New York Festivals Radio Awards enlists jurists from all over the world to become members of the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury includes some of the most recognizable voices and captivating programming producers and thought-leaders in the radio industry today. NYF’s Radio Awards Grand Jury members will judge 2016’s entries online and select the World’s Best Radio Programs℠.
In this Grand Jury Confidential, New York Festivals interviews Vicci Saunders, Associate Professor Howard University RTVF / Director WHUR-WORLD 96.3 HD2 & HUR VOICES Sirius XM 141.
For the past 18 years, Ms. Saunders has guided students as an Associate Professor in the Media, Film, and Journalism Department, School of Communications at Howard University where she teaches “Scriptwriting” and “Advanced Scriptwriting”. She also serves as Director of HUR Voices Sirius XM Channel 141 and WHUR-World 96.3 HD2. In 2003, she founded Glasshouseradio.com, an all talk Internet radio channel for Howard University students. Ms. Saunders is a co-founder of the National Association of Broadcasters Media Sales Institute at Howard University, and served as its Director for six years.
In the interview below, Ms. Saunders shares early career influences, leadership lessons, and the hallmarks of award-winning radio programs.
New York Festivals: Who or what were your early influences in your career?
Vicci Saunders: Storytelling. I love books, music, theatre, radio, television and film. Those methods of expression were electrifying and amazing to me. I grew up during the time of segregated radio. There were black radio stations and white radio stations in America. Black music and news were not allowed on white radio stations. But the power of radio to influence and change minds is not black or white. It is a persuasive compelling force that is as pivotal as it is ubiquitous. Sooner or later we all got the same message.
I wanted to be a part of this powerful creative intellectual communication.
I attended the number one ranked Historically Black College, Spelman, which is located in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of sixteen. Spelman College did not have a Communication major. However, as it was a part of the Atlanta University Center, which included Morehouse College, Morris Brown and Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), students were allowed to take courses not offered at their school at any of the other member colleges.
Clark College had a Communication Department, and it had WCLK, an AM radio station. Radio was sort of like the social media of the 70’s. You could listen to what other listeners were saying about a specific topic and call in and voice your opinion.
I joined the WCLK-AM student radio group, created a talk program called “Sisters’ Session,” and was hooked.
New York Festivals: What’s the most important thing you learned from your first job?
Vicci Saunders: Motown Record Corporation in Los Angeles California hired me to be an assistant in their Press and Publicity Department after graduating from Spelman College. My boss was tough to work for and not necessarily easy going. I was told by my mentor at Motown, “But, he is very good at his job.” So, I watched and studied him. It was true, he was very good at his job.
There is not a job that I’ve had since then where I don’t find myself doing something that I learned from him. In his position at Motown he was a very popular with radio stations and the press both nationally and internationally. He would have stacks and stacks of pink telephone messages on his desk every day. It was as abundant as the fan mail I had to sort through for the label’s recording artists. I watched as he methodically organized the messages by time of day and began returning calls with the earliest received time on that day until there were no more pink messages on his desk. As busy as he was I thought this was so unusual.
Then one day he said to me, “You must always return every call you receive on the same day you get the message. Once you establish that protocol, it’s as good a guarantee as anything that your calls will be returned. And you need your calls returned in this business. It’s a sign of respect. People like to be respected.”
To this day whether at home or at work, I return every call on the day I receive the message. My calls seem to always be returned.
New York Festivals: What were some early leadership lessons for you?
Vicci Saunders: It’s not possible for me to remember the exact moment I learned about leadership. It was over a long period of time that included many years of observation, conversation, mistakes, and starts and stops. Then one day it clicked and I was able to put what I had learned into practice.
As an Associate Professor at Howard University in Washington, D. C., I teach an undergraduate script-writing class to students studying radio, television, and film. We study character in great detail. It of course involves an assessment of human behavior.
I ask every class to tell me what character traits make a great leader. They give me the usual answers.
“A great leader is a person who knows how to solve problems”
“A great leader is a person who has a clear vision and can influence others.”
I express to them that I agree. I explain to them that these are all excellent traits for a leader to possess. I then explain to them what I have watched successful leaders do.
I watched these remarkable people listen to people so they were made aware of any difficulties or inconveniences that the people they were responsible for might be experiencing. I watched them go to any lengths to provide the necessary tools that an individual or group may need to do their best work, whether it be a certain type of chair, a specific type of equipment or more time with their family.
These leaders are acutely aware that people are human to do their best work when they believe their efforts are supported and appreciated.
A great leader is one who serves.
New York Festivals: What are the hallmarks of award winning radio programs?
Vicci Saunders: Excellent sound combined with a distinct and passionate purpose in the hands of people who have a great regard for truth and authenticity is the hallmark of an award winning radio program.