Jasmine Sanders Of The D.L. Hughley Show On Being A Woman In Radio: They Look At Us Like We’re Disposable
What does it take to be a woman of color and dominate in the radio space? We sat down with Jasmine Sanders, co-host of The D.L Hughley Show, one of the the top-ranked nationally syndicated radio shows, reaching over 2.5 million in 60 markets daily to find out. Jasmine’s repertoire spans to other media platforms as well with Special Correspondent on HLN’s The Daily also on her resume.
Jasmine talked with us about what inspired her early in career, skills she’s had to build over the years, challenges she’s faced as a Black woman in radio, and what you have to do to be successful in the media industry. Check out our chat below.
MadameNoire (MN): How did you fall in love with radio?
Jasmine Sanders (JS): I fell in love with radio when I was kid. There was something about listening to someone who was speaking to me who was also speaking to thousands, if not millions, of other people at the same time. With [radio], you have to use your imagination. You don’t get to filter it through what you see. All you have to go on is a voice. A person’s voice could move you so much.I used to want to sing but unfortunately I was not gifted with the voice of song. I had aspirations to do television because I was always a big fan of Barbara Walters and Oprah and what they were able to do as women in a male-dominated industry. I felt that I had a particular fire and thought I could do that. When I got to college and had several conversations with my academic adviser, he kept saying you talk so much. You have this certain tonality to your voice. I really think you should do radio. At that point, I decided to see how radio would work for me.
As fate would have it for me, my first job out of college was working in Nashville at the same station where Oprah Winfrey worked. It was interesting for me for looking at how the universe works. When you will things to you, they begin to unfold if you put the work in. I’ve been doing radio ever since and I absolutely love it.
MN: What kind of skills did you have to master in order to succeed?
JS: When I showed up, I was ill-prepared. I thought I was prepared. You go to school and learn all these things but they don’t teach you real-life experiences. It’s a whole different animal when you step into that studio and there is no professor or other student. It was you, a microphone, and some music. You hope to make some magic happen. The very first thing I had to learn was how to master the use of my voice. I had no idea that there is truly an art to how to use your voice. You don’t want to scream. You have to be careful of emotions that are in your voice [and] how to properly use emotions in your voice. You have to learn how to harness your voice and use it appropriately so that people feel engaged instead of outside watching this take place. People forget that it’s more than just talking on the microphone. My production director came in and said slow down. He taught me how to harness the power of my voice… the lows and the highs… how to provide emotions and bring life to words. That was the greatest lesson.
MN: How did you realize what your gift was?
JS: I had no idea that my words and my voice would affect people outside the way I wanted to with song when I was a kid. I had no idea that I could affect people in that way. I had no clue until I started doing appearances and meeting people face to face and they would say, “Just listening to you everyday does this for me” or “It inspired me in this way” or “I could be having a bad day and hear the smile in your voice. The words that you say make me feel like I can make it through the day and I can’t wait to hear you again.” When you’ve asked for something you need to be very well aware of what comes with that. So often, we forget that. We get excited about what we’ve got that we forget the tandem part which is – What now do you give? I began to realize that I had to be more than just fluff. I had to say more. I had to be responsible for the words now that I unleashed on the world. I was floored. I’d meet people and they’d want to touch me and hug me. To them, it was if we had been friends for years. For me, it would be the first time. They meet me every day at the same time on the same station every day. For them, it was like we had forged this relationship. It made me very well aware of the responsibility that I had for the words that I spoke. Now, I am careful. I won’t say it if I don’t absolutely know it or haven’t done the research or I feel like it would be a bit much for someone to handle. I might make sure to temper it a little. I don’t want to say I censor my words. I’m careful with what I say because I’m responsible.
MN: Has being a Black woman affected your approach to your career?
JS: For women of color, when you’re speaking of the space of urban radio, it’s been unfair for a long time. Look at the landscape. You tell me how many female anchor morning shows there are. You can’t say that there isn’t enough Black girl magic around that some of us cannot be tasked to head our own show. Sometimes it can be a little discouraging. You always know in this business as a female you are going to have to work twice as hard. There are certain things that are placed on you that are not placed on guys. In my interview with Her Agenda, I said, “Keep an open mind and keep your legs closed.” I know it sounds harsh and elementary but a lot of women don’t know that. You forget that whoever you have relationships with…. A lot of times those relationships will be called into question because it’s a female and a male. It can be completely innocent. We are under a microscope that men are not. I’ve seen women who have had to dim their light a little bit because the male host of the show is a little intimidated by that #blackgirlmagic. We have it. I think it’s unfortunate that at times we have to dim it down. I don’t think I should have to take out some of the base out of my voice to have a conversation with you so that you don’t think I’m being defensive or that I’m an angry Black woman. If I get a little loud, it sounds a little aggressive, but I’m not. It’s me being passionate. When you do it, it’s not seen as passion, it’s seen as that guy is aggressive. It’s great. When I do it, all of a sudden, I am an angry Black woman. It’s unfortunate that our value is overlooked. Sometimes men think they can treat us any kind of way and that we are replaceable. I think it’s unfortunate. Just like men in this space, there are countless of us who are so talented but we get overlooked.They tend to look at us like we are disposable. That’s one of the battles I’ve had to fight in this business.
I speak for a lot of women in this business who sit across the table in these meetings and here you are battling and trying to get people to see past your femininity and see that you are a woman and super talented and you can do just as much as any man. It’s a difficult thing. You are fighting to be paid what you’re worth. You’re fighting for people to recognize your talent. I say don’t give up the fight. Always know your value and never let anybody tell you what it is. Ever.
MN: What do you think needs to happen so that there are more opportunities for women of color in radio to thrive?
JS: Right now, we are fighting for equal pay on the national level for women. It’s pervasive even outside of radio. I really don’t know what the answer is. I know what it’s not. That is, I don’t think we should give up. We should keep fighting. Even when people are saying take the base out of your voice or you should be quiet and let us talk… I think you should fight against all of that. It’s going to hurt, but you have to fight. I know there are tons of mentorship programs out there. I would imagine there are all kinds of networks where Black women come together and do this and that. I wish they were a little more readily accessible to everyone and not make it that you have to be a certain level before you get here. It should be open to everyone. At the end of the day, we are all fighting for the same.
MN: How do you handle working with male hosts such as D.L. Hughley who is often known for his misogynistic commentary?
JS: My first thing is I am always going to speak my truth. I am only a sum of my experiences. I see things through my prism. I’ve always been the person to say, “Listen, before we jump to any judgments, we have to hear both sides and hear from both people, especially if we are not there.” It’s really difficult to speak for all women. I don’t think it’s possible. Part of the problem that men and women have in general is that we both want to be heard. I try to be as straight forward as I can. Listen, I’m wrong in a lot of things. He’s wrong in a lot of things, just like in the real world. Where he and I excel is that I am still able to hear him and can hear his view. He is willing and can hear my view and my perception of it. That’s what makes a great mix between him and I. He respects me tremendously and I have the same amount of respect for him. Just like he checks me when I am wrong, I will check him when he is wrong. We will have a conversation about it. We have to give everyone a little bit of grace, including myself. A lot of times when we see something, we really only see it from our experience.
When he (D.L. Hughley) and I were having that conversation [about Columbus Short’s domestic violence allegations], I knew D.L.’s experiences dealing with women. He was speaking from that. Whereas me and my circle of women, I don’t know any women like that. I had to step back and say, “Let me hear him out.” We can agree that there are groupies out there. There’s none in my circle of friends so it’s difficult for me to understand how a woman can be a groupie. I don’t get it. Get a job and work. Get your own stuff. Nobody can ever take it from you if you do that. He was speaking from that perspective of “I’m a comedian. I see this stuff on the road all the time.” As far as domestic abuse, he’s never been on the side of that. He’s always made that very clear. Our conversation got into the background and the back story I wasn’t really privy to. For me, it was really about let’s hear both sides of the story before we jump to any kind of conclusion. It got a little distorted because for whatever reason people were under the impression that he is okay with domestic violence. He was never okay with that, ever.
MN: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
JS: When I look at my life and how it started, for me it was a very deep thing that my mother didn’t want me. It created a deficit in my soul to think that the person who is supposed to love you no matter what until you leave this earth or until they do…they are the only person who no matter what will have your back [doesn’t want you]. Everyone can say that about their mother or father. To know that that person tossed me to the side like I was useless and had no value stuck with me. I spent the majority of my life feeling like I was unworthy. When you grow up, everything is so monumental. Unfortunately for me, I had already started in my mind, in a deficit, in the red. When you start adding all of the things that you naturally go through in life and some of the things that I had to go through as well, I had to fight my way out of that hole. I was determined that I had to prove to the family that gave me away and the family that now had me, “Please don’t give me away. Please don’t let me go because I have value and I have worth. I knew somebody else threw me away like I was trash, but I’m worthy.” Every day I got up thinking like that. I wouldn’t let anything stop me.
Anyone that you talk to that knows me can tell you, I am a force to be reckoned with. When I put my mind to something, I am not stopping. Before I leave this earth, I will have proven to someone that I am worth more than just being tossed away like I was nothing. Regardless of the circumstances and the why…Even when people say “I think that’s great, I think that’s amazing.” To me, there is something in me that says it’s not good enough.
You got to keep pushing. Even when I get this or that, I’m still empty. The biggest obstacle is getting out of my own way and standing on my shoulder. Those are the people around me who love me. Even though I was a bit crazy and off by myself, they still loved and supported. I know, if for nothing else, it is emblazoned on my heart that the family that took me in, the friends who supported me for as long as I remember, I never want to let them down. I always want them to look and say, “I knew it. I’m so proud.” That’s what I always wanted to hear. That’s what motivates me. When I feel like my world is spinning out of control or I feel like all is lost. I think about how far I’ve come. I don’t keep inventory of my losses but every now and then I like to peak in that closet and say I’m still here. That’s important.
MN: What’s the best business tip you think aspiring media professionals need to know?
JS: Know your worth. Do not be afraid to put a price tag on it. Stick with it. Know the whys and don’t just think about right now. Think about five years from now. The one thing that I know for sure about this business is that it’s no different than TV. Women, as we get older, we age out. Men become more distinguished and classy. George Clooney gets classier the older he gets. They expect women to maintain a certain amount of youth and you have to botox this and stretch that. You have to dig in and get a lot of mileage out of it. Know the business side so that you can make a path for you so that you’re okay five to ten years from now.
I’ve seen so many women in this business who have been in it for a long time To me, they are the smartest and so good. Listening to their voices, I’m like this sounds like butter. How can they not be on the radio? They’re out of work! How is that possible? If this is all you know and do, what do you do when it’s done? You have to diversify and make sure that you are good at other things. Maybe you can write, produce, or do TV. You have to be good at everything so that just in case something goes down you have somewhere else to turn.