Legendary radio host Tom Joyner recently announced he's retiring at the end of 2019 after nearly a half century in the business.
In an exclusive interview, 68-year-old Joyner said he doesn't really want to leave radio but "I couldn't get a guaranteed contract after two years."
Several factors are working against him. His audience is aging. Syndicated rivals such as Steve Harvey and Rickey Smiley have stolen away some of his fan base. Advertisers have shifted elsewhere. Radio stations are seeking younger listeners.
Dallas-based Joyner is still on 95 affiliates but he has lost some major stations in recent years in key markets such as Philadelphia, Chicagoand Detroit. In Atlanta, his long-time home base Kiss 104.1 dropped him last month. Radio One - which owns 80 percent of Joyner's syndicator Reach Media - quickly created a new station to accommodate him called Classix 102.9. (It was formerly classic hip hop station Boom 102.9.)
Marty Raab, senior vice president for communications for Reach Media, said Joyner still reaches 7.4 million listeners a week including markets such as New York, Dallas, Houston, Washington D.C. , Baltimore and Miami. But he exceeded 10 million during his peak years.
"Ratings are not what they used to be," Joyner said. "But when we reach people, we can still move people to do great things."
Indeed, his slogan "Party With a Purpose" remains his mantra. He has raised more than $100 million over the past quarter century for historically black colleges, handing out scholarships to hundreds of students via his vaunted weekly Sky Shows and his annual Fantastic Voyage cruises. (Though his Sky shows ended a decade ago, his upcoming cruise is nearly sold out.) He has also organized voter registration drives, doled out financial advice and encouraged people to go to the doctor.
"My job has not changed: inform and empower and have fun," he said, noting he still loves what he does, pure and simple. "It's still the best job on earth. The best part of my day is the four hours I'm on the air."
The Tuskegee, Ala. native has been known as the hardest working radio man in the business. For eight years from 1985 to 1993 before syndication was the norm, he did two shows in two different cities, hosting one in Dallas in the morning before flying to Chicago in the afternoon. A travel agent found Joyner a $30,000 fare that would guarantee him a round-trip seat for five years. He was given the nickname "Fly Jock," pocketing $1 million a year per show. (People magazine did a profile of him in 1986 that is online.) In the end, he flew 7 million miles for work.
For the past 24 years, he's been in syndication, the first black personality to successfully go nationwide.
"I've only done radio my entire life," he said. "No other job."
Joyner is hoping to turn the next two years into a "two-year retirement party." He'd love to do a farewell Sky show tour to various cities but needs a major sponsor like he used to have with Southwest Airlines to help fund it. "So far, no one has been interested," he said.
Joyner is not upset that Kiss dropped him here in Atlanta. He didn't take it personally. He knows the station was trying to skew younger.
But his long-time comedic sidekick J. Anthony Brown's surprise departure a year ago to Harvey's show, he admitted, "was personal. I was hurt."
And the competition has worn down his ties with Harvey, who he had considered a friend in the past. "We're frat brothers but we don't give each other the secret handshake as we used to," Joyner said.
Joyner can't move move quite as well as he used to. In fact, he's still recuperating from knee replacement surgery six weeks ago. But he said he'll be ready to dance when the cruise starts with the likes of Chris Brown, Tamar Braxton, Anita Baker, Babyface, Dwele, the O'Jays, En Vogue, the Ying Yang Twins, Force MDs, 112, the Fat Boys and more.
"When you buy a ticket on this boat," Joyner said, "get ready to party!"