Why Getting HBCU Pulse Radio On SiriusXM Is The Biggest Move In HBCU Pulse History

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The big news has finally been revealed! HBCU Pulse is headed to SiriusXM Channel 142 HBCU! I have so many emotions as I write this. I feel accomplished, having finished a six-month journey to making this a reality. I feel happy because I now get to live out a dream I’ve had since I was young: being on the radio and being half as significant and impactful as Tom Joyner and the other outstanding black radio luminaries that came before me. I’m also anxious. Very anxious actually. I want this to work so badly and I want this to be the project for HBCU Pulse that takes us to the next level and makes the world respect what we do. I also want to kickstart my official journey into radio and traditional media and hope that all the sleepless nights and rejection were worth it.

I will be honest with you: I never thought this was possible. Radio is an industry that has seen vast changes since I was born on Christmas Day of 1996. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which had bipartisan support in both the House & Senate and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton, deregulated the telecommunications industry It eliminated the previous cap on radio stations by the FCC, which allowed companies to own only 4 radio stations in a market. Before the bill, small radio stations (called Mom & Pop stations) flourished. After the signage of the bill, companies like Clear Channel (now known as iHeartMedia) & Cumulus bought several stations in different formats in markets all over the country. While the Telecommunications act promoted capitalistic competition in the industry, it starved out the local stations that couldn’t compete with syndication and voice-tracking. This saw opportunities in radio for on-air talent lessen, especially for black talent. 

The opportunities lessened even more as time went on. There were some talented media professionals that were able to break through and have successful careers in radio. However, the portal to entry into radio was always to start on a weekend or overnight day-part and work your way up. That portal to entry was often closed to new talent with no experience. Then COVID-19 happened and further made finding an on-air job in the radio industry even harder. 

So imagine me, a Fall 2019 Media Studies graduate from Fort Valley State University attempting to break into an industry that had been shedding opportunities since before I was born. I had done everything I could to create an opportunity. I worked with the campus radio station Power Jamz 96.9 and Georgia radio legend Ms. Shirley Ellis (also known as Mama Mia) and hung onto everything she taught me. I woke up early in the morning and listened to as much black radio as I could as I walked to class and the cáfe. I even shot my shot a couple of times at getting on the radio locally in my hometown of Macon to no avail. By the time 2020 came around, I knew something had to give and that I’d have my storybook moment to being on the radio. 

Valentine’s Day 2020 wasn’t that storybook moment but it got me to where I am today. I was on campus for FVSU’s 125th Centennial Celebration and to work in person with my student election clients. Plus, I was homesick for my HBCU and wanted to experience Basketball Homecoming for the first time as an alumni. I can’t leave that out! But, I saw then-iHeartMedia Macon Account Executive Rod English walk into our Health & Physical Education Complex (HPE) for the celebratory pep rally. Something told me to go talk to him. I did, believing that his position as an Account Executive would make it so he could give me an opportunity to work on-air at the radio station. I didn’t even know what an Account Executive was but he’d given me the opportunity to be on the radio for two breaks during a remote with then iHeart personality Tex James for FVSU’s 2017 Homecoming. Clearly, he was the person I needed. (You can listen to my full appearance on 97.9 WIBB live from FVSU Homecoming on the player below!)

I was pitching him on HBCU Pulse and the followers that we had accumulated on Instagram and YouTube. As I look back on it, I was pitching “HBCU Pulse Radio” and I didn’t even realize it. He looked at me and said, “You’d be a great Account Executive”. He told me to email the sales manager William Barber if I was interested. I did and it led me to work as an Account Executive for iHeartMedia Macon, home of the top two stations in the Middle Georgia market WIBB (97.9) and WRBV (V101.7). They were the two radio stations I listened to the most in my whole entire life.

My first day as an Account Executive at iHeartMedia Macon on August 3, 2020.

Admittedly, I wasn’t the best Account Executive. I worked during COVID-19 and it was hard to convince local businesses that advertising with us could actually help them get customers and clients. But, I treated iHeart like a post-graduate degree. I learned so much about radio and where the industry was currently as well as where it’s positioned to go. I saw that podcasting and digital audio were becoming more and more of a priority. As I gathered my knowledge in radio and the overall audio industry, my hope of ever getting an on-air shift at a radio station started to diminish. 

I remember sitting in my car one Monday in November 2020. I sat in the parking lot and just thought about what was next. I knew that I wanted to be on the radio and have that be the triumphant start of a long and prosperous career in traditional media but was it achievable? I then realized it was 5 PM and Michael Baisden was on. I always dreamed of being able to drive home from school or work and listen to Michael Baisden so I quickly turned to it and got on the road. However, Michael Baisden wasn’t on. iHeartRadio’s HBCU Homecoming Party On The Yard special hosted by The Breakfast Club host and Hampton alumnus DJ Envy came on. I was amazed.

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The “iHeartRadio HBCU Homecoming On The Yard”, sponsored by McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden, was created to celebrate HBCU homecoming during COVID-19 as many of our festivities were canceled in an abundance of caution of the spread of the virus. The special really opened my mind to what was possible with the idea of bringing HBCU culture to the radio. I didn’t know how I would do it but I knew that one day, I wanted HBCU Pulse Radio to occupy that same type of space on the national radio airwaves. Enter: SiriusXM.

Let me catch you up on the history of SiriusXM. Sirus Satellite Radio and XM Radio were merged on February 19, 2007, and the U.S. Justice Department approved the merger on March 24, 2008. On April 18, 2011, SiriusXM, in an effort to diversify the radio airwaves, granted Howard University two radio channels: Channel 141 (HUR Voices) and Channel 142 (The HBCU Channel). That brings us to February 2021 when Delaware State University alumna and media personality Jamila Mustafa launched her radio show “Jamila’s Jams” on SiriusXM’s “The Volume” (Channel 708). 

I’ve spoken about how inspired I am by Jamila for her success in media at such as young age and her amazing skill and talent and how meeting her was one of the top moments of my college career. So, as you know, I immediately signed up for SiriusXM to listen to her show, which came on every Monday at that time. I was afforded the opportunity to be interviewed on her show as her first guest for her “Movement Monday” segment. I was so excited that I took a sick day from work just so I could use the radio equipment that I bought for my 24th birthday for the interview (a fact that I now feel comfortable admitting. You can listen to a portion of my segment on Jamila’s Jams from February 2021 using my radio equipment at the player below!).

Promotional graphic made by our HBCU Pulse designer at the time promoting the interview.

Listening to Jamila’s show opened me up to listening to the other stations offered on SiriusXM and I really loved them! That’s when I found out about the HBCU Channel. I had listened and waited for over a year before I shot my shot at getting HBCU Pulse Radio on the channel. The process started in May 2022 as a leap of faith. I knew that I didn’t want HBCU Pulse to just be an online and social media product. I wanted our impact to truly be felt and for us to be respected as a top HBCU and black media outlet. I once again admit that I didn’t think that this would happen. I thought my dream of being on the radio was dead. But, Ms. Vicci Saunders and the Howard University Radio Network team afforded the HBCU Pulse team and me this amazing opportunity. 

I talked about what the show will be in our press release but I want to talk deeper about what this means. We now have a radio show that is specifically programmed and built for students and young alumni. I want to elevate our issues and lively discussions from social media to the national airwaves. I want to give HBCU influencers and aspiring media personalities the opportunity to grow their on-air resume, something that is needed to succeed in this industry. 

Also, most importantly,  want to evolve the way that we cover HBCU life and how people perceive our coverage. Social media isn’t the end all of how we can promote HBCUs and we must rescue ourselves from that mindset. We’re not going to repost or retweet our way to national prominence for our institutions. We will show that on our SiriusXM show. We plan to give all HBCUs a platform and, hopefully, help in the spread of information and aid further in recruitment. 

As I said before, I’m anxious but I understand that all of this is a part of the journey and it’s on me to make this the hit that I know it can be. So, for that, I need your support. You can support our efforts with HBCU Pulse Radio by:

From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate everyone’s support of HBCU Pulse over the past six years. We are just continuing our growth into what we’re destined to be so please stay tuned!

Randall Barnes

Founder of HBCU Pulse & Host of HBCU Pulse Radio on SiriusXM

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