Syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner threw one of the city's biggest parties early Friday morning.When most of the city slept, thousands of fans arrived at War Memorial Auditorium to see ``Tom Joyner Southwest Airlines Sky Show,' hear The Gap Band and celebrate Aggie Pride during N.C. A&T's homecoming.
At least 10,000 fans jockeyed for a free seat inside. Only 2,500 people got in. Right before 6 a.m., more than an hour before sunrise, Joyner hopped onstage, yelled ``Hello, Greensboro!' into his cordless microphone and jump-started his four-hour party.
But like Joyner himself, his syndicated show is more than just entertainment. His show Friday raised $8,000 for Winston-Salem State University, registered 150 people to vote and highlighted once again Joyner's primary goal: entertain and educate.
Here are some thoughts from Joyner, considered one of the biggest influences in black radio today.
What do you think of Greensboro and Aggie Pride?
Man, they told me about this. They said they get down, and I thought, 'Alright' because we're always looking for excuses to do these. So the homecoming this year was our excuse to come here.
And thousands of people who showed up had to be turned away because we had no more room. We filled the house, 2,500 people. They we here all night, and we kicked it at 6 and they stayed here for four hours. That's good.
What does that tell you?
There's a lot of love here for the 'Tom Joyner Morning Show,' and it tells me these people like to party.
How did you get the idea for the Sky Show and what is its purpose? It started in '96. We started out doing voter registration, and we wanted to party with a purpose. We thought, 'OK, we'll take this show on the road,' and we chose some cities where there were some tight elections going on, where we thought that if we had a good voter registration drive, we could make a difference in that local election.
The mission was to register people to vote and now it's grown to what you see today. We're still registering people to vote. But instead of sitting at a desk with a bunch of microphones, we've gone to a full-blown production with an old school band and dance contests and giving away money and raising money for historically black colleges and universities. It's evolved into this.
How did a guy with a sociology degree from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama get involved in radio?
I didn't have a job. I had a degree and no job, and I had a friend in radio who asked, 'Would you like to do this?' and I said, 'I've never done it before.' Well, he said, 'You can do this, this is easy,' and I've been doing it ever since.
In your years in radio, you've become a voice for many and motivated them to get involved with various social and political issues. Who motivated you?
John H. Johnson, the publisher for Ebony and Jet magazine. He's probably been the biggest influence on me. I worked with him, and he gave me a job. I worked for him for five years, and in those five years, I learned a lot about how to serve black consumers through the media.
You've become a social activist who uses his microphone as a pulpit. What do you see as your role in radio?
We have a large audience, and with any audience, I think it's imperative you have an agenda. It's not enough to entertain. If you've got an audience, then you need to figure out some kind of way to empower that audience.
That is what we try to do. That's what we're supposed to do. It's our responsibility as broadcasters, and that's what black radio has been about.
When they did the lunch counter sit-ins back in 1960, how did they know to march? How did they know to go down to Woolworth's? My bet is it was over the radio. It was a black radio station told them where to go, what time to be there.
Today, people don't talk about the role of black radio in the civil rights movement. But you have to know the word had to go out some kind of way, and it was black radio did it. Your Tom Joyner Foundation has raised more than a half million dollars for historically black colleges and universities nationwide. Why was that important for you to start?
HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) is in my blood. I'm from a black college town, graduated from a black college. All my family graduated from black colleges, my sons. So, black colleges is a part of me, and they need help. It was natural for me because I want to give back and raise money for students so they can continue their education.
I had no idea it would blow up like this when we started it. We're close to a million dollars right now, and it's mostly coming from individual donations. And we have people who send in money, regardless of the college, every month. You've been interviewed on the TODAY show and many other big-name shows. You're a friend of President Bill Clinton and to many other influential people, both black and white. To some, you're considered the voice of black America. Your thoughts on that?
I'm not a voice of black America, I'm just a DJ. I have a radio show that reaches more black Americans than any other medium out there. We're just the match that lights the fire. But black America. They are the voice. The future of the 'Tom Joyner Morning Show?'
We got 99 stations, and we're trying to reach 100, and we'll try to spread out around the world. We're already around the world on the Armed Forces Network. We're also re-launching our Website, tomjoyner.com., and we'll keep doing more of what we're doing.
We'll take it to the moon and to the stars. Yeah, we'll have a Sky Show from the moon. Yeah, that's it. Old-school Sky Show from the moon. You call yourself the hardest working man in radio. You flew into Greensboro at 1 in the morning just to do this show. If you had a day to yourself, what would you do?