By Cameron Lee
November 18, 2022
Photo: 8bit Photography
In the heyday of radio, when morning shows hosted by personalities like Russ Parr, Tom Joyner and Donnie Simpson ruled the airwaves, high schooler Miriam Tolbert (also known as Mir.I.am), started having aspirations of getting into broadcasting. Growing up, Tolbert would create fake radio shows and commercials as a kid, eventually working with the internet radio station at Montgomery College in Maryland before transferring to North Carolina State University. After earning her communications and media degree at NC State, Tolbert took an arduous route to land her current radio gig at K97.5.
“I had like three jobs at the same time when I was finishing school. And so I literally just buried my head and worked to get my degree and figure out how I was going to break into radio from there,” said Tolbert. “A lot of this stuff is relationship based, and an internship would have definitely helped get me in the door, but I didn’t have the bandwidth to be able to take on anything else to graduate when I wanted to graduate.”
Tolbert eventually got her shot working for the NC State college radio station WKNC 88.1 FM after she graduated. She hosted her own show called Real RnB Radio starting in 2007, which gave her the opportunity to program, produce, engineer, and hone her skills as an interviewer.
While hosting a show for her alma mater’s radio station was a natural next step, breaking into traditional terrestrial radio was a bit more challenging.
“I would create an aircheck, which is basically like a demo reel of you on the air, usually three to four minutes long,” said Tolbert. “I would just research and find who the program directors were, find their emails, and directly email them my resume and my air check. I didn’t hear anything for years.”
It wasn’t until 2013 that her persistence would finally pay off. Tolbert received a call from Nate Bell from Radio One, the program director of K97.5 at the time, who liked her aircheck and offered Tolbert a job. Starting in a part-time role, she would fill in where she could, eventually hosting from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the weekends. K97.5 was considered to be the leading hip-hop and R&B station in the region, but they didn’t get much love from the local music community since they neglected a lot of the budding talent from the Triangle region.
In 2015, Tolbert would get the opportunity to host her first local event at Motorco in Durham for the DURM Hip Hop Summit, sponsored by K97.5. The event featured an impressive lineup that included G Yamazawa, Deniro Farrar, Danny Blaze, Will Wildfire, and many more. After seeing the amount of talent showcased during the weekend, which included a low turnout for Will Wildfire on the final night, Tolbert vowed to commit more time to providing a platform for local artists.
“After that, he [Will Wildfire] just always stuck in my mind. I was just like, ‘man, you’re really good, and there’s no one here to see you.’ So when I have an opportunity, I’m gonna see what I can do,” said Tolbert.
Following the summit– and still feeling pressure from the community– the radio station decided to bring back a show dedicated to local rap called 919 Radio. Tolbert co-hosted the one-hour show with on-air personality Jay Breezy. Inundated with new submissions from locals, she then decided to host open mic events in the Raleigh area, eventually creating the platform, Carolina Waves, a multi-faceted music and culture brand providing opportunities for independent artists.
“I saw so many talented artists who were overlooked and ignored. So the whole mindset of Carolina Waves was to create a platform to provide exposure, and give opportunities to the underdogs,” said Tolbert.
In 2016, she set up a day party for Hopscotch Music Festival at The Pour House featuring Shame Gang, Well$, Nance, Ace Henderson, and Deniro Farrar. It created an opportunity to work with Art of Cool Fest in 2017 in Durham, which then led to work with A3C, the well-established Atlanta hip-hop festival and conference. In late 2017, she curated her own event at the festival under the Carolina Waves umbrella featuring G Yamazawa, Professor Toon, Jooselord, 3AMSOUND, DJ Fannie Mae, and more.
Having now organized nearly 150 shows since 2015, and hosting artists such as Toosii, TiaCorine, Armani Caesar, Reuben Vincent, 10Cellphones, LesTheGenius, and many more, Tolbert will celebrate the fifth anniversary of Carolina Waves on December 18 at Motorco in Durham, where it all started. She promises surprise sets from an all-star cast of Carolina artists. It will be a reunion of DJs, radio personalities, bloggers, and influencers. All are welcome.
Moving forward, Tolbert wants to delve into the digital content space and music industry education to help further the careers of artists and producers in North Carolina.
“Just in general, more education is always needed. More events that are centered around education, so that artists can really learn what it takes…because it is a music business,” said Tolbert.
She plans on creating her very first Carolina Waves festival in September 2023 in Raleigh, and is plotting an expansion into South Carolina. Tolbert will also be releasing a new candle line called “Scented Waves” in the coming weeks.
As far as her advice for up-and-coming artists? “Move around more and get out of the box. You have to realize if you want something, you have to go out and get it,” Tolbert said. “Release your own content, film yourself performing your songs, film yourself engaging with people. The people that have the work ethic and the drive, they stand out.”
While we all know radio has evolved with technology over the years, Tolbert has certainly stood out, bringing her traveling musical platform to cities all over the South, bridging gaps and sharing the wave of talent the state has to offer.
In this article
- 88.1 FM
- 8bit Photography
- 919 Radio
- Armani Caesar
- art of cool
- Carolina Waves
- deniro farrar
- Donnie Simpson
- DURM Hip Hop Summit
- G Yamazawa
- hip hop
- K97.5 FM
- lord fess
- Miriam Tolbert
- PROFESSOR TOON
- Real RnB Radio
- Reuben Vincent
- Russ Parr
- the pour house
- Tom Joyner
- Will Wildfire