Tom Joyner's morning radio show on WBLK-FM powers listeners through their day. It helps drive the urban music station to its regular spot near the top of the morning ratings chart. And, according to station reps, it encourages community consciousness, which is critical for a station that calls itself the "The People's Station."
"Tom Joyner in the Morning" is produced in Dallas, a syndicated show heard in 110 markets throughout the country, with an estimated audience of 8 million. The show airs in Buffalo from 6 to 10 a.m. on WBLK-FM 93.7.
In Buffalo-Niagara, WBLK, owned by Townsquare Media, with an 8.2 share, ranks third in the morning among stations that subscribe to Arbitron. In first place is WYRK-FM, which posted a 12.8 share in the most recent Arbitron book; WBEN-AM 930 is second, with an 11.8 share. New fall ratings are scheduled for release Jan. 3.
"We're obviously serving the African-American community, although we do have a lot of white listeners, too," said Rich Chiano, WBLK general manager. "There is no target age, but if there were, it would be adults 25 to 54. That's one of the unique things about the station, its wide appeal."
>Joyner in the morning
For stations across the nation, Joyner represents the first leg of a radio relay that runs around the clock.
"If you don't have a good morning show – like any start in the race – you'll be struggling," said Chiano. "Most people, if they like your morning show, they will carry you through the day. I'd be hard-pressed to point to a great station with a weak morning show."
Joyner, whose show debuted in Buffalo in January 2005, could be considered a newcomer at WBLK, a station that signed on the air in 1965 and has one of the longest continuously running formats in Buffalo radio today. Since its inception, the station has ridden high on the Arbitron ratings chart. Program hosts like Bradley J. Cool, "Mr. Blues" Ernie Jones and Ron Baskin helped make WBLK a heritage station with roots that date back three generations.
WBLK's morning show engineer Todd Anderson, meanwhile, reads the news on-air. He also ensures a smooth connection between Joyner in Dallas and listeners in Buffalo.
The popularity of a syndicated morning show in a market rich in talent is a testament to Joyner.
"Content is king," said Chiano, "and we do a great job of being live and local. A syndicated show like Joyner has to be a great special show to break through that. That's one of the things that Joyner has done. His content is so good, it appeals to a national audience. And local people just flock to it."
Joyner's morning show is adult-driven in music and content. Joyner is joined by two co-hosts – comedian J. Anthony Brown and Sybil Wilkes. Commentators including the Rev. Al Sharpton, investment analyst Mellody Hobson and Kevin Frazier, host of "The Insider."
>The Joyner formula
It's not easy to stay in touch with a national audience, but Joyner uses three weekly features to encourage listener participation. In cases when Buffalo residents are selected – at least once a month, said Chris Reynolds, WBLK program director – the station is provided with the winner's recorded interview for use as an on-air promotion. With $1,000 up for grabs, interest runs high, Reynolds noted.
Tuesday's "Real Fathers Real Men" and "Thursday Morning Moms" reward outstanding men and women who are nominated by listeners for making a difference in their communities.
Wednesday's Christmas Wish, granted once a week year-round, has offered up church carpeting as well as wedding receptions for disadvantaged couples.
Joyner's play list is heavy in R&B tunes from the past and present. Music from the Temptations, Spinners, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker and the Jackson Five start the day for Joyner's listeners.
The absence of morning hip-hop suits Reynolds, who recalled one day in March 2009 when WBLK-FM 93.7 took a huge step in becoming "The People's Station."
"I was looking out the window, and there was a bunch of high school students outside the library fighting," Reynolds said. "Immediately this thought went through my mind: Here was a bunch of guys and girls with no direction, no identity or anything. Barack [Obama] had just become president, and I wanted to inject some form of identity for these young men and women in our community. And because we are the voice, there is a way for us to do that.
"We had the image of being a hip-hop station, and I felt that it was giving us a negative image," Reynolds said. "A lot of times, people attach hip-hop to negative things in the African-American community. My thought was to get rid of that image and to become more of a community station."