(By Editor-in-Chief Ed Ryan) Before the three-person morning team that makes up The Breakfast Club got together, they were all doing very different things. Angela Yee was working for Eminem’s clothing line and hosted a show on SiriusXM’s Shade 45. Charlamagne started his radio career as an intern in 1998 in Charleston, SC. He worked his way up to New York City and co-hosted a show on WBLS with Wendy Williams before getting his own morning show in Philadelphia — and before getting fired four times. And DJ Envy was mixing, at clubs and on the radio.
Charlamagne says he got into radio because he was looking for something positive to do, and it just seemed like hanging out at the radio station was cooler than running the streets, doing nothing, or selling crack. “That was just one of my odd jobs,” he says. “I was working at a clothing store in the mall, and I was working at a telemarketing place, and then I would go to the radio station early in the day and late at night. Just me sitting around running my mouth led to the music director saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you try being on air? We are looking for talent on the weekend.’ So they started me off voicetracking, and I’m here now.”
DJ Envy started mixing at WQHT (Hot 97) when the station launched a program called Taking It to the Streets on holiday weekends. “They would bring in DJs that weren’t on the radio to come in and start mixing,” he says. He wanted to learn more about radio, so he started training and got his own shift at 2 a.m. And then Hot 97 afternoon personality Angie Martinez became pregnant. “When she became pregnant, they needed somebody to fill in, and they didn’t have anybody at the time,” says DJ Envy. “I was reliable and I was there, so they gave me my shot, and the whole radio world started to listen.”
Then-WWPR (Power 105.1) New York PD Cadillac Jack brought the three together. Here’s what he said back then: “We’ve found three extraordinary people in Envy, Angela, and Charlamagne, and I’m thrilled to see this exceptional team help lead Power 105.1 into the future. Morning radio is always at its best when personalities are able to connect to the marketplace in a meaningful way. Collectively, the members of this show have that natural talent, relatability, and vibrancy to give Power 105.1 a unique advantage and make deep footprints in New York radio, both now and in the years to come.”
That was back in late 2010. By 2013, The Breakfast Club was being syndicated by Premiere, and it’s now on more than 70 stations across the country. What started off as a weekend show has grown into one of the most popular morning shows in New York City and all across the country.
All three members of The Breakfast Club are social media stars and have been for years. Charlamagne has 1.68 million Twitter followers, 1.5 million people follow him on Instagram, and he has 490,000 Facebook fans. Angela Yee has 703,000 Twitter followers, 811,000 Instagram followers, and 2.2 million friends on Facebook. And DJ Envy has 692,000 Twitter followers, 808,000 people follow him on Instagram, and he has 23,000 friends on Facebook. They also have a popular YouTube channel.
And they are pulling in the numbers nationwide. The Breakfast Club is up 21 percent with Adults 18-49 year over year, according to Nielsen Audio, spring ‘16 vs. spring ‘15, and between the weekday show and Weekends with the Breakfast Club, the trio reaches 4.2 million weekly listeners and 7.5 million monthly.
Radio Ink: When you guys flip the mic every day, what is your goal? Charlamagne: We don’t really have one. We just started show prepping this year.
Yee: That’s not true.
Envy: That’s not true. I think the majority of it is just to be real. That’s the one thing about our show — regardless of what we do, whatever we talk about, I think it’s real.
Yee: I would say it is to provide information, and do it in a way that’s entertaining.
Charlamagne: I hate canned-sounding morning shows. I hate newsy-sounding morning shows. I don’t think we even live in that type of world anymore. We live in a world where it’s a constant conversation going on, and that conversation usually starts on social media. So when people turn the radio on, they just want to hear a continuation of that conversation. They want that conversational energy. They don’t want to be talked to. They want to be talked with. They want to talk with us.
Yee: But we also want to make sure that you’re equipped with what’s going on now, so that you can take that information and have fun with it and talk about it at work, and wherever you’ve got to go and whoever you have to talk to, you know what’s going on in the news, you know what’s going on in politics, and you know what’s going on in entertainment, in sports. Everything.
Charlamagne: And I think one thing that helps us is that we don’t try to be all things to all people. We talk about what interests us and what our focus may be for that day. People gravitate toward that — instead of trying to cast a wide net and say, “Let’s talk about this, that, and this and that.” I think when you try to please everybody, you lose every time.
Radio Ink: Do you have a specific audience you target?
Charlamagne: No. If you talk to some people at iHeart, they would tell you The Breakfast Club appeals to urban, ghetto-dwelling people of all races. I don’t even know what the fuck that means.
Yee: Our audience is very broad, especially being syndicated. It is important, like Charlamagne said, that we don’t try to not be who we are. I think who we are is very in touch with what the average person is interested in, what the average person is talking about. It’s based on what’s going on around us, things that are important to us and affect us.
Envy: And the culture is different now. It ain’t like back in the day, when you could say, “This is Power 101. They’re a hip hop and R&B station and they cater to black people,” or “Elvis Duran and Z100 cater to white people.” The culture is so mixed and meshed right now. It’s white people who grew up loving hip hop, and they live and breathe our culture just like a black 40-something-year-old would. It’s just different now. To try to pinpoint who listens to what and why, to me, is really just a waste of time. Because you really can’t figure it out at this point.
Yee: There’s a lot of things, I think, on the show that we discover ourselves and that are very real, like real stories that people can relate to. Like when I was buying my first house, that was something that was a big deal for me, so I would talk about it all the time. Envy talks about his family, his kids, all the time. Charlamagne has a book coming out, and he tells different stories that are going to be in his book all the time, and he’s very open about things that have happened in his life.
Envy: What we were saying before about keeping it real — no matter what it is, it’s the truth. Whatever goes on in our life, we discuss it. I’ve been talking about having kids, my wife having a miscarriage. It’s so relatable to people, because it’s not one of those things where we look down on anybody. We are all a big family, which is why we chose the name “The Breakfast Club.” It’s kind of like everybody is a part of the club. Everybody joins in on what we’re talking about. It’s just relatable and real.
Radio Ink: If you had to explain to a manager reading this article why your show is succeeding, what would you tell them?
Charlamagne: I really don’t think there’s an explanation for it. It’s funny, when you go to these talent summits and you sit down with these consultants — I don’t know if there’s necessarily a science to it. I think some things work, and some things don’t.
So what you do when you have something that’s working, you just take the basic radio mechanics, just simple radio mechanics, like teasing or stuff like that. When you’ve already got people that are creating compelling content, you just have to figure out a way to hone that, but you can’t really make something out of nothing in radio. Either a group of people have it, or an individual has it, or they don’t.
Yee: It’s three individuals that are very authentic, but we also balance each other out. We always have to reel each other back in. We have different opinions, and we’re not afraid to voice our different opinions. Sometimes we agree on things. We might disagree, it might get a little heated sometimes, but then we forget about it a few minutes later and we move on to the next thing. It’s a very authentic relationship between us. We all bring something different to the table based on our different backgrounds, our different beliefs, and our personalities.
Radio Ink: Is it difficult to come up with four hours of content every day?
Envy: I don’t think so. Not at all. It’s not difficult at all.
Yee: Sometimes we don’t even have enough time to do everything we wanted to do.
Charlamagne: When the stories are coming from a real place, which they usually do, there’s something that we see that’s going on that we can relate to, or something that’s going on in our life — when the stories are coming from a real place, you’re always going to have content.
Radio Ink: Angela, what’s the difference for you working on terrestrial radio compared to satellite?
Yee: Terrestrial radio is a lot more structured. With satellite radio, there was no specific time I had to stop talking. Everything was 100 percent live and uncensored. If we were having a conversation, sometimes that talk break could go on for 15 minutes uninterrupted.
With terrestrial radio, there are commercials that we have to deal with and songs that have to come at a certain time. I think that’s one of the main differences — it’s a lot tighter. With terrestrial radio, the way that everything happens is very precise, and it’s tight. So it just goes in and out and makes you want more. Sometimes I think on satellite radio, things kind of drag on too long. When I was working there, sometimes I would listen to things and think, “OK, this is going on way too long.”
Radio Ink: Which do you like better?
Yee: I like terrestrial radio better, and the money is way better.
Radio Ink: Envy, do you still have your show on Sirius?
Envy: Yes, I still do a show every Tuesday night from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Yee: And that money ain’t shit, right, Envy?
Envy: I’m not going to talk about my money on this call. It’s a great show and allows me to play a lot of dirty music that I wouldn’t necessarily play on the radio, a lot of new music that I wouldn’t play on the radio. It allows me to talk to a lot of artists that are on their way up, and some artists that are established. I’ve had that show for so long now — I have been on Sirius for at least 12 years.
Radio Ink: Envy, what’s the difference to you?
Envy: We’re able to grow more on Power 105 and iHeart. Also, the structure. There’s no structure there. Like Yee said, I could do 10 minutes of talk. There’s more structure on radio. You learn more — you learn about how to get in and out. With terrestrial radio, we’re in different markets, we’re in different places, we’re in different things.
When I was doing my full show at Sirius, it wasn’t as big as it is now, so you didn’t get as many calls. You didn’t get as many e-mails, you didn’t get as many hits on social media when you did things. On The Breakfast Club, you say one thing wrong or you say one thing right, you are getting praised or attacked.
Yee: I think there’s a lot more support — with terrestrial radio, you get a lot more support as far as marketing, and putting our content out there. At satellite radio, it was a lot of “every man for himself.” You’ve got to do it for yourself, because they’re not really going to give you a budget or somebody to help you put things out there.
But I feel like we get a lot of support. We have a camera person that comes in and films and edits and posts our interviews online. It gets distributed, it gets picked up. We didn’t really have that system.
Radio Ink: Charlamagne, with all that stuff you did on television, which do you like better, TV or radio?
Charlamagne: Radio. It’s not even close. I love TV, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing like waking up early in the morning, coming in here, and being on top of the world. I like setting the tone for people’s day, setting the tone for people’s mindsets. The Breakfast Club creates news. We don’t just get on air and report news. We create news.
There’s been plenty of pop culture stories that have dominated radio, television, the Internet that have derived from The Breakfast Club. I have yet to feel that feeling from television. Definitely radio.
Radio Ink: What’s your new book going to be about?
Charlamagne: It’s called Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It. It’s basically eight principles that I learned in my life. Eight life lessons that I learned that helped me get to where I am, and I’m just sharing those life lessons with the people.
Radio Ink: Do you guys get the feeling that the artists you interview appreciate radio?
Charlamagne: I don’t know that they appreciate what radio does as far as them, because the truth of the matter is, radio doesn’t really break new music anymore. I don’t even think radio makes stars. Radio is doing a lot of reacting to what the Internet is doing, which they should, but I think that if it wasn’t for the digital interview — what The Breakfast Club started doing seven years ago, when we started sitting down with the artists and having these long conversations with them and posting them online— I think they appreciate that because there is no other outlet.
There is no 106 & Park no more. There is no TRL. There is no Yo, MTV Raps. We’re like that last outlet. Look, I appreciate when the artists come in here and they’re dressed up and they’ve got their makeup on and they’re treating it like a big TV appearance, because there is no place for that, especially in the black culture.
Envy: I don’t know about agreeing that radio doesn’t break artists. I feel radio still breaks artists in certain demographics and certain genres. I do agree that we give the artists a place and a platform. There are no interview shows, so The Breakfast Club is kind of that place. But radio still breaks a lot of artists. They do get a lot of help from the Internet. I still think radio breaks a lot of artists as well.
Charlamagne: I can’t think of the last person radio broke.
Envy: If you think of a genre, not necessarily the hip hop genre, but if you think across all boards — Bruno Mars.
Charlamagne: Pop radio still does. Absolutely.
Yee: I think for artists, everybody still wants to have their song on the radio, no matter what. There’s no feeling for an artist like when a song
is big on the radio, or to have your song go number one. Right now The Migos are excited.
Charlamagne: Yeah, but radio didn’t do that.
Yee: I’m not talking about breaking an artist. I’m saying they appreciate it. They appreciate being number one. They want to hear their song on the radio. That’s why people do radio shows and all that stuff.
Charlamagne: Let me tell you a funny story. The day before Migos went number one — this was after Donald Glover shouted them out on the Golden Globes — it was automatic instinct, like, “Envy, we should play ‘Bad and Boujee’ on the radio once an hour this morning.’ Program director calls us and tells us to stop playing it. Literally the very next day, it goes number one. So now radio is forced to react to what the streets and the Internet already knew.
Radio Ink: Where is music becoming popular?
Envy: Online and in the clubs. I’m in the clubs four or five nights a week. For me, that is the way to find out what’s hot — what’s hot and what people like. Sometimes I will play a record that’s popping in the club, and sometimes they’re like, “Envy, you’re playing it and no one likes that song.” And then a week later, it’s the biggest song in the country. That does happen a lot. Radio is still in a place where people are used to getting it and it is brought to the masses.
Yee: I don’t think a lot of artists would want to do our show if they didn’t appreciate it.
Charlamagne: That’s because of our digital presence. Where else are they going to get a sit-down interview that millions of people are going to see?
Radio Ink: Envy, you’re in the club five nights a week? When are you sleeping? Envy: I don’t sleep much. I actually have a bed at the station that I usually sleep in after the club. I usually do about four or five shows a week. Recently I was in Houston on Saturday night and Sunday night. I had a total of 10 shows, two live broadcasts. It is what it is. I had a show last night; I slept at the station. Tonight I have Sirius, and I’ll sleep at the station. Wednesday I am at the station, and then Friday I’m in Fort Lauderdale to do a show.
Yee: Envy sleeps on the plane.
Envy: It is what it is. I’ve been wanting to do this all my life, since I started DJ’ing at 16. I really enjoy going to a club, and if somebody had a fucked-up day and is depressed, you can change their whole feeling. I enjoy when somebody is having a birthday and you can really celebrate with them. I really enjoy touching the people and being out there. It’s like I have this opportunity to do it, and I’m going to take full advantage of it and really do it.
And it’s brought me everywhere. I’ve been to Japan. I’ve been to Africa. You name it, I’ve probably been there. Sometimes I bring my family — I have five kids. My family is able to actually experience some of the things that I never experienced as a kid. It’s all for music.
Radio Ink: Talk about how social media and digital is such a big part of the show.
Envy: For us, I don’t think The Breakfast Club would be where it is today if it wasn’t for social media and digital. When we came here, the thing that was working for The Breakfast Club was that we were all big on social media. We are all big on the Internet.
Charlamagne posted skits and interviews and everything that he was doing. I was posting everything that I’ve done, from DJ’ing to interviews on Sirius, and Angela Yee was the same. I would say that the station had to catch up to us. That’s why people were able to see us. If it wasn’t for the Internet, I don’t know if The Breakfast Club would’ve been able to make it.
Let’s be clear: There was no big marketing and promotional budget put behind The Breakfast Club when we first started. It was grassroots. It still hasn’t been a big marketing and promotional budget. We’ve had billboards maybe once.
Charlamagne: We had billboards once or twice in New York, but we had them a couple of times in different markets. I know we had them in Houston.
Envy: I do wish iHeart would do more as far as promoting us and marketing us here in New York City. I definitely wish that. That doesn’t happen for us at all. I want a big promotion. I feel like we deserve it. I feel like we’ve got to be like McDonald’s. McDonald’s never stops advertising.
So if you’ve got something that’s good and it’s competing in the marketplace, put something behind us so we can really compete. I don’t want to be top three. I want that number one spot. You can’t really get that without the proper support.
Radio Ink: On the digital and social side, are listeners always coming back for your podcasts and other content?
Charlamagne: Absolutely. I’ve got a whole other revenue stream going with my podcasts. I do like a quarter million listeners a week on my Brilliant Idiots podcast. I’ve been to London once already, and I’m going again in April, I believe, to do my podcast live. Hell, yeah. People love podcasts.
Yee: All three of us have our own things that do very well, that are very different from each other.
Envy: They are all different. I do one that, like Charlamagne says, is a whole different revenue stream. Mine is broadcast on SoundCloud and iHeartRadio. Just the podcast, which is crazy. Just me and my wife talking, and Revolt will start airing it next month. I’ve had sold-out shows in clubs and arenas. It’s amazing that a podcast is so strong. And it’s just like an extended version of what else I’m doing in my life.
Radio Ink: Most people on the radio will never experience what it’s like to work in New York City. What is it like working in the number one market?
Yee: It’s great. I’ve been really fortunate — I think Envy, too — because we’ve never had to leave New York. That’s been a blessing. I think at one point when I was leaving Sirius, I had a couple of offers in other cities, like Philly, Atlanta, and then New York came to the table last, but at the last minute, so I didn’t have to leave.
Charlamagne: I think Envy and Angela are rare because they’re actually good radio personalities from New York. When you come up in those small markets, you learn the little things that make you a better radio personality. I guess some radio guys in New York don’t even know how to run their own board, you know what I’m saying?
Being in those small markets grooms you for the big markets. A lot of times when you start off in those big markets, you take a lot of those things for granted. If you look around at the landscape of radio, there ain’t too many people that survive when they start off in New York City. There aren’t too many that are still around. It’s like the ones who really know radio have stuck around.
Radio Ink: Where’s this show going? Where do you want to take it?
Charlamagne: That’s a great question. I hope it continues to grow. Hip hop is in a very different space right now, because this is the first generation of hip hop that we’ve seen actually get older. So it’s like hip hop is different than any genre of music because you’ve got 45-year-old people listening to the same thing that their 18-year-old kid is listening to. The demo of what an 18-34 station is, that’s going to have to broaden because I don’t think it’s 18-34 anymore. When you’re dealing with hip hop, it can go from 18 to… who knows? Maybe 60.
Yee: Hopefully we will continue to expand and have merchandising. I would love for us to have an annual event like other shows have had, and make it like a huge weeklong or weekend thing. I actually want us to really get more involved with charities, and just be involved with kids more.
Charlamagne: I want us to be a staple, man. I want us to be one of those staple shows. I don’t know if we are necessarily that yet. When people talk about the Tom Joyners and the Elvis Durans — those are staple shows in radio. I want them to hold us in that regard.
Envy: The one thing that hopefully we can get to one day is — I remember when Ed Lover and Doctor Dre did a movie. It was just two radio guys that did a movie, and I was like, “They made it. And that’s dope.” I think all of us have a story, and how we got together is a story that I would love to see on some type of show. Whether it’s a special, whether it’s a Lifetime show, whether it’s a movie, I just think our story — there are so many different things that I would love to see on a big screen.
Charlamagne: Yeah, that’s true. Stuff like that solidifies like your legacy and solidifies who you are. I just want to make that kind of mark. For real, for real.
Radio Ink: All the managers that are going to pick up this cover story and read it: Make your pitch to them about why they should call you guys and add your show.
Envy: I would just tell them to look at the numbers. Radio is a numbers game, right? Look at what we’re doing around the country. Look at what we’re doing in New York. It’s working in a lot of other places, and nine times out of 10, whatever market you’re in, people are already consuming our content crazy anyway.
Yee: Right. They’re using our app. They’re watching our interviews online.
Envy: Absolutely. So why not just bring us there?
Yee: And we also travel a lot.
Charlamagne: We definitely travel a lot. We travel to the markets. We touch the town. Every weekend I’m in a different market. We are out there shaking hands, kissing babies, and actually being part of the people. We are not some of those people who think they made it and all of a sudden look down on people. We are actually out there.
Yee: We are still trying to get there.
Envy: From the dirtiest strip club to the nicest arenas to the movie theaters, we are there.