For over a decade, Shawna Renee has dedicated her life to a career in radio from co-hosting the Morning Drive at WERQ-FM in Baltimore to being the program director of XM’s WorldZone and later producing The Joe Madison Show. It wasn’t long before she discovered a way to combine her love of radio and her passion for beauty, fashion, and wellness as she does in Cocoa Mode.
Q: What is Cocoa Mode?
Cocoa Mode is a weekly radio program dedicated to African American women who are interested in leading healthy, happy and fabulous lives. We cover a variety of topics from fashion and beauty to relationships and finance. Tuning in to Cocoa Mode is like hanging out with a million of your closest girlfriends.
Q: How did you come up with the title of the show?
My original thought was to create a show that focused on fashion and beauty for women of color. The name “Cocoa” is in honor of my brown sisters (all shades) and “Mode” is the French word for trendy or fashionable.
Q: How did you get your start in radio?
When I was about 13 years old my father, who has been a talk show host for over 20 years, would take me to the studio and have all of his support people teach me everything there was to know about radio. By the time I started high school I knew how to screen calls, produce a show and run a board. After I graduated from Howard University, he hired me to produce his show. Since then I’ve hosted and programmed talk, hip-hop and world music stations all over the planet.
Q: How do you select/research topics to discuss?
Almost all of the shows are inspired by my personal experiences and the experiences of those around me. I have an incredible network of friends and family. I speak with many of them daily, and our conversations are often the starting point for a particular show. My listeners are also an important part of the process. I get tons of email everyday from men and women with great show ideas.
As far as research, the internet is my best friend. However, I try not to “over-prepare.” I’m more interested in conversations than interviews, so I’ll start with a basic outline of the discussion and let the interview flow naturally from there.
Q: Are there any differences to working in satellite radio than working for other types of radio stations?
For one, XM is national. From a single studio I can talk to millions of women from all over the country. With mainstream or terrestrial radio you’re limited to just one city. Best of all, satellite radio encourages freedom and creativity from its hosts. We can cover a wide range of topics without the fear of being punished or terminated. As someone who has been fired for voicing my opinion in the past, this is very important to me.
Q: What kind of advice would offer to those individuals interested in a career in radio programming?
First, be sure this is what you want to do. This is a crazy business that requires an incredible amount of time and sacrifice. Second, try to go to a college or university with a good communications department. Broadcast schools are okay, but most of them try to cram too much information into too little time and usually only focus on the technical aspects of the industry. Having a four-year degree promises to make you a more rounded (thus interesting and creative) radio professional. Finally, intern. Internships are so important in this business. No, they don’t pay. And yes, you will probably be making your share of coffee runs. But trust me it’s worth it. Once you prove that you’re hungry enough, a good mentor will go out of his/her way to help you.
Q: When you’re not working, what can we catch Shawna Renee doing?
I’m the mother of a one year old, so my free time is spent changing diapers, running back and forth to play dates and reading baby books. On those rare occasions when I have some time to myself, I’m usually reading, in the gym or shopping.
Q: Who was your most interesting/unusual guest?
Two guests stand out in my mind.
Kevin Powell: He was on the show a few months back to promote his Men’s Seminar in New York. I often invite men on Cocoa Mode to discuss issues that affect them and to remind the women that we’re in this together. Kevin Powell is hands down one of my favorites. I admire and respect his honesty. During the interview he challenged our male listeners to take responsibility for their current condition and dared them to make the necessary changes to improve their lives. His message is in line with what Cocoa Mode is trying to do for women. In fact, I was so impressed with his article in the December issue of Clutch I sent it to everyone I know—I know for a fact that article changed more than a few lives.
Gina M., creator of What About Our Daughters: I call her the 21st century Angela Davis. In a time when most of our “leaders” are just looking for the spotlight, Gina is behind the scenes, getting things done. I had her on during the BET Hot Ghetto Mess debate. She was able to lay out a plan of action that everyone could (and did) follow. As a result, BET had to respond. Trust me, if she keeps it up, she’s sure to emerge as one of the most influential Black female leaders in the US.
Q: Beauty Health/Wellbeing are two of the main points of interest in the show. What are your tips for living a healthy lifestyle?
Of course there are the things we hear all the time: eat right, exercise, take your vitamins. These things are great for getting the body right, but I believe we need to spend just as much time focused on getting the mind and spirit right as well. No matter how strong your body is, if you’re stressed out and out of whack mentally, it’s going to shut down anyway. One of the best things I’ve ever done is take up yoga. I wish more women of color would try it. Since I’ve been taking my practice seriously, I’ve lost over 20 lbs, I’m focused, my overall health has improved and I’m happier.
Q: What are some of your New Year’s Resolutions?
I would like to kick this nasty little caffeine addiction I’ve developed over the last year. I also need to learn how to slow down and be more patient. Other than that, I have big plans for Cocoa Mode and my career in general.
Q: If you weren’t hosting a radio show, what would you be doing?
Depends on how much money I have in the bank (laughs). I know I’d be involved in the arts, I love writing and acting. I’ve always wanted to host a travel show, so if the Academy Award winning actress thing didn’t work out I’d probably be working on that.
Q: What would you consider your secret to success?
I’ve learned to grab hold of my destiny and enjoy the ride.
Q: Whether you’re headed out to a big event for Cocoa Mode or just an evening with the girls—what’s in your clutch?
My blackjack, the lip gloss de jour, keys, credit card, ID, $20 (just in case), my business cards, gum.
To learn more about Shawna Renee and The Cocoa Mode Show please log-on to www.cocoamode.com