working girl: helen r. little, radio host

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You may not have heard of Helen R. Little but you might have heard her. She’s a radio host on New York’s 106.7 LiteFM with a 30-year track record. Hers is a story of discovering what she’s passionate about early on and never looking back.

Helen Little

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Age: 52

Location: New York & Philadelphia

Profession: Radio Broadcaster/Host

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How did you get started (what attracted you to radio)?

I got my first radio job in the most conventional yet unconventional way. I answered an ad in the newspaper for radio host with no experience necessary! That NEVER happens in this business. At the time I was in college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and my major was radio, television and motion pictures. I made an awful, amateur demo tape and took it with me on the interview. It turned out that I was the only person who made a tape, so I got the job! My interest in radio came primarily from my love of music, but I was also motivated by the idea that I didn’t have to really comb my hair, put on makeup or get dressed because the audience couldn’t see me.

What’s an average day like?

The first thing I do each day is thank God for waking me up. If weather permits, I go for a run or try to get in some sort of workout. I find out what’s going on in the sports world because I’m a sports freak and then I check what’s going on in the rest of the world. I walk to work at 106.7 LiteFM in the Tribeca area of New York and spend the day entertaining millions of listeners while they work. On any given day I may record commercials, voice a show for a station somewhere across the US, interview a celebrity, or inform the audience of important breaking news. A huge part of my job these days is social networking. Part of what I’m paid to do includes being on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks. It’s about connecting where people are today and we are a multi-tasking nation now. My day may end with a live concert or a client event. It’s not uncommon to have an 18 hour day.

The ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

It’s not a very secure job path. I’ve been fortunate to be in it for over 30 years. I paid a lot of dues in the beginning, which meant low pay, working weekends and holidays, sleeping on couches in relatives’ homes and dealing with all sorts of interesting personalities and egos in the workplace. But I love what I do and it was worth every bit of it.

In your thirty year career you’ve worked as both media talent and as an executive. What are some of the similarities and differences you have experienced in these two roles? 

One of the biggest differences is the level of responsibilities that come with each job. As an executive I had far more responsibilities than I do as a talent. The importance of your image is different. How I dress as a talent is different from my executive attire. As an executive, I manage the product. As a talent, I am the product. Today both are positions of visibility. The audiences are different, but in both positions you are likely to be very visible. The hours are very different. I work a lot less hours in the building than I did as an executive. I have more of my time to do what I want for myself outside of the building, so to speak. Depending on your level of success in either, your paycheck can be very different, but either has tremendous opportunity.

How does radio maintain its relevancy in the present media landscape?

As long as there is a broadcast signal, radio will always be relevant. The medium continues to evolve, as does the rest of the media landscape. I think most people have a one-dimensional opinion of what radio is and what it does. Many people see it strictly as a music delivery service when radio is so much more than that. When hurricane Sandy swept through New York, areas here were without electricity for weeks. Radio was the primary source of information and served as a comfort and connection for those who couldn’t charge phones or watch cable. Portable, battery-operated radios and flashlights were all-the-rave! When something big happens like a storm or even the death of a beloved superstar like Michael Jackson, the expression of that event sometimes requires more than the limitations of social outlets that don’t convey emotion like the human voice can. If anything, it becomes more relevant. It’s a great compliment to all of the different ways we share and connect.

Can you share your experiences as a woman of color in the media industry?

I don’t allow color or gender to define me. I try to do great work and let it speak for itself. Ironically, I got more pushback from people of my own race. I was told that I didn’t sound Black enough. So I took my polished approach to general market radio and eventually had a choice in a variety of formats to work in. When I started in this business it was a very male dominated industry. There is more of a female presence now, but I wouldn’t say it’s balanced. My strategy included networking outside of my race and gender so I could be seen beyond sex and color and regarded as professional and talented. It hasn’t always been easy nor a strategy that always worked. If people don’t want to work with you, they will find any reason to push you away. But that didn’t stop me. I just knocked on the next door until I found the one that opened and the people who did want to work with me.

How do you find balance in your professional and personal life?

The most important thing is that work is what I do not who I am. I had to learn to say no. I have friends and family members who are far removed from my profession. I feed my spirit and soul a regular diet of exercise, downtime, meditation and prayer. I learned at a young age to respect my achievements but not to worship them.

Your greatest achievement so far?

I consider it a big deal to have spent over 30 years doing something I love. I’ve met lots of fascinating people and mentored many along the way. I love seeing someone I’ve helped succeed. That’s the greatest feeling.

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What might be next for you?

I plan to continue my radio show and perhaps venture into television. I also enjoy public speaking. My biggest passion outside of radio is writing. I plan to pen a few books as well. I’m currently working on my first novel, which is a fun and interesting process.

What advice do you have for women of color pursuing careers in the media industry?

Be patient. If this is what you really want to do and it’s the career that’s intended for you. Be prepared to put in long hours and hard work. It can be a consuming profession because media is 24/7. Be willing to give up weekends, holidays, late nights and early mornings depending on your course. Know that this is what’s for you and pursue it with a relentless passion. Set some goals for yourself. Write them down and check them off as you accomplish them. Find a mentor. I can’t stress this enough. And network, network, network. Own your greatness and bring your uniqueness to whatever you do.

hair

What are your top go-to hair tips?

  • My all time favorite hairstyle is a ponytail. I’m tender-headed and as a child hated getting my hair combed. It tangles very easily. I found that a ponytail is an easy way to manage it.
  • I let my hair be what it is. It’s curly so I let it be curly. For the most part I wear my hair in natural curls, but I straighten it on occasion.
  • I also take great care with what I put in it. My hairdresser makes a line of natural products I use. I also like the product line Aunt Jackie’s, which is free from mineral oil, petrolatum, sulfates or parabens.
  • I have trouble remembering to cover my hair at night, but it makes such a big difference when I do. So I’m trying to get better at that!
  • And finally, for great curls, don’t be stingy with the product. I have a lot of hair. So I use a lot to get the look I want.
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