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Chris Coleman: Programming The Live and Local Lineup

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Birmingham attorney G. Courtney French, owner of radio station WATV V94.9 FM, with Chris Coleman, vice president of programming. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times

 

Chris Coleman, vice president of programming for Courtney French Broadcasting LLC, knows radio and knows the history of myV94.9 (WATV-FM)

“I have been running all through this radio station since I was about 11 or 12 years old. My dad, [Boppin’ Bill Coleman], used to work here back in the 1980s. I used to hang out here with [former station owners Dr. Shelly Stewart and the Rev. Dr. Erskine Faush] and watch them. … I used to run errands for them, they’d say, ‘Go on around the corner and get us some sodas.’ I met my wife, Deonta, here. Her mother brought her up here one day when I was here with my dad, and I asked her out right then.”

Coleman, 54, who has been married for 32 years and is a father of two, hosts the “Chris Coleman Radio Show” weekdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. At 4 p.m. daily, he goes inside “The Think Tank,” where he discusses national and local topics in depth. With 35 years in the radio broadcasting industry, he was the obvious choice for station programming director.

“[Coleman] is a part of the fabric of broadcasting and radio in the Birmingham community,” said myV94.9 station owner G. Courtney French. “[He] has worked across the country in some of the largest markets, and I knew that his love and passion for the community and vast experience in broadcasting would make him the perfect choice to lead the station.”

French called Coleman in 2017 saying, ‘Hey, I just bought [WATV-AM], and I want you to run it.’”

Coleman recalled an important conversation that took place at the very beginning: “Because I was so corporatized, [French] had to sit down and talk to me and tell me to not ask him [for permission to make changes]. He said, ‘I hired you because you know what you’re doing. … Program this radio station. I want it to be a Chris Coleman–programmed radio station. I expect you to make mistakes, but I expect us to learn from them [and not] dwell on them.

“He’ll make suggestions, and I like that,” Coleman added. “I like input from my people. … He and I have one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had in radio—and I’ve been in radio for 35 years.”

French was supportive of Coleman’s other endeavors in radio, too.

“I also have my website and app, ‘The Chris Coleman Radio Network,’ and I simulcast my [radio] show on the app, which makes it worldwide,” Coleman said. “When I got hired, I had my own app. [French] said, ‘Well, good. We can simulcast you on your own app.’ [Previous bosses] wouldn’t let me do that. Although they got all the money, they think I’m going to take their money. They don’t want you to grow, they don’t want you to prosper. [French] lets me be myself, and that’s a blessing.”

“Live and Local!”

Courtney French Broadcasting succeeds because it gets the culture, Coleman said.

“Black folks and people that listen to urban stations don’t want to just hear music—they want you to entertain them, they want you to talk to them and keep them aware of what’s going on in their community,” he said. “If a Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney, [the 3-year-old Birmingham girl found in a dumpster in 2019], is killed, they want to know what happened and why. So, we’re stopping the music and we’re talking to our people. You can’t do that in corporate. Corporate is too structured; they want you to continue to play the music.

“That’s what I like about being over here. When we put this station on, [French] was preaching, ‘Live and local! We’ve got to be live and local.’ So, we have deejays on this radio station live and local all day.”

Coleman, a Fairfield native who currently lives in Bessemer, said he enjoys having free range to be innovative and creative.

“I like building things,” he said. “This was an opportunity for me to be innovative with this radio station. … If you want to be great, you can’t keep going down the same road as everybody else. You’ve gotta change the direction and make drastic changes if you want to be great—but they’ve gotta be good changes.”

Filling a Void

Coleman said he and the team are driven to fill a void in the market.

“The lanes are wide, and we’re in a lane all by ourselves,” he said. “I can drive all over the lane now and go wherever I want to go. A lot of radio stations can’t do that because they won’t let their program directors program.”

While Coleman has been empowered by his boss, myV94.9 has empowered the community.

“We listen to the community,” he said. “I take out time to listen to the callers … during ‘The Think Tank,’ [a community talk-back hour], which takes a lot of preparation and research. My job is to disseminate information, and it takes a lot of research because I don’t want to be wrong. If I don’t know the answer, I know where to go to get it. If I can’t find the answer, I’ll reach out to someone who knows. So, when I come across the air, I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been fed by [French] or some other judge or attorney who has [educated and informed] me.”

Every member of the on-air talent has a part in educating the community, Coleman said.

“The best way for me to impact the community is to do it through the jocks I have here. My job is to use what I know to let them know the message that I need disseminated, but I need them to do it in their own way, in a way that works with their [listeners]. That’s what makes a radio station eclectic.”