Words: Caroline Simionescu-Marin
KC is one of the UK’s first commercial urban radio DJ’s. The Birmingham girl who never took no for an answer takes the IMC back to the beginning of her career and explains the ups and downs along the way. KC tells us what it was like to interview the late great Aaliyah, Pharrell Williams and Beyonce and who we should be looking out for in 2013…
IMC: What or who made you want to become a DJ?
KC: It was definitely always my passion!! You have to be a huge music fan to be a DJ, and I was. I loved American rap music and was initially obsessed with the idea of being a rapper! When I was younger I’d sneak out to clubs… me and my friends would say “we could be better than this! We’re not hearing the tunes we want to hear!” Soon enough our DJ crew was born. We saved up, got some decks and went around pestering local clubs and eventually they let us DJ. They hardly paid us anything but we loved it! We got a big buzz, a good vibe from it.
IMC: Was there anyone who particularly inspired you?
KC: In terms of DJ’s, being from Birmingham I listened to Tim Westwood a lot, and of course Trevor Nelson. I always played US mixtapes so people like DJ Klue inspired me stateside.
IMC: How did you find your way into the industry?
KC: I used to listen to a local radio station and I’d always be calling up and asking for songs and they’d say they didn’t have them. It got to the point where the DJ was on and they would ask me if I had the tracks… which I did, so I had to bring them down. I started hanging out in the studio. She [the DJ] was always saying to me, “Have you ever thought of doing radio?” to which my response was no way! One day she said she was having the night off and asked if I could cover for her. ”You don’t have to talk just play the music and stuff” I did it. I hardly spoke, just played music back to back. But then I got the [radio] bug, so I sent a demo to the boss of that station. He said it was probably the worst demo he had ever heard, it was awful! The levels were all wrong… I was doing it in my bedroom with a cassette player and a midi system, using my headphones as a mic. I’m the type of person if someone says no, it just means try again or do better. No isn’t an answer, I just want it even more. So I kept nagging and calling and sending the boss demos, to the point where he just asked me to come in and sit in on this guy’s show. He said I could co-host to try and get the feel of it. That was my first start on radio co hosting with a guy.
IMC: How did that go and what happened next?
KC: I loved it because we got on so well and had great chemistry- we were both into the music and had this stupid sense of humour! It just worked really well. I’ll never forget that… they eventually gave me my own show. I then started on Choice Birmingham; I had a specialist night time hip-hop and R&B show. They wanted me to do a daytime slot and become more commercial. So I did a network show across the whole UK. It was a lot more ‘daytime’… and I really didn’t want to do it [become more commercial] because of my love for hip-hop. The station manager told me, “You’ll never get another show JUST hip-hop and R&B!” I thought YES I WILL!! Next I started working at a local station doing the top 40 chart. I sent a demo to the BBC and they got back to me asking if I could cover their R&B top 40 that week on Radio 1. That was a big opportunity! Straight after that they gave me a weekend show on Radio 1. After a while (2002) they told me they were launching a new, more R&B station called 1 Xtra and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. The answer was simple for me.
So I was the first person to launch BBC 1 Xtra as the breakfast DJ! It was probably the biggest opportunity of my career. A while passed and I decided it was time to follow my love for American music and went to the States to try and do radio out there. I worked behind the scenes at V103 in Atlanta, WBLS in New York and Hot97. It didn’t really work out so I came back and started to do music workshops. I managed to get a night spot on Choice FM which I was doing for a while and then a daytime spot became available… it happened so quickly!
I feel I’ve been blessed with the opportunities that came my way for sure. In this game it’s not easy… I’ve had heartaches and tears but there’s been so many amazing times, Some people say it doesn’t pay to be nice- it does, you just have to have backbone- don’t let people take advantage of you.
…some people say it doesn’t pay to be nice- it does, you just have to have backbone- don’t let people take advantage of you.
IMC: It sounds like you worked off your own back, but were there any key figures involved in helping you?
KC: Yes, that guy who told me no. Never make enemies, even if they are really bad to you… sometimes you’ve just gotta bite your tongue! But he wasn’t the only one! There was a lady at the BBC called Lorna Clark who really helped me.
IMC: So who are your idols? Have you managed to meet or work with any of them yet?
KC: My idols… I’d say Mary J Blige, Aaliyah, Pharrell Williams, Beyonce and Jay-Z. I have been fortunate enough to interview all of them, except Jay. I’d love to do an interview with him and Kanye West.
IMC: Who were your favourites?
KC: They were all amazing! But Aaliyah and Beyonce had to be my best. I interviewed Aaliyah the year before she died. Mary J Blige was 2003, Beyonce was around the time of her first album, she is too lovely!
IMC: As an expert, who is your one to watch for 2013?
KC: I’d definitely say female rapper Paigey Cakey, Jacob Banks and Parker [the first artist signed to Nicki Minaj’s record label].
IMC: What advice would you give any DJ hoping to follow in your footsteps?
KC: Being honest, especially in my early days I think I was my own worst enemy…But you learn from that and it makes you look back and see- yeah I can do better, and it’s still helping me now. When I was at 1 Xtra my two assistants were Rickie and Melvin [Kiss breakfast]. They did for me what I was doing right at the beginning. Everyone has to start somewhere…
Catch DJ KC 12-4pm, Monday-Friday on Choice FM.