Life

Young Black British Women Are Flourishing on UK Radio

Thanks to new shows on Kiss and 1Xtra, the presence of Black women on air feels less sporadic and more an intra-diverse broadcasting space.
February 3, 2021, 9:15am
Black British Women in UK broadcasting
Image: Christa Jarrold

How often do you hear a 25-year-old Black woman kick off a mainstream radio show with an anecdote about crying at a Justin Bieber concert aged 15?

This vibrant energy is what Henrie Kwushue – the new host of Kiss FM’s Weekend Early Breakfast show – does best. Blasting through hit singles from Dua Lipa and Lil Nas X, the London-based presenter rose to her debut slot on the mainstream UK station this January with the same genuine, bubbly spark that made her one of 2020’s breakout broadcasting voices.

Henrie began her career on youth-led London stations like Reprezent Radio and is one of several young Black British women hosting new radio shows on household stations in 2021. Nadia Jae picked up a permanent role on BBC Radio 1Xtra’s weekday Breakfast show. Innovative rap freestyler Lady Leshurr, long-running 1Xtra DJ Sian Anderson and Remi Burgz (another Reprezent alumnus) also presented new shows on the BBC station this January, as part of a revised schedule under new station head Faron McKenzie. 

For years, Black women have consistently brought lively, joyful energy to UK airwaves – via the likes of Choice FM DJ Jenny Francis, Capital Xtra breakfast presenters Yinka and Shayna Marie, and BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge host Clara Amfo, to name a few. But in 2021, the presence of Black women on air feels less sporadic and more like an authentic, intra-diverse broadcasting space – one that isn’t bound by genre, or style, or personality.

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While most early morning DJs avoid tracks with a BPM over 110, Nadia Jae plays soca unapologetically. Where breakfast DJs describe themselves by height and shoe size, Henrie uses her distinctive silver and blonde wigs to set herself apart. Their broadcasts mirror the distinctive nature of Black women's lives. Sitting alongside established shows by other presenters, there’s a greater representation of the wholeness of Black British women on radio than ever before.

“When you’re constantly overlooked, you boss up in a different way – you think ‘Fuck it, I’m coming to mash it up properly then!” says Nadia Jae, who believes that limited representation has helped to catalyse the uptick in Black women picking up slots on mainstream UK radio stations.

Henrie believes COVID has also had an impact: “I feel like this revolution was always going to happen. If there’s one thing Black women are going to do, it’s fight for what they believe in and I think lockdown made us all scrutinise everything more, especially the mechanisms of this industry.”

In the past couple of years, Black British women have also begun taking their representation into their own hands, with broadcasters transcending formal media and permeating online platforms with a greater level of visibility than ever before. Julie Adenuga – best known for her past role as host at Apple Music radio, formerly known as Beats 1 – crossed over to the online broadcasting world in 2020 with her debut show Julie’s Top 5, which regularly rake in thousands of listens.

Similarly, online chat shows like The Wunmi Bello Show and The Zeze Mills Show regularly rise toward the top of YouTube, with their shows frequently trending on Twitter. These are joined by the already long-running, successful shows by young Black women on established broadcasting platforms: Tiffany Calver, Snoochie Shy, Amplify Dot and Yasmin Evans on 1Xtra; Tash LC and Tinea on Kiss; Clara Amfo and Adele Roberts on Radio 1, and so on.

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Barbara Blake Hannah, the first Black woman to present on UK television, says that it’s “amazing to see” more Black women across British broadcasting. Hannah reported for Thames Television – a broadcast arm of ITV – in 1968, long before the days of internet radio, YouTube and multi-channel radio stations.

She credits her career to another Black woman, Una Marson: “Una was the first Black woman employed on radio by the BBC in the early 1940s. A playwright, an actress, a literary writer, Una was way before me and is a Black woman that broadcasters must know about. Barbara Blake Hannah is just one. I saw Una before I became me, and now that there are more Black women being seen, there can be more of us to inspire the future.”

In the same way that Una Marson helped encourage Barbara into journalism, every Black woman in a broadcast role could help to inspire countless young women to pick up a microphone and begin broadcasting.

Remi Burgz echoes Barbara’s statement, though suggests there’s also a way to go before there’s an equal balance among British broadcasters. “Having more Black women specifically in these spaces shows we’re going in the right direction. We still have a long way to go to equality but we have to start somewhere.” It stands to reason that there are still less than a handful of Black women with a show on BBC Radio One.

The good thing is: Change is happening. Black British women are increasingly flourishing in the broadcasting world, without reducing their unique flare. Henrie plays Little Mix and provides anecdotes about her new kitten featuring in TikTok videos on her Kiss FM show, while Nadia runs through UK drill acts like Shaybo and asks listeners to tweet their favourite cakes. As 2021 offers brand new platforms for Black British women to thrive, listeners can look forward to a whole new generation of broadcasting royalty. Tune into Henrie next weekend, 6-8AM on KISS FM, and you’ll see what I mean.

@tochichels