By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Chris Coleman’s career has come full circle.
He remembers being at the WATV 900 Gold radio station often with his father, William “Boppin Bill” Coleman. Now he is the senior vice president of programming for French Broadcasting, which owns the station, after it was recently purchased by Birmingham attorney Courtney French.
“I knew all the DJs in the radio station,” said Coleman, a Fairfield native. “At 16 and 17 years old I knew that I wanted to be a radio personality.”
However, to have the career he wanted, he knew he had to leave Birmingham.
If he didn’t leave he would be seen as ‘Bill’s Little Boy,’ Chris said. “I didn’t want to be that. Although my dad was well-respected in the market, I had to go make a name for myself . . . I don’t want to be just Bill’s son.”
“Bill’s little boy”
He joined the Air Force in 1986 and while stationed in Las Vegas got his start in radio. But it wasn’t until he went overseas that his career began to grow.
“When I got to the Philippines they had a 50,000 watt FM radio station and I was trying to figure out if I could get in . . . the program director put me on and let me do me. That’s when I started honing in on my craft as a DJ. At that point I was Chris Coleman, not ‘Bill’s little boy.’”
After leaving the Air Force in 1991, Coleman returned to Birmingham where he joined WENN Radio owned by legendary Birmingham businessman Dr. A.G. Gaston.
“I became interested in being a program director,” Coleman said. “I had a couple of DJs tell me ‘the only way you’re going to grow and become a program director is if you leave here. If you stay here, you have to wait for one of two things to happen: you have to wait for one of us to die, because we’re not leaving, or one of us to retire.’”
Coleman considered his options and took a job in Georgia, but came back home after his father passed.
“At the time, 95.7 JAMZ and 98.7 Kiss FM had just gotten signed on,” Coleman said. “I got on there and did morning shows with Buckwild, Africa and Rickey Smiley.”
After Buckwild moved, Coleman and Smiley headed The Home Team Morning Show.
“That ended after Rickey left and went to BET,” Coleman said. “But then I got an offer in Huntsville with WEUP 1700 AM as program director, music director and show coordinator. I did that for about a year and a half.”
After that, Smiley called Coleman about a new show for BET in 2001.
“I stayed in L.A. for a year working on ‘The Way We Do It,’” he said. “It lasted for a year.”
After that Coleman took a job as program director in Cincinnati where he stayed for three years, until moving back to Birmingham in 2005 to work for KISS FM. He stayed until 2013, when he returned to Cincinnati to help with a new station.
Coleman, 51, has two daughters: Aaliyah, 20, who is studying nursing at the University of Alabama and Asia, 17, who is a senior at a Jefferson County High School. He has been married to his wife Deonta for 30 years. Tragedy brought Coleman back home in 2015 when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She’s doing well now, she’s in remission,” he said. “At first it was scary, but God doesn’t give the spirit of fear. I knew she would be healed.”
Coleman said he is happy to be able to spend time with his 72-year-old mother, who is much better.
“We went club hopping the Saturday before Mothers’ Day. She can hang. She called me last weekend asking where I was DJing and I told her I was at home. My mom is something serious. She’s off the chain.”
Coleman also has a foundation: C².
“I throw a party and it’s called Party for Presents. I got a venue . . . all the money from the door goes to buy gifts for those kids. I’ve done it for about five or six years. I’m doing it again this year.”
Coleman said he doesn’t mind DJing parties which he has been doing “since I was about 13 or 14 years old. I started doing parties on my own at 15. I used to DJ at Holiday Skates on Green Springs,” he said.
Coleman has started his own online radio station and app: the Chris Coleman Radio Network.
“I marry the two together in the afternoon on WATV. It’s 900 WATV and the Chris Coleman radio network,” he said.
The world is moving to digital, and it’s time that radio stations do as well, he said.
“If you’re a station and you don’t have an app, you need to turn your signal off. It’s going digital and nobody listens really. I get more feedback online.”
Stations should also allow DJs to be creative instead of stifling and handcuffing them, he said. “You can’t worry about being sued,” he said.
Coleman said his job allows him to work in the community. “If you’re not out in the community doing work that’s a problem and I can’t work for you. That’s the difference between working for Courtney and corporate radio. He lets me be free and do what I have to do.”
WATV is currently about to get a new website and app, he said.
“I’m hearing great things. I hear ‘when are y’all going to FM?’ We don’t know, but I just think content is key. If you’re on the AM and they like what you’re doing and saying that’s key.”
The station also added more variety.
“We’re not taking the old stuff out, it’s just some of the stuff being played only relates to those that are buried at Elmwood Cemetery, so some of the stuff we shouldn’t be playing. We’re still playing Temptations and Curtis Mayfield, but we’re also playing Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, Fantasia. That’s the R&B of today.”
The future is bright for WATV, he said.
“The station has always been about the community, so that’s not going to change,” he said.