NAB Show attendees got an up-close look into the unusual career path of Angela Yee when the Radio Hall of Famer sat down with Bob Pittman for a live taping of the iHeartMedia Chairman and CEO’s “Math and Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing” podcast. Yee also talked about her iHeart-syndicated midday show that launched in January and her work as an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
While Yee is best known as one of the founding members of “The Breakfast Club,” syndicated across the country and a popular podcast, she started her career in the music business. While attending Wesleyan University, Yee interned at TVT Records in, of all places, the legal department. “That was just a way for me to get my foot in the door,” she told the NAB Show crowd. Yee also interned at MTV – for the person whose job was deciding what music videos got played. While that allowed her to meet some of her music heroes and make connections, it also ingrained her with “a really strong work ethic.”
Baptism By Fire With Wu Tang
Upon graduating college, Yee had an important career choice to make: either accept a job at Columbia Records or go to work for Wu Tang. She chose the latter. “This was a better opportunity,” she explains, because of the baptism-by-fire hands-on experience she gained. For example, when an artist manager got sick, Yee went on the road in his place. “When we came back, I had like a whole ledger down to the penny of what everybody got paid and what money we had,” Yee recounts. The artist was so impressed “that after that, I just was his manager.”
After working in marketing for Eminem’s clothing line, she applied for a marketing job at Sirius Satellite Radio but ended up trying out for a morning show job. A three-month audition led to her landing her first on-air job.
Yee views radio as fundamentally different from other media, like TV or film, due to the role it plays in the community and its ability to reflect real life. “I've never looked at myself as a celebrity,” she says. “I look at it more like: I'm just like you guys, I'm talking about the same things that you're talking about. I'm affected the same ways that you're affected.”
‘This Is Real Life.’
Whenever possible, she uses her national radio platform to educate her audience. “If there's anything tangible that I can give, like providing resources on the radio, that is the perfect platform to do that. I feel like radio is your friend. It's not like a movie or a TV show. That's fictional. This is real life.”
When she first started making money from personal appearances, Yee says she decided that would go hand in hand with giving back to the community. “I feel like, because I've been really fortunate to be in the position that I'm in, of being successful and making money, it’s important to help other people. And so that's always been something from early on, even when I didn't have much, that I always believed.” That has spanned from projects with senior services groups in Harlem to work with the New York Public Library.
Yee chalks up her success to being honest, well-prepared, consistent, taking risks, and continually educating herself. Oh, and lots of hard work. “A lot of times, people see other people who are successful, and they think it just happens. Or they think it's just relationships,” she observes. “You can get your foot in the door but then what happens after that? And so, for me, I've always been like the first person in the office, and the last person to leave.”
Yee’s entrepreneurial spirit led to her buying a juice bar in her native Brooklyn, which she renovated into a coffee shop. She launched her own coffee brand which will make its way on to store shelves in Target in June. She also has a very successful real estate business.
Growing up listening to the radio before New York had its first full-time hip-hop station, Yee would scan the dial for rap music when it aired on specialty shows. She recorded them on her cassette player. “There were certain times that certain radio shows would come on, and I would make sure that I recorded it, because you don't know when you would hear it again.”
She says she learned a great deal from her role model, New York hip-hop radio trailblazer Angie Martinez. Now, Yee is able to offer some advice of her own to aspiring creatives: “Know who you are and what makes you different than everybody else. And really stand on that. And then it’s all about hard work and being consistent.”