Sunny Joe White has become one of Boston's premier disc jockeys. In addition, as the Program Director of KISS 108 FM, he has helped KISS become one of Boston's most highly rated radio stations, for which he has received numerous awards, including Billboard Magazine's "Program Director of the Year." Recently he has begun his own musical career with his first single, "Jackie Lucky."
How long have you been involved in the music business?
I first got involved at 12 at a local radio station. I lived for radio, I even slept with a transistor under my bed. They literally had to take me radio away from me because I listened to radio and music all the time. Then in the tenth grade I got a full-time radio show. I would go to school for half the day and then do a radio show from 1 to 4.
How did you get your start as a disc jockey?
When I was in the sixth grade, my class went on a tour of the local radio station. I saw this disc jockey Joe, and I thought he had the best job in the world. He got to play records and to just hang out and party. I really got hooked on the idea of being a DJ. From the age of 12, I just started to hang around the radio station (WGIV, located in Charlotte N.C., where Sunny grew up), and I was an all around "gofer" from getting coffee and donuts, to cleaning cars. I hung around the station so much that they were teaching me how to use the equipment. I made tapes, pretended to do my own radio show, and had the guys listen. I guess I hung around the station so so much that they felt obligated to give me a job when I was 15. It was running tapes of religious programs from five in the morning until twelve noon every Sunday. I took it. A job in radio for a 15 year old is pretty awesome. One day one of the noon announcers called in sick, so the manager had no alternative but to let me go on. Then I went on the air at noon, and did the show for two hours. After I came off the air the program director said that he liked my show. Then they offered me a regular weekend shift.
If you had it to do over again would you have changed your profession?
No way! I have never really wanted to do anything but radio. Now that I have done radio for so long, I am looking into other things, but radio is basically all I have ever wanted to do.
What advice would you give to teenagers who might be interested in a career as a DJ?
First it is important to have a love for music. It's important to enjoy being with people, and to be someone that people like. A lot of people want to get into radio just to be rich and famous. There is much more to it than that. As far as training, there are a lot of radio schools you can go to get initial training to develop yourself for entry into the business. Also being an intern is a great idea. Even when I was just a "gofer," I learned a lot just hanging around the station. Sometimes it can even be better than going to school, because you really get hands-on training.
How much time do you spend here at the station every day?
I'm here from about 10 a.m. until about 7 p.m., and I'm on the air about two hours. But to really stay on top, there is a lot of work. By the time something hits the air it has been researched, analyzed, and thought out. It takes a lot of time to plan contests, and to get and then give away concert tickets. There's a lot that happens during the day behind the scenes. Also I'm out a lot at night. I like to get tapped in with what is hot in Boston. Whether it it is a new club, or movie that's hot, I try to picture myself as a link to what's happening in the city, musically or entertainment-wise. I read a lot of music and personality magazines to see what people like. That's my preparation. I must read 15 magazines a week. Then you get a line of possible things you can talk about.
When did you become involved in singing?
I never really sang in the high school or college glee clubs, because I was always on the radio. But I started to do some singing in studio sessions, when some local bands would be finishing up their album. They would ask me what I thought of the album, and then I would do a little singing with them. I would give a little advice and would guide them on what I thought the record should sound like. Then one day I heard some of the finished products on things I had helped people with. I thought thatI've worked with these people on their albums, and I know how they sound, and I know how I sound, so I decided why not try one of these projects on my own? So that's how I came up with "Jackie Lucky."
Are you going to record any more songs (or an album)?
Yes. We have done a lot of songs already. We're not sure if those songs will end up on the album. Some of those songs were done two years ago, and we are not sure if they sound contemporary enough. The sound of music changes so rapidly that we might have to go back and do something as simple as remix the drum sounds to make it sound up-to-date. We already have 15-20 songs done, and we're doing more. It's just a matter of getting the right 10 or 12 songs ready for the album.
When should we expect the release of the album?
Soon. We are still putting on the finishing touches. We will probably release another single, unless this one goes crazy, in which case we would rush the release of the album. If not, we are trying to get a niche on direction, on what people want to hear, and then we can go a couple of ways. The next cut will probably not be anything like "Jackie Lucky," and we have several different songs to pick from. We want to show versatility, so people can see that I'm a very good, expressive, and emotional singer.
You obviously get to know many interesting show business personalities. Who is your favorite?
The most interesting and my favorite lady in show business is Cher. It was one of those weird things, I met her at a dinner in New York two years ago, because they were trying to get her to come to Boston to do a benefit, "Boston Against AIDS." I went down to New York to have dinner with her, and I was very nervous. This was the night that she was on Late Night With David Letterman, for the big Sonny and Cher reunion. So they flew me in for the Letterman taping and then to go to dinner with her after. We hit it off right away. It was as if we had known each other for a long time. I just thought well this is just too good. Then, about a month later we were in Dallas at a radio convention, and I thought she was nice the first time, but now there are all of these radio guys around and I'm sure she will spend time with everybody. We were all at a dinner and of course she was the guest of honor, and she leaned over to her record company host, and said, " Make sure you put me next to Sunny Joe." After the dinner my boss said to me, "You know she didn't talk to anybody but you the whole night." Finally, I got her to come to the KISS Concert and perform for the first time in eight years. Cher has always been a very special friend.
What are your favorite projects?
The KISS Concert has always been one of my favorite, and this record has certainly been a challenge and an interesting project. I'm also going to be working with some bands, and hopefully producing some material. That should be interesting.
Finally can you make any predictions about any up and coming musical superstars?
That's a tough question. The industry is in a real sad state, and there isn't anybody fresh. It's been five or six years since there has been anyone like Bruce Springsteen. At that time there was a flood of talented new artists. There hasn't been anyone to replace those people. All the big artists of the summer were those from the 60's and 70's. There are no new superstars on the horizon, or at least I don't see any. I'm not hearing any new sound. I'm hearing "sound alikes."
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.