Interview By Tia Williams
InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights Los Angeles-based radio personality, Kia René.
ELIXHER: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
KIA: Not sure where to begin. I like long walks in the park. My favorite color is green. I’m originally from Tulsa Oklahoma by way of Texas and currently reside in Los Angeles. I’m part Cherokee Indian – but according to the government, not enough of a percentage to claim any benefits other than my high cheekbones and my Oklahoman roots.
I’m a wife, and a mom, a music, poetry, and culture lover. I’m a preacher’s daughter. I have a degree in Drama/TV/Film. I’m a journalist and radio personality. I’ve been blessed to work with some of my idols in the entertainment industry (Tom Joyner, DL Hughley, Rick Dees, Al B. Sure, Crystal Chappell) as well as discover talented new world-changers on the rise. Life has given me the greatest opportunities and platforms to create love. There’s so much I have yet to see.
ELIXHER: What made you interested in a career in radio?
KIA: Initially, I thought my charted path was to be an actress headed to Hollywood to see what I could create. However, after I came out I was paralyzed in my tracks believing that my sexuality would hinder my dreams. While in college studying Drama/TV/Film, I interned at a radio station and fell in love with its anonymity. Lucky for me, my uncle was a radio personality on this station and the Program Director was one of my mother’s close friends and they gave me shot.
My uncle and I had always shared a love for music – exchanging our passions about the lyrics, melody, and composition in our favorites songs. I’d say my uncle was my greatest influence when it comes to radio. He taught me how to get lost in the music allowing me to borrow an album or two from his crate – yes, I did say album, remember those? Of course, after I gained my radio “jock-chops,” I was heavily influence by radio legends like Donnie Simpson, Tom Joyner, Frankie Crocker, Delilah, Rick Dees, Casey Kasem, and Don Cornelius to name a few.
I’m proud to encompass each of those words, ‘Black’ and ‘queer,’ and I’d even love to add ‘woman.’ Every single one of those words has a story of courage and strength embedded inside of them. Each word has also been the pillar, backbone, and nurturer of creativity in this world, in my opinion. They are me. I am proud. – Kia Rene
ELIXHER: What is a day in the life of your job like?
KIA: It’s a beautifully detailed ride. I engineer and support two weekly nationally syndicated radio shows (The Tom Joyner Morning Show and afternoons with The DL Hughley Show) during the week. My evenings are consumed with producing, planning, prepping, and creating new shows with my invaluable staff Team TSL for my own show The Satin Lounge with Kia René (TSL) which airs every Tuesday evening 10pm ET/ 7pm PT at thesatinlounge.com.
ELIXHER: What goes into preparing for a show?
KIA: Creating a radio show has many moving parts. Having spent over 20 years in broadcasting, the quality of TSL is extremely important to me. TSL is not your typical podcast although we’re located on online. There’s an incredible amount of work that goes into the production of our weekly broadcast and I couldn’t be more grateful for my team’s dedication.
We have audio editors who create the upscale sound for our show using traditional radio methods like promos, sweepers, imaging elements. My team and I spend most of our time researching compatible guests for the show. We target entertainers in the LGBTQ and independent entertainment communities. Our guests are mainstream celebrities who support the ideals of equality and inclusivity as well as featuring emerging and independent talent. We also spend invested time in creating our music playlist. Our 2-hour broadcasts are more like storytelling soundtracks with subliminal messages using sensual music and interviews that we call “Pillow Talk” to relax and soothe whilst we relax on our pillows so to speak. Artists who are discovered through our research, direct submissions from talent, as well as the requests/dedications from our listeners become an organic part of our playlist. We are the most eclectic and seductive soundtrack in the atmosphere.
ELIXHER: Who would you absolutely love to have on your show?
KIA: Hmm…there are so many! I’m completely in love with communication. I love delving into the back-story of creative people. I would adore some Pillow Talk with Janet Jackson, Donnie Simpson, Oprah Winfrey, Melissa Etheridge, Ving Rhames, Barbara Streisand, and Meshell Ndegeocello to name a few.
ELIXHER: Is there one person/caller that stands out in your mind over the years?
KIA: Oh, our TSL audience is soooo lovely and generous! Be it email, phone call, tweet, or post they touch my heart consistently. The blessing of internet radio affords me the chance to reach listeners all over the world. It’s incredible to receive shout outs and requests from places like the UK, France, Australia, Puerto Rico and Canada. I once receive an E-quest (emailed dedication) from a man here in the states who told me that he wanted to send a dedication to his boyfriend and he felt completely comfortable being transparent in his request to me. He went on to share that he was an avid music lover and had attempted to call a radio station in the past to dedicate a love song and found himself switching the pronouns to skirt the controversy. It completely melted my heart that he felt he could be authentic with us. I’ve had so many incredible moments.
ELIXHER: Why The Satin Lounge? What was your motivation for creating your own radio show?
KIA: When’s the last time you heard a same-gender loving song dedication or request on the radio? Can you remember the last time you heard a love song featuring lyrics promoting same-sex love other than Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” or Macklamore’s “Same Love”? When was last time you heard an authentic interview celebrating the achievements of the LGBTQ community without some rim shot joke to break up the conversation? Not often – trust me I’ve worked in mainstream radio my entire career. I mean, I’m grateful for Ellen DeGeneres, RuPaul, and Elton John but there’s so much talent in our community. I felt our stories were not being told, our talents under promoted, that mainstream had only scratched the surface. I decided to create a more inclusive platform where everyone could be represented.
ELIXHER: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced establishing your own business? Have you received the support you expected?
KIA: TSL has received incredible support from our listeners and the talent who have been featured on our shows. Although we’ve received support from listeners all over the world, our greatest challenge is marketing to a broader audience. We’re a relatively new radio show and it’s taking us some time to create our brand.
ELIXHER: Has it been difficult in this industry as an out broadcaster of color on the radio?
KIA: Honestly, no, it hasn’t. It has actually come as a surprise to me. It may be because I’ve realized the strength and power of my existence. The resolve that I am a creator not a competitor just like the one who created me. What I find most amusing is that all those years of hiding behind my microphone has become the very instrument that I use to trumpet messages of equality, inclusion and love.
ELIXHER: What would be your wish list of changes that you would like to see made in broadcasting in general?
KIA: I would love to be able to turn on any terrestrial radio station and hear more diversity in the music, interviews, and programming — ow much more closely would it mirror the experiences of “real life.” We don’t all walk and talk the same. If mainstream is not ready for this, perhaps we can create our own genre. Maybe someday there will be a dial on our radios for LGBTQ programming. Until then, there’s always thesatinlounge.com on internet radio.
ELIXHER: What have you come to realize about the radio business that would be a big surprise to some?
KIA: If you want to do a radio show you don’t have to go through the huge monopoly of corporations anymore more. Much like film and television, entertainment has become largely independently based. There are podcasts and broadcasts all over the internet. I believe the difference in amateur radio and professional radio is in skill set. To become proficient in any trade or craft, one must educate themselves. Taking a radio broadcasting course or two can help.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
KIA: I’m proud to encompass each of those words, “Black” and “queer,” and I’d even love to add “woman.” Every single one of those words has a story of courage and strength embedded inside of them. Each word has also been the pillar, backbone, and nurturer of creativity in this world, in my opinion. They are me. I am proud.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Kia René?
KIA: I’m finally expanding into film. Yes, a dream realized after such a long journey. Please check out a few subscription-based online projects that I’ve worked on recently: www.beaconhilltheseries.com and www.venicetheseries.com (an Emmy Award Winning/Nominated Online Drama). I have a few other projects in development, a novel, and hopefully more film work in the future.
What I’m most excited about is the expansion of our brand TSL. We are developing TSL Media Networks (TSLMN), a platform with a reach far beyond radio. We’re creating a sort of online resource center for LGBTQ and indie talent. We’re creating a trusted brand where independent projects seeking talent from other genres such as film, television, authors, artists and more are showcased through new media. We’ll soon be expanding our staff as well. Internship and advertising opportunities are quickly approaching. Those interested, we’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tia N. Williams is the woman behind The Buddha In Me, an agency of artists, speakers, poets, and activists based in Atlanta. The Buddha In Me specializes in providing quality programs to educate, enlighten, and entertain. Tia recently received her M.Ed. from the University of Georgia in College Student Affairs Administration.