In the 2015 Women’s Media Center (WMC) Status of Women in the U.S Media report, WMC president Julie Burton declared, “Media on all platforms are failing women.” Bottom Line? Men still dominate media, receiving 62 percent of bylines and other credits in print, Internet, TV and wire news. Gender and racial equality (and representation) across all media platforms is still far from perfect.
We chatted with TT Torrez, multimedia personality and Hot 97 Music Director, about how she made it in the radio industry, landing at Hot 97, what it’s like being a Black woman in the industry, and how other women can create their own path for success in media careers.
MadameNoire: How did you know that you wanted to get into the radio industry?
TT Torrez (TT): When I was in high school my aunt was the head bartender at the nightclub. I would help out and take money at the door. All the radio personalities would come in hosting parties. One day I asked one of the radio personalities if I could come to the radio station and shadow them for the day. That’s when I realized this was fun and I could do this.
I went to Norfolk State University and started working at WNSB 91.1. From there, I knew radio was my thing. That was my gift. I ran with it. I started off in Charleston, SC, producing a morning show from 6am – 10am and a midday show from 10am – 3pm. I was making $21,000 per year at the time. Nobody told me that I would be making no money by following my passion, but I paid my dues. When everybody was partying or going to the fun concerts, I was doing the shifts that no one wanted to do. It was about pursuing my passion and honing in on what I wanted to be in radio.
MN: When did you feel like you were starting to see success in your career?
TT: I knew I was successful when I was able to negotiate my first contract. I was 24 years old and doing Afternoon Drive in Richmond, VA. I was the Assistant Program Director and Music Director. But, there was still a part of me that had this need to succeed. I’ve never feel like I’ve made it. I still feel like I’m in the grinding stage.
MN: What has it been like working at Hot 97, one the top hip hop stations in the country?
TT: A smaller market station prepared me for New York. You are required to do 10 times more than what the person has in a bigger market because you don’t have those big budgets. If I had not done that groundwork, I probably would not have been able to handle what I have to handle there.
At Hot 97, my job of talking on the radio and interviewing celebrities is the obvious. What people don’t know is that as a Music Director, you are responsible for everything that is played on the radio. I am also responsible for maintaining artist and record label relationships, managing other Hot 97 radio personalities and the day-to-day operations of the radio station.
Being on Hot 97 gives you the opportunity to get noticed and build your brand. It gives you your stripes and respect in the industry. It’s not easy to get hired there. You really have to know your work.
MN: What were some challenges you faced throughout your career and how did you overcome?
TT: One of the challenges was just being so young in the business. I was really focused on my career at a very young age. That focus developed my determination. With that came growth that most people wouldn’t have achieved at my age.
Being in such a male-dominated business, you can’t wear your emotions on your sleeve. You have to know how to strategize and work in a room full of vultures in a very sex-appeal-driven industry. You do that by staying focused on the job at hand.
MN: Was there a time you’ve had to navigate vulture-like environment?
TT: I can recall one time interviewing 50 Cent and during the whole interview he’s like, “You’ve got really nice breasts. I would sleep with you.” You can’t fall into that. You have to be able to draw the interview back to the person. You can’t be the girl that falls victim to that. That happens to every girl in the industry.
[With] men…they see something and their instinct is to automatically want to come at it. You do have to gain your respect. I am at the point in my career where artists don’t even try it with me. They know what it is. That comes with standing your ground and knowing how to strategically navigate.
MN: Are there any other challenges you’ve faced as a woman in the entertainment industry?
TT: Knowing how to manage egos. One of my mentors, Lamonda Williams, was the first female Program Director I ever worked for. She pulled me into her office one day and said, “You are probably one of the most talented radio personalities that I’ve seen come through this building. You have to know how to manage your emotions. How you feel is always written on your sleeve or on your face. You have to learn how to show them better than you tell them. You don’t have to tell them everything. Learn how to strategize and move.”
That opened me up. She was one of my best mentors because I learned the industry through another female’s eyes who was very well respected in the business.
MN: How did you find your mentors?
TT: I’m good at networking and I think that’s how you find your mentors. Surround yourself with people who you admire and eventually want to become. Russ Par, who is based out of DC on WKYS is one of my biggest mentors and supporters. I met him when I first got into the radio industry. He was syndicated on over 35 stations. I knew one day that I wanted to do that. I studied and learned from him. I surrounded myself with that.