Legendary Pittsburgh radio DJ ‘Ki Ki’ Brown leaving 107.3 The Beat

But the Hill District native and daughter of legendary WAMO DJ Sly Jock intends to stay busy in Pittsburgh’s Black community

 

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

There was just no way LaKeisha Brown would follow in her father’s footsteps.

“It was hell” being Sly Jock’s daughter, she told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Oct. 12.

Everyone in Pittsburgh knew Sly Jock, the fun-loving club and radio DJ who was the first DJ to play rap music on WAMO-FM in the ‘80s. And whenever “Ki Ki” Brown would do something, or go somewhere, or date somebody, her business became everyone else’s business. Since everyone knew Sly Jock, everyone told him everything Ki Ki was up to.

“I couldn’t go anywhere,” Ki Ki Brown recalled. Overall, she described being the daughter of a legendary radio DJ as, “a lot of pressure.”

So, case closed. There was just no way LaKeisha Brown would live a life in the public eye as an adult.

After graduating from Brashear High School in 1991, she was on her way to the medical field. Ki Ki Brown wanted to be an Emergency Medical Technician, and enrolled at the Bradford School of Business for its Medical Assistant program.

A few years later, she enrolled at Community College of Allegheny County to shore up her EMT training.
But there he was, Ki Ki Brown’s never-bashful, never-one-to-bite-his-tongue father, Sly Jock, urging her to work for WAMO, where he was a fixture.

SLY JOCK eventually convinced his daughter, Ki
Ki Brown, to follow in his footsteps and work on air
for WAMO.

 

 

 

 

“Just try it, just try it,” Ki Ki Brown recalled her father telling her. “I want you to do this.”

Ultimately, daughter gave in. “I did what my dad told me,” Ki Ki Brown said.

KI KI BROWN, right, with her father, Sly Jock, and his wife, Renee Charlton.

She called WAMO, became an intern, spent two years on the promotions “street team,” then went into the WAMO studio for an overnight on-air shift, and the rest is history.

LaKeisha Brown discovered a new love—radio.

On Friday, Oct. 23, “Ki Ki,” as she’s known on-air to Pittsburghers, will perform her last show on 107.3 The Beat, which plays Urban Adult Contemporary music. The show will air from 3 to 7 p.m. Ki Ki told the Courier she has no immediate plans to return to the FM airwaves in Pittsburgh or any other city, thus ending a terrestrial radio on-air career that’s spanned more than 25 years.

“The rapport that I have, and the connection that I have, that’s what I enjoy the most and what I’ll miss the most, being able to connect with actual people,” Ki Ki said. “Terrestrial radio gives you that, where online radio, and everything else, you don’t get that connection.”

KI KI BROWN, JEROME BETTIS

Now 47, Ki Ki has Pittsburghers coming up to her and saying, “I remember listening to you in high school,” or, “you’re the voice of Pittsburgh and the last DJ from the original WAMO.”

Ki Ki peruses Pittsburgh and runs into old friends, and their “kids,” who are kids no more. “I’ve seen their kids grow up,” she said.

Ki Ki was an overnight and weekend DJ at WAMO in the mid-to-late ‘90s, when WAMO was at 105.9 FM, and later, 106.7 FM. She also produced the WAMO weeknight show during that time for Neke Howse, who was the on-air DJ.
“She taught me everything I know,” Ki Ki told the Courier of Howse.

Ki Ki calls Howse one of her mentors in the radio field, along with the late Kris Kelley, WAMO’s smooth, polished female midday on-air talent for much of the ‘90s.

“She taught me how to smile when I talk,” Ki Ki said of Kelley.

KI KI BROWN with the rapper DMX.

Pittsburgh radio fans became more familiar with Ki Ki when she became co-host of the WAMO weeknight show with “DJ Boogie” in the early 2000s. She also did night shows with the DJ “GQ.”

As the 2000s progressed, Ki Ki found herself with her own daily show, middays, generally from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. where she was exposed to the at-work audience, an older-skewing audience. This worked in Ki Ki’s favor—she had now become a household name with all ages of Pittsburgh’s Black community.

In 2007, out of nowhere, Ki Ki was terminated from WAMO. She told the Courier she was given “the old, we’re going in a different direction” speech.

Ki Ki then turned to Macy’s—yes, the now-closed Macy’s Downtown—and worked there for a year.

“I hated it,” she said.

Ki Ki then reached out to an old friend, Howse, the former WAMO DJ who moved on to Baltimore as a program director for “92Q Jams,” which was owned by a Black company, Radio One (now Urban One). Howse was able to hire Ki Ki for fill-in and weekend work, and Ki Ki eventually sold her home in Pittsburgh and moved to Maryland, where she worked on-air for eight years.

In 2016, Ki Ki returned home to Pittsburgh, and to WAMO, although by now, Pittsburghers had referred to this WAMO as “the new WAMO.”

In 2009, the Sheridan Broadcasting Company, which had owned WAMO for decades, decided to sell the 106.7 FM signal to a religious organization. More than 30 WAMO employees were terminated. There was no urban-formatted FM station in Pittsburgh for the next two years, virtually unprecedented in a market the size of Pittsburgh.

In 2011, Tim Martz, a Pittsburgh outsider who owned Martz Communications, helped bring WAMO back. He acquired the 660 AM signal, and simulcasted the WAMO hip-hop format on an FM signal, 100.1. “The new WAMO” had the right mix of hip-hop songs, but didn’t have as powerful a signal as “the original” or “the old” WAMO.

But the “new” WAMO got an injection of star power in Oct. 2016 when current general manager Jamal Woodson hired Ki Ki in a full-time on-air role. She later took the 2 to 6 p.m. weekday afternoon spot, where her “What’s Good In Ya Hood” on-air segments were re-introduced to the Pittsburgh audience. Ki Ki would invite members of Pittsburgh’s Black community on-air to discuss certain events that would be beneficial to the community. She also had a “Ki Ki’s Classifieds” segment where she alerted listeners to certain job openings.

When Martz Communications acquired another FM signal, 107.3, and later decided in June 2019 to start a new station and format on the signal (107.3 The Beat), Ki Ki moved her show to that station.

But come Oct. 23, it will signal the end for Ki Ki on “The Beat,” and possibly the end of Ki Ki on terrestrial radio on a continual capacity. She told the Courier she’s prepared for her next chapter. She has her own marketing and promotions company, “Nice 2 Media,” where she handles media relations for local businesses and nonprofits. She’s expanding “What’s Good In Ya Hood” to a video series, available on YouTube beginning in mid-November. The series will explore different Black neighborhoods such as Homewood and Beltzhoover, where Ki Ki said are home to many “gems that people don’t know about”—gems that often get overshadowed by the neighborhoods’ negative perceptions.

Ki Ki is also co-owner and program director of an online station under the “Urban Media Today” umbrella, streaming at urbanmediatoday.com. In addition to selecting the urban adult music, Ki Ki co-hosts a podcast on the stream, titled, “The Hey Girl Hey Podcast,” with friends LaShawn Tipton and Gerri Tipton. And Ki Ki told the Courier she hopes to add a “Diggin’ In The Crates” show on the online stream, with none other than her father, Sly Jock, as host.
Ki Ki also is looking to attend the University of Phoenix to earn her MBA, all while doing her most important job—being the mother to her son, Vaughn, who is now 22.

“Ki Ki’s work ethic is unmatched,” said Jonathan Steele, program director of 107.3 The Beat and sister station WAMO 100.1, in a statement. “When I think of Pittsburgh, she immediately comes to mind with her being tapped into what’s happening in the city and her community focus. She’s a vet and what I call ‘one of the good ones.’”

In a matter of days, Ki Ki will no longer be on FM radio. But she told the Courier she’ll never forget the memories from being on the radio in her hometown. She’ll never forget when she met Jay Z, before he was “Jay Z.” She’ll never forget when a little-known rapper named “50 Cent” was visiting “the old WAMO” on Penn Avenue, Downtown, and she could have cared less. “I needed to go to work. I needed to do my shift,” she recalled.

Ki Ki won’t ever forget the time she was waving to thousands along Fifth Avenue, Downtown, as WAMO was part of the “Celebrate The Seasons” holiday parade in 2001. Fans were cheering WAMO’s iconic name, and cheering for Ki Ki, real name LaKeisha Brown, the girl from the Hill District who never wanted to be in the public eye, who never wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps.

Turns out, on that parade route, they were cheering for Ki Ki, just like they had cheered for Sly Jock.

Like father, like daughter.

“I just wanted to be different,” LaKeisha Brown told the Courier, “and I ended up being in the exact same place.”

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