Miss Sophia this week made a glorious return to the radio airwaves, joining Rashan Ali's morning show at Streetz 94.5.
The 18-month-old hip-hop station is making its mark on Atlanta despite a modest signal and is clearly generating enough income to bring in big-name talent.
"It's been an absolutely phenomenal year," said Streetz owner Steve Hegwood. "I am pinching myself."
The station this year is averaging a 3.2 share among 18 to 34 year olds, ranked 14th overall in the market. The morning show in that demo draws a 2.7 share ranked 16th. That's very respectable given the fact the signal doesn't reach much beyond the Perimeter.
Streetz has taken a chunk out of V-103's younger audience, especially folks who had previously used V-103 as a second station after Hot. Now, fans of a harder hip-hop sound have a second option with Streetz.
Miss Sophia, whose real name is Joe Taylor, was also wooed by his former employer V-103 but said in a brief interview he was swayed by the challenge of an up-and-coming station which has far exceeded expectations.
"I felt that it was a better fit for my brand at this time," he said. (He replaces Jazzy McBee doing celebrity news. She will take over mid-days.)
He was the first drag queen to be on air in Atlanta radio as a regular host from 2005 to 2010 on V-103's Frank and Wanda's morning show.
Miss Sophia generates strong opinions. In an unscientific poll I posted in 2010 that drew nearly 5,000 votes, 58 percent of readers said they were going to miss Miss Sophia.
"She has comedic value, market cognition and an ability to connecct with females," Hegwood said. He also added Ronnie Jordan, a stand-up comic to Ali's show.
Ali, in a text, cited Miss Sophia's huge following that can only enhance the growing morning show. "People will have their opinions," she wrote, "but I believe that Miss Sophia's presence will give us the shot in the arm we need to be a real contender in the 18-34 demo."
Miss Sophia's speciality is reading the celebrity news. Her closing line on Ski's show was her signature: “When I talk, you talk, we talk, that’s girrrrrl talk on the people’s station, V to the 103.”
Ali started her career on Ryan Cameron's morning show on Hot 107.9 more than decade ago. In 2004, after Cameron left, she became the lead morning host at Hot until 2008. She later worked briefly with Cameron's afternoon show on V-103.
She joined Streetz in October, 2012 as the lead host of "The Streetz Morning Grind." (Details here.)
The station celebrated its first Christmas concert with Yo Gotti and B.o.B. last week at the Masquerade, an event Hegwood hopes to turn into an annual event.
In recent months, Miss Sophia has hosted a monthly comedy night at Acoustix Jazz Restaurant and Lounge though a new location is forthcoming. He also regularly hosts drag shows, both local and national.
I wrote a profile about her in November, 2005 that is no longer online but I will post it here:
Last month on V-103, MissSophia reported that former NBA star Dennis Rodman was spilling details about ex-wife Carmen Electra's kinky predilections during sex.
"That's the kind of stuff he does, " MissSophia purred. "Who else will walk around in a dress anyway?"
MissSophia was making a bit of an inside joke: She is a he, a drag queen and the latest addition to the "Frank & Wanda" morning show, which draws 377,000 weekly listeners on Atlanta's top station targeting African-Americans.
As a black gay man, MissSophia (whose real name is Joe Taylor) plays it loud and proud. Words flow from his mouth like confetti during his daily entertainment report, which he punctuates with his signature farewell: "When I talk, you talk, we talk, that's girrrrrl talk on the people's station, V to the 103."
He trills the "three" with gusto.
That the largely African-American radio audience has embraced MissSophia is something of a surprise.
"It's groundbreaking in this market because it's the Bible Belt, " says Craig Stewart, a gay black resident of Atlanta and a friend of MissSophia.
MissSophia isn't the first gay person to get a regular spot on Atlanta radio. For about four years, Q100, a Top 40 station geared to 18-to-34-year-old women, has had lesbian Melissa Carter as a regular member of the morning show. Alternative rock station 99X in the 1990s used a gay man, Bob Killough, for its weekend entertainment report. (He has since done work on rock station Dave FM.)
And Atlanta has the biggest concentration of black same-sex couples in the South, according to 2000 census figures.
But acceptance of homosexuality is lower among blacks than whites, according to various academic studies.
MissSophia says he has tempered homophobic comments with humor since his days in high school in Texas a quarter-century ago.
"I was known as the kid you didn't want to mess with because I always had a comeback, " Taylor said.
He said MissSophia is a mix of Flip Wilson's Geraldine, Martin Lawrence's Sheneneh and a brazen church lady. And he doesn't doll himself up.
"You're the ugliest drag queen I've ever seen in my whole life, " Wanda Smith teased him on-air last month.
Like many drag queens, Taylor first competed in pageants, doing lip-sync routines in fabulous dresses in Houston. But he always had his eye on comedy.
After a stint in Dallas, he moved to Atlanta in 1999 and began emceeing drag shows and pageants locally and nationally. He met Smith, who booked him on her comedy stage shows. He would also occasionally do call-ins on her morning show as MissSophia.
In August, Smith asked Taylor to sub for vacationing co-host Frank Ski.
"They were hilarious together, " said program director Reggie Rouse. "It takes a lot to make me laugh, and I was in stitches."
Ski said listeners loved him, too: "The audience bombarded us with e-mails."
Rouse decided to keep him as a regular fixture, reporting entertainment news around 8:40 each morning (repeated the next day at 6:18 a.m.). Taylor has taken the job seriously, coming in each day at 4:30 a.m. to compile stories he plans to use four hours later.
Of course, MissSophia hasn't won everyone over.
MissSophia strikes Tina Oglesby, a 36-year-old Keller Graduate School engineering student from Dacula, as a caricature.
"We have to be very careful not to play into stereotypes, " Oglesby said. "She's just so ignorant, and her language is terrible. I think V-103 has lost respect for their listeners. The substance is not there."
Anthony Antoine, a 35-year-old Atlanta gay black man who works on HIV prevention, says he doubts V-103 would have a serious openly gay person on the show.
But MissSophia will occasionally slip in a pro-gay message, as he did recently asking Louis Farrakhan to do more for gays during his Millions More March last month.
MissSophia "has been very supportive of the gay community, " Antoine says. "She's still representative. I've often felt I needed to call V-103 to voice my opinion. As a black gay man, my viewpoint wasn't being heard. Before I can get to it, she will respond. I don't feel I have to call as much."