By Vernon A. Williams
How many people can walk away from bands that achieve worldwide acclaim, tens of millions of record sales, and a legion of undying fans that surpass generations, and look back and say that they made the best choice?
There may be others, but one notable who falls into the unique category is radio megastar Tom Joyner – once a singer with his childhood and lifetime friend Lionel Ritchie in the Commodores.
From their Tuskegee roots, the iconic singing group soared in the music industry. Joyner was too busy enjoying his own meteoric success to waste time fixated on what could have been. Ritchie became one of the most successful songwriters and singers ever. Joyner attained status in the radio industry both unprecedented and impossible to duplicate.
Similarly, for the past 25 years, the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS) has been as much a staple in the Black community as soul food, the Electric Slide, Air Jordans, Bible study, and animated conversations with or about movie characters DURING the movie.
Joyner used his talents and opportunities to redefine the role of radio host beyond the traditional perception of disc jockey (DJ) throughout his media career. Joyner expanded his influence to the national level, used his media platform to inform as well as entertain his audiences, support a variety of causes related to African Americans, and raise awareness of and contributions to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
Tom Joyner came by his sense of purpose and positive Black identity honestly. His father, Hercules L. Joyner, was a former Tuskegee Airman, a member of the first group of African American pilots during World War II, and his mother was a secretary for the military. He grew up with his lone sibling, Albert Joyner.
From 1985 to 1993 Joyner hosted the morning show in Dallas, flew to Chicago, did the afternoon show there, and returned to Dallas by late evening. His exploits drew national attention, and within three years, both shows became first in their markets and time slots. As a result of his on-air and in-air schedule totaling ten shows and eight thousand miles each week, Joyner became known as the “Fly Jock” and literally one of the hardest working men in the media and entertainment industry.
In 1993, ABC Radio Networks approached Joyner with an opportunity to do a syndicated morning show, which would allow his program to be carried by a number of radio stations throughout the nation from a single base of operations.
Joyner was the first African American to host a nationally-syndicated radio program. When he ended his airline commute, he had accumulated over seven million frequent-flyer miles with American Airlines, paying a $30,000 annual fee. The airline retired two seats in his honor, in appreciation for the favorable publicity received from the “Fly Jock” arrangement, to be used in his radio studio.
The first broadcast of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” (TJMS) took place in January, 1994 and was heard in nearly 30 radio markets from north to south and coast to coast. The music continued to focus on the urban contemporary format.
But Joyner’s new show incorporated some different elements, including a live band in a Chicago radio studio, Joyner and his crew of announcers in Dallas, comedy segments, and a variety of celebrity guests. He used his influence to wage numerous successful battles with corporate America entities that, in some measure, disregarded or disrespected Black consumers.
By the late 1990s TJMS had expanded to outlets in nearly 100 radio markets, with an audience of eight million listeners. The TJMS theme, “Oh, Oh, Oh…It’s the Tom Joyner Morning Show” – a catchphrase that became popular among African Americans throughout the nation. Scores of top artists recorded versions of his theme song.
His work always reflected the mantra of party with a purpose. The Tom Joyner Foundation, established in 1996, became widely known for its efforts to assist
HBCUs and students attending these institutions. Joyner was sensitive to these concerns as a graduate of Tuskegee, one of the flagship HBCUs, and used a number of creative approaches to bring attention to the schools, helping raise millions.
In recognition of his many accomplishments, Joyner received numerous honors, including the National Association of Black Journalists Lifetime Achievement Award; Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC); the NAACP President’s Award; Best Urban Contemporary Air Personality from Billboard magazine (four times); 100 Black Men Man of the Year Award, and the Harold Washington Award, named for the first African American mayor of Chicago.
Joyner also won the Best DJ of the Year Award from Impact magazine so many times that it was renamed the Tom Joyner Award, in addition to the publication’s Joe Loris Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. He made history again in 1998, when he became the first African American ever inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.
There is no doubt his good work will continue, and Tom Joyner will maintain his iconic media position in myriad forms. But as of the 2020 changing of the guard, with comedian Ricky Smiley behind the mike, mornings will never be quite the same.
Listen closely. You might hear the soulful, melodious sound of an unseen choir somewhere in the distance echoing from coast to coast, in perfect harmony, the words: “Oh, oh, oh. THANK YOU, Tom Joyner Morning Show!”