As host of Madison in the Morning on WIBA, radio veteran Derrell Connor is the first person of color to host a daytime commercial radio show in Madison. He also hosts the Derrell Connor Show on WTMJ in Milwaukee and co-hosts Madison365 with publisher Henry Sanders.
Name your top five MCs.
- Grandmaster Melle Mel (from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) – Leader of one of the first supergroups of Hip Hop. A true pioneer, and the first to bring reality and consciousness to rap (The Message).
- Rakim – The lyrics. The voice. The beats (w/ Eric B). I have still not heard a better song lyrically than Follow The Leader after all these years.
- Big Daddy Kane – A giant in an era that still placed rhyming and lyrical content above almost everything else.
- Ice Cube – A chief member of one of the greatest and most important groups of all time (N.W.A.) His first two solo albums were classics, became a filmmaker and director, and is a big star in Hollywood. Incredible career.
- Nas – This one was hard for me, because I had to decide between him and Jay-Z. But then I listened to Ether…..
What motivates you more: doubters or supporters? Doubters definitely. Nothing motivates me more than when someone says that I can’t do something. When I started doing Outreach on WIBA AM, some said that a show like that wouldn’t last on a mainstream radio station. It did for 9 years. And we just put Madison365 radio in the spot where Outreach used to be. Now some are saying that my stint on Madison in The Morning won’t last either, mainly because I’m almost the polar opposite of my predecessors. We’ll see. I plan on being around a long time.
What does it mean to be black in Madison? Several things: It means knowing and understanding who you are and where you come from, but not letting it define your life. It means that you are a human being just like everyone else, with the same hopes, dreams and aspirations, and wanting the same things out of life as anyone else. It means that you have no limits on what or who you can be. But it also means that some people will try to label you, or tell you that you can’t achieve greatness, be successful, etc.. because of what you look like or where you grew up. The biggest middle finger you can give to those people is to not become who they may think you’re going to be or supposed to be.
What three leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most? Alder Maurice Cheeks, because he’s an example of what folks of color in Madison should be doing to help usher in real, positive change – becoming involved in your community and your city, learning how things work so you can help make it a better place for everyone. Michael Johnson, because he made the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County relevant again, in a time when the community really needed it. Plus, he is a tireless promoter of his organization, and has turned fundraising up a notch in this town. And soon-to-be Judge Everett Mitchell, not only because of the same reasons I listed about Alder Cheeks, but also his fearlessness in speaking out and working with the LGBT community.
What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison turning the corner on our racial disparities? The biggest stumbling block is US. We have to be the catalyst for change. The Greater Madison community have been discussing these issues for decades, and while there has been progress made, the takeaway from all of it is this: We will never be able to turn the corner on these disparities unless we lead the charge to make it happen.
What are your top three priorities at this point in your life? My top three priorities in life right now are: 1. Becoming a better father and person. 2. Continuing to grow as a talk show host and help to make Madison in The Morning on WIBA and the Sunday night radio show on WTMJ Milwaukee the best it can be. 3. Balancing career, personal, and community life.
What is like working with such outspoken radio personalities like Vicky McKenna? People ask me that often, and this is what I tell them: Ever since I started doing radio, Vicki McKenna has been extremely helpful. She promoted Outreach on her show over the years, and has always offered her assistance anytime I needed it. Even though we don’t agree on a number of issues, it has never affected our friendship. The Vicki McKenna that you hear on the air is a bit different from the person. Not to say that she doesn’t believe what she says – she does. But I think sometimes people forget that talk radio is also a form of entertainment. Regardless of your beliefs, you have to be at least somewhat interesting, otherwise you won’t last long. Vicki is one of the few women doing talk radio in Wisconsin, and she’s good at it.
What are some of the challenges in each market being a black radio host on WIBA in Madison and in WTMJ in Milwaukee? One challenge has been helping some people to understand that you’re a talk show host who happens to be black, not a black talk show host. You have to be able to talk about a variety of issues and topics, otherwise you won’t last long. The other has been how to approach the subject of race, because race has played a huge role in the headlines, in a number of different ways. Some listeners have accused me of talking about it too much on my show. But what they don’t seem to understand is that if I talk about say, Tamir Rice, I talk about what happened to him as a 12 year old kid, and how a parent would react if it was their child. But because they know that Rice is black, I’m accused of talking about race, when that isn’t the point of the discussion. But I realize that’s their problem, not mine. If they don’t like what I talk about on my show, they can turn the dial. I don’t want or need those types of listeners.
What are your top-3 favorite ethnic dishes? My three favorite ethnic dishes are: Chicken or Pork Adobo with Rice, Fried Chicken, Mac & Cheese, Greens (soul food) and too many various Asian and Italian dishes to mention
Why do you think there is a lack of diversity in media? Because for a very long time in this community, with the exception of publications like Umoja, Madison Times and Capital City Hues, local mainstream TV, radio and print publications have been the dominant voice in Madison and Dane County. And that dominant voice has been predominantly made up of liberal, white progressives, with few exceptions. And when you combine that with a lack of folks of color in newsrooms, editorial boards, and radio stations (example: a local hip-hop station in Madison that has no black or brown dj’s/hosts? How is that possible?) it creates an atmosphere that doesn’t include folks that can can give their perspectives and share their stories about a whole host of issues, as well as issues that affect their own communities. But this is changing, because outlets like Madison365 have created a space for other voices to be heard, and it’s great to see that happening.
What is your favorite thing about being a father? My favorite thing is watching them change and grow into their own people with their own ideas and interests. My oldest son love to act and perform, my daughter is very creative and loves to perform, and my youngest son loves sports. My goal and priority is to become much more involved in helping them continue to grow and teaching them how to avoid some of the mistakes that I made as a child growing into adulthood.
Which movie do you like better and why: New Jack City or Do the Right Thing? I love both movies, but Do The Right Thing is my pick. I love it because no one did the right thing – not Mookie, not Sal, Radio Raheem, Buggin’ Out, the police, etc… One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Buggin’ Out asked Sal why he only had pictures of Italians on his wall in his pizzeria, when black people made up the majority of his customers. Sal’s answer was simple – “This is my pizzeria. You open your own restaurant, you can put anyone you want to on your wall.” He was right, and it serves as a lesson for us today.