling” guiding me.  After Stef Chatman, it was Wrett Weatherspoon of WYEP’s Big Town Blues, and Kyle Smith, the longtime music director.  Kyle taught me the importance of planning a break: under two minutes, succinct, creating intrigue, etc.  If you’re doing something that’s more conversational than musical, random discussion can lose the interest of your listener.  Learn to edit.  Pay attention to acoustics….not just stray noise, but also echoes and harsh reflections.  There are lots of tricks.  When the director of the Betty Davis biopic unexpectedly asked for a voiceover track to open the film, I wasn’t near my home studio.  I shoved some pillows into an empty freezer at my parents’ house, inserted an iPod and talked directly into the freezer.  It came out okay.  If your product is audio+visual, learn proper lighting.  

16. Can you talk about your training? Greatest inspiration? Who/what kept you motivated?  The training started with Stef, who shared the mics with me for 3 years.  I got over the initial butterflies within a few months (it actually took years for the final ones to disappear).  I learned from Wrett how to exude fun, and learned from Kyle how to construct my narrative.  Kyle was a tough taskmaster, and I got whipped into shape.

17. What advice would you give to others who look to you as their inspiration?  To me?  Ha!  Don’t get caught up in yourself.  I’ve been told a lot of times that my voice is right for radio, but what does that mean?  I liken it to a visually attractive person told to be a model or actor.  How do you deliver your lucky raw traits?  Through training and practice.  These days, especially since my show is always pre-taped, I get a chance to listen and self-evaluate.  18 years in, I feel as though I’ve gotten significantly better in the last 3 years, just from the constant feedback look.

18. What do you think of today’s trends in this Syndicated Host/Producer industry?  Let me say that it’s taken quite a few years to reach ten stations per week.  It really is hard, though, to predict what radio will be in the future.  I have placed TSS on one internet-only station, just getting to know that side of the business..  As an aside, I’ve been helping some of my terrestrial-radio veteran friends re-enter hosting or expanding via internet radio.

19. How would you describe yourself in three words?  Conversational, analytical, a jokester.

20. What do you like most about your career?  Weaving a musical thread every week.  Impacting the cultural scene.  Immersing myself in both old and new music.  Chasing and curating new music keeps me young.  

21. What do you think helped you in your success?  Having a decent ear for good music, having a decent enough technical mind and background to grasp the tools needed to transform and grow, being a good conversationalist, not thinking the temple of my musical familiar is the end-all.

22. Where and how do you see yourself five or ten years from now?  Ha!  Let’s just look out 5 years… I really do believe that the TSS formula will take hold as a multigenerational, broad-breadth presentation of black music.  Maybe 25-30 stations, including some faraway ones.  A spinoff podcast that features artists around the nation.  I’m relaunching The Soul Pod in late spring 2024 on a local level, so that will be the springboard for the national/international expansion.  Separately, I think I’d like to do a photo exhibit chronicling the POC+ music scene since 2014.  I’ve been concert-shooting for the past decade.  More importantly, I want to complete a succession plan for TSS in the event that its popularity outlasts my energy.  

One Comment

  1. Regina Yasmeen Brown
    Regina Yasmeen Brown May 18, 2024

    Mike, your TSS conversation always stimulates.
    Your music analysis reveals heavy observation,
    and wisdom. Your jokes always tickle (me.)
    Eye admire that your brave insight to the
    “facts of Life” drive you to develop a way to possibly make TSS available for music-lovers into perpetuity. 💪🏾Go forth!

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