Ramona DeBreaux has been a steady radio presence in Atlanta for 18 years, going back to the early days of Hot 97.5.
Now a weekend V-103 jock, she remains well liked by listeners and advertisers. (In a poll I posted last year, she received a whopping 93 percent positive rating.)
And she just landed a new part-time gig with Centric as a local correspondent for LeToya Luckett's new weekly show "CultureList." DeBreaux makes her debut Sunday, August 4 at 11 p.m. (Luckett, an actress and former member of Destiny's Child happens to be in town now shooting a recurring role on VH1's "Single Ladies.")
"I'm more in digital land and television space," DeBreaux said over lunch recently at Strip. "It's a lifestyle show similar to 'Entertainment Tonight.' "
She has shot several segments, including fabric shopping with Atlanta fashion designer Mychael Knight, cooking tacos with actress Keisha Knight Pulliam and hanging out with singer Lyfe Jennings.
She also does promotional work for Chevy Georgia, Wendy's and Pantene. She records voice-over promos for TV One's "R&B Divas," and the Atlanta-based Up Network. She is the announcer for the Soul Train Awards. Last year, "I got to introduce Stevie Wonder," she said. "That's the most fun I've ever had."
In other words, DeBreaux, who had a record deal with Def Jam back in the mid-1990s, is not just a radio jock: "I"m a gadget freak. I love sports. I love hip hop. I love singing R&B. I'm a home owner and investor."
Over the years, she's had plenty of cool opportunities, including covering Live 8 for Hot, getting to meet Paul McCartney and Bono. She was the last person to interview Heavy D before he passed. And she still treasures her brief time with Prince at the Tabernacle. Hot also sent her in 1996 to the Democratic and Republican conventions and she got to interview Hillary Clinton. "Women in this business, we know we don't necessarily get the eye contact or respect," she said. "When she did both, it spoke to me. I was sitting next to Sean Hannity in the press pit and she'd direct herself over to me. If she can be humble, why can't these people in other places be humble?"
A Springfield College (Mass.) grad, she came down to Atlanta around 1996 and quickly nabbed a radio job under Steve Hegwood at the new Hot 97.5 (now at 107.9). She was the station's mid-day host for more than a decade.
"It's hard to get ratings on a hip-hop station mid-days," said Mary Catherine Sneed, who once ran V-103 and started Hot in 1995 until she left in 2006. (DeBreaux considers Sneed a mentor to this day.) "She did. She's the girl that girls like and guys you know what. She's so pretty. And from a promotion standpoint, you can send her anywhere. She can talk to anyone. She will always go above and beyond for the client."
Sneed appreciates DeBreaux's interest in technology, in learning production, in being up on social media. And based on internal research, listeners loved her.
After DeBreaux was let go from Hot in 2007 following management changes there, she found a part-time, fill-in job at V-103 in 2008 and even did traffic for the Frank & Wanda morning show.
V-103 rewarded her the full-time mid-day host gig in March, 2011. She helped the station reach great mid-day ratings during her time on air. But to the surprise of many, management replaced DeBreauz with New York's Egypt Sherrod last year, a more prominent national personality who hosts HGTV's "Property Virgins." They kept DeBreaux on staff, though.
I reached out to her boss Rick Caffey but didn't get a response about why she doesn't have a more prominent role at V-103.
"Baffling," Sneed said. "V-103 is a tough room. When I worked there, I used to have part timers come to corporate. They'd be so pissed that they've been there for three years and haven't gotten a full-time job. I told them if they get a job, someone has to to go. The chances of that happening are slim so I tell them to go to a smaller market to prove yourself and come back. This is 20 years later. I'm sure it's gotten only more competitive over there. Once you get in there, I'm sure you do whatever you can to stay."
So she's back as V-103's venerable utility player. She said she doesn't let it bug her. And her fans certainly make her feel better.
DeBreaux said she is "sincerely flattered" by the positive feelings she elicits from fans. "They'll hug me. I'm a friendly person. I feel like everybody is my friend. I really feel that way. People know what's fake and what's real."
"She can do a church event, then a club event," Sneed said. "That's how Frank Ski is. When you find someone like her, you definitely want to keep them in your corner."
On my Facebook page,Nicole English, a fan, wrote, "Beautiful woman with a heart of gold. She makes me proud to be a Black woman. Do your thing, Ramona. So very thrilled for your new assignment. Rise on to the top!"
"CultureList," 11 p.m. Sundays, Centric