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Black Alumnae in Radio Share Journeys

Zoom screen showing six panelists
Top row (from left): Chrystee Pharris ’98, D. Simpson ’94, Ashley Lindsay ’12. Bottom row: Cherry Martinez ’97, Georgette Pierre, MA ’09, Leigh Hamilton ’76. 

Emerson College’s Black Women in Radio event, presented by the EBONI Alumni Association on February 17, gathered alumnae of different generations to discuss their journeys navigating through the world of radio.

Featured panelists of the virtual event, which was held in celebration of Black History Month, included Cherry Martinez ’97; Georgette Pierre, MA ’09; Ashley Lindsay ’12; and Leigh Hamilton ’76. The event was moderated by actress and director Chrystee Pharris ’98 and WERS 88.9 FM general manager D. Simpson ’94. 

Panelists reflected on their personal experiences working in radio and how they were able to face challenges such as racism and sexism in an ever-changing industry. The lively discussion provided space for panelists to share their struggles in the industry and offer room for genuine advice for those wanting to work in radio.

“When I started radio back in the ’70s, it was a man’s shop,” said Hamilton, a freelance voice-over artist and media consultant who has been a radio personality in New York, Chicago, Boston, and more. “It was rough being a female in this business.”

Pierre, a creative consultant, producer, and voice-over artist, said that dealing with misogyny and safety, especially as a Black woman, taught her a lot about how to handle being in the industry.

“I am very mindful of how I move in an industry that is male-dominated,” said Pierre.

All of the alumnae were effusive in their praise of Simpson and what they learned at WERS, which prepared them for careers in radio. Martinez, founder of FMHipHop and a media and music executive, shared that the radio industry is growing tremendously and can come with barriers such as competition. For audience members hoping to jump into the field, she encouraged them to learn and utilize technology so that they can be versatile and have more opportunities.

“It’s a competitive field and there’s a lot of money at stake; there’s a lot of time at stake. Being a radio personality, you can pivot it into owning restaurants, [having] your own TV show, [writing] a book,” said Martinez.

Throughout their careers in radio, each of the alumnae have been able to rise above their challenges and create opportunities for themselves. They each shared advice for the audience on how to build careers in the field.

Pierre suggested taking a look at different artists’ and creators’ work to gain inspiration.

“Go Look at Cherry’s website, go look at my website, look at anyone that has a website, and just start to pick apart like, ‘Oh snap, look at what they’re doing.’ We built that and we’re continuously adding to that, paying for things out of pocket, looking for grants,” said Pierre.

Lindsay, traffic coordinator at 88.9 WERS and the most recent graduate of the alumnae panelists, expressed how it is important to start to get your projects and career goals going as soon as possible.

“Just start. Just start drafting that cover letter. Start drafting that resume. Start networking. Start going to different events. All it takes is one interaction,” said Lindsay.

Pharris and Martinez emphasized the importance of networking, especially with Emerson alumni, and building relationships with one another.

“You do have to network. The industry goes up and down and you really have to figure out multiple streams of income,” said Pharris.

“There’s an art to keeping in touch,” added Martinez.

As the event came to a close, each of the alumni offered words of advice that they hoped would be useful—not only for the Emerson community, but also to anyone trying to work toward a goal.

“Learn technology. It’s there to make everyone’s life easy…so that you can stay current and keep your skills sharp,” said Simpson.

“Learn how to be yourself. To listen. To work hard. And take chances,” said Hamilton. “Sometimes you really do just have to take chances; I did that.”

Want to hear more wisdom and insight from amazing Emerson alums? Listen to Pierre, incoming host of the Making It Big in 30 Minutes podcast, interview original host Terri Trespicio, MFA ’02, in the latest episode.  

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