“Radio Facts 2017 Media Legend of the Year”

April Ryan has had quite an interesting year. She has been a White House Correspondent for 20 years and has worked with four administrations. She is the mother of two daughters and an author working on her third book. No doubt, she has had some very interesting moments during her tenure as a White House Correspondent. Some that she reveals in her first book “The Presidency in Black and White.” One thing I find truly admirable about April is how serene she is about her success. She is a no nonsense player in a game that can be full of surprises and where things can change in an instant. She’s very confident in her ability and skills and she welcomes whatever happens next while delivering the news with professionalism and dedication. She has a strong commitment to minority issues when doing her job as a correspondent. We got a chance to get her to take a break from her hectic schedule to talk to us about her career and what she wants her legacy to be. 

Let’s talk about your books, starting with The Presidency in Black and White. You’ve worked with the last four administrations. Which of the Presidents would you say was the most entertaining. I mean that was the funniest, or sort of removed from his public persona.

Each President is different. They’re people, you know, Bill Clinton was gregarious and fun. George W. Bush was gregarious and fun, off scene, behind the scenes. So was Barack Hussein Obama. So, I mean, they were real people and it takes a while to get to know people. I had eight years with Obama and Bush, four years with Clinton, and they were wonderful people but, at the same time, we understood that we both had a job to do. There were times that I had to call them on the carpet and hold them accountable by asking questions. So they’re people first and foremost but they are also the Presidents of the United States. They are respected and it was just amazing that they saw something in me to foster some kind of personal interaction with.

The last administration (President Obama) met with a lot of resistance.  I’m sure it was both on and off camera. Did you feel for him in that situation or did you still feel an obligation to do your job and not think about that?

President Barack Obama is interviewed by April Ryan aboard Air Force One en route to Air Force Base Waterkloof in South Africa, June 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

April: I had to do my job, but I thought he had incredible tenacity. He kept going when people were against him. He saw the light at the end of the tunnel. He was someone who tried to be for people, I mean, he was considered the “Rights” President when he left, not just black, the “Rights” President like for people in the LGBT community, people in the Black community, people in the Hispanic community. He was considered the “Rights,” more so than anything. I don’t “feel” for these Presidents because they know what they get in to, the good, the bad, the ugly, but, you know, the human side is like, wow, you see it. 

When you look at the other side, as a woman, from Michelle’s perspective, and what she dealt with, was it the same thing? Did you feel the same way?

Looking at what Mrs. Obama went through. I saw things from them talking about her physicality, to how she wore her hair, I mean, she was judged not only as a black person but as a woman. As a woman, I saw it, and I could really relate to that, as a woman, because they went personal on her. They went personal on him, but they really went personal on her.

What do you think looking back at the resistance President Obama met compared to this new administration. Seeing some of those same people that were resisting against him now in flux? 

Well, let me say this, this President, he knows it and he says it, you know, he came out and he appealed to a certain group who wanted to put down the former President. He starts out with the birther issue, then he came out and says it wasn’t true, but he galvanized, there is a saying in Wicked, the Broadway show, which is so true, the best way to unite people is to find an enemy. And that was what President Trump did, he was able to find an enemy, he found an enemy that people could unite around. There was a certain segment of society who did not like President Barack Obama, for whatever reason, be it black, be it his policies, be it whatever, and they played on that. So a lot of those people are supporting this President. But you have to remember also, this President has his supporters, he has a strong group of supporters, but they’re not the majority of people. He has more of a majority who do not approve versus those who approve.


Okay. Then, of course, the exchanges with Sean Spicer, which I am sure you have been asked about many, many times over, Did you watch Melissa McCarthy’s segments on Saturday Night Live? I’ve never heard anybody make reference to you about that?

Yeah, people have asked me about that! (laughing)

What did you think of that?

I liked it. When it’s hard during the week, it’s always fun to look at Saturday Night Live to get that laugh. It’s very stressful. And finally getting that laugh is a good thing. And she played that role to the T. And I loved Melissa McCarthy before she was Sean Spicer. And when she became “Spicey” it was just like it took it to a whole other level. So the best form of flattery is impersonation, (laughing). Sean liked it, but the President didn’t, but it was funny, it was so funny. We needed to laugh, we needed to laugh because it was so painful during the week.

And then how did it feel to know that some of your exchanges with him were fodder for those segments?

Well, I don’t know if they used my segment, they used Glen Thrush and some other people, but I did see the black woman that he threw the gum at, and I said: “that’s me!” (laughing).

So in your job as a correspondent for the White House, you’ve often said that you’re one of a few black people that represent minority issues. Does that role weigh heavy on you at times? And what does the weight of that feel like from both sides? Do you feel like you get enough support?

I may not get enough support, but I’m gonna ask the question, and on the other side, sometimes they don’t want to ask it, sometimes they laugh it off. But it’s gonna happen, so they know. 

So, you started off in radio, you were a Jazz jock. How do you go from Jazz to news? 

I was in college at the time. When I first started off, I always liked news, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the business. I just tried it. I started producing a news segment, while I was doing the DJing during school. It was between classes on Fridays and on Sundays in the evening, and I wanted to do a little bit more.  I love music, I love radio, but I wanted more. And I am a kid who grew up watching and listening to the news. So, it was a natural transition for me, I think the news was what I always should have been in. Everybody wants to try to be a DJ, you know, have that voice and spin a record. That was always my-

Maybe at one time. (laughs) I think that’s changed! (laughing)

Mm? Well, yeah, maybe so. At one time, yeah.

Right, right. And then jazz, that probably was a good idea to get out of that because that it’s struggling today

But see, but let me say this, I used what was accessible to me. The college radio station WEAA is a jazz station, and as a talk station, as well as a gospel station. All in one. And I was a kid, again, I started out in college trying to figure it out. So I started out doing jazz, my Freshman year, with Kweisi Mfume who was my first program director. But I quickly changed. I mean it wasn’t more than two or three years. You never know, you might hear me spinning a record and calling out time and temp again one day, you never know! (laughing)

So as far as being a White House Correspondent, a lot of people don’t know how that works, except what they see on the news. What exactly does that entail? Do you just, you get a schedule of press announcements and you just kind of wait around? How does that work?

No, no, no, no. (laughs) Um, you may get a schedule, but it’s not always a full schedule. You find out the issues of the day, it’s not about the schedule, it’s about the issues of the day that drive the stories. Um, you have to research, you have to have relationships here in Washington to talk, and get people to trust you, and you trust them so they can give you information if they were in the room, when they’re not giving anybody else the information, you’ve got to be able to trust each other. So it’s more than getting a schedule and just coming in and sitting there. It’s a 24/7 job. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about, you’ve got to ask questions, you’ve got to know what the issues are. It’s almost like, trying to obtain a Doctorate Degree and never getting it.

So, you, you can work any hours and all hours.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m on call day and night. I’m never off.

What is it like to live the life of a serious journalist that covers some pretty serious issues, how do you break away from that and have fun? Or have balance?

 I don’t break away. I have fun with my kids. I spend time with my children. I go out with friends. I’m going out to dinner with family members tonight. I try every now and again, I don’t go out a lot, but I try to have “me” time. I try to do self-care, and that’s very important, in the midst of being a CNN analyst, in the midst of being the White House Correspondent for the past twenty years, for American Urban Radio Network, being the mother of a 15-year-old and a 9-year-old, also trying to write a book, another book. (laughing) So, I mean, my time is like, I have no time. But I have to make time for myself.

Let’s talk about your other book, At Mama’s Knee, so this book is basically about explaining race relations to your children, So, have you ever had a situation, even as a reporter, where you felt threatened by law enforcement?

I mean, yeah, um, I had a situation years ago, in front of the house where they were looking for a car, for a blue car and my car was red and they stopped me and they were looking through my car. And I didn’t realize that they needed a search warrant. They were going through my car. They wanted, and I’m like, what do you want? 

So, and your daughters are now very much aware after the Tamir Rice situation? But around the time that happened, your Aunt was babysitting them and called your daughter in the house because she was outside playing with a toy gun in the yard?

Yeah, she had a Nerf cannon gun, yeah.

Have you taken that gun away from her? 

No, but the toy gun is still in the house. We play with it in the house. They have an archery set, a Nerf archery set. Soft tip little “bullets” but it’s not a real gun, it’s just a toy and it’s simple. They play with the archery sets. It’s nothing big but they still have ‘em. They really don’t play with them that much anymore, but that’s what a kid does. You know, kids play with those kinds of things. But I had to let her know, if you want to play with them, we’ve got to play with them in the house now.

You like to talk about issues of race in America and, I have actually done the same thing with my site, you know, from an industry perspective, about African-Americans working in the industry, you know, the glass ceiling, and other things, and what I’ve noticed is being an advocate is a, not only a full-time job, but it’s a thankless job. And I think that you put yourself in a position to help people, they get what the need, then they leave. Do you think that being somewhat of an advocate, or I don’t know if you consider yourself an advocate that there’s a heavy price to pay for that? Do you think that it actually hurts you?

But I don’t look at myself as an advocate, I look at myself as an African –American woman who’s a White House Correspondent. I’m not an advocate journalist, I’m not an activist journalist, but I ask questions about the community. I mean look, I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and people just realized I was here. So, I mean, that may go to your point, but I’m not looking for accolades, I just do what I do. If they come, they come, but I do a job. The biggest accolade that I’m looking for is to make sure my children are fed, I have a roof over my house, and I can pay for their tuitions to go to school, and I do this not looking for anything, but understanding, though, that African-Americans have the highest numbers of negatives in almost every category, and this is the White House the “People’s House,” and everything comes to this place, from war to peace and everything in between, to include race. So all those questions are on the table as well.

So, do you think you’re viewed that way? Do you think that’s the perspective, that you’re an advocate?

Some people may think I’m an advocate or an activist. They can. I’m not out there resisting and marching. I’m asking questions. The people who marched years ago, marched for me to be here. And I’m appreciative. If they consider me an activist or advocate, fine, but I do what I do, I ask questions. And I’m not saying fighting and marching is wrong. No. By any stretch, no, no, no, no. We need that because change happens when there is agitation when there is a squeaky wheel.

Okay. So, you’ve described yourself and said that you’re not really looking for anything, you’re here to do the news, you’re here to get the information, but you have been catapulted with this new administration and the new situations that have taken place, and you seem to be handling it with ease. So, are you in a position that whatever comes, you’re ready to handle it? Is that the way you feel?

Whatever comes, whatever doesn’t come, I’m a person, like, if this job were to leave tomorrow I’d say, ‘okay, it’s been a great ride.’ I’d have to figure out the next move.You know, I love what I do, but I’m not wedded to anything but my family. And this is the thing, this job does not define me. I am a mother first and foremost, but I am a White House Correspondent second. So I am thankful that people respect my work, but, in this business, you know anything can change at the drop of a hat. My perspective is clear as to what is and what isn’t. So I don’t let this go to my head, I don’t let this make me into something that I’m not, I know who I am. I’m April Ryan, a kid from Baltimore who just happens to be a White House Correspondent, who is a mother of Ryan and Grace. And the daughter of Vivian and Robert.

It’s funny that you say that because that is exactly the perception that I have of you. Very cut and dry. There’s no gray area, it very black and white, like, this is the way it is, either it is going to work or it’s not going to work, and if it’s not going to work, I’m going to do something else, 

Right! (laughing)

What kind of advice could you give to Women of Color who want to be in news or in entertainment?

Don’t let things hurt your feelings. Understand that you, too, can be replaced. Always have something going because things change at a moment’s notice, in the blink of an eye but do it, and do it the right way. And make sure you can always hold your head high. Walk down the street and never have any regrets.

I was watching one of your videos last night, and Gwen Ifill asked you a question. What was your relationship with her?

We were good friends.

Do you have a lot of friends in the news industry?

Yeah, I do.

What do you think about news and the black community right now? I know that you are on many affiliates through American Urban Networks, but, do you think that black people are into news like they once were?

 Oh, black people are very much into the news. They’re more into news than when I was a kid. There’s always been talk radio, there’s always been the six o clock news. Walter Cronkite is what I watched. And now with the addition of the 24-hour news channel. Over the last, 20, 30, 40 years or so it’s increased, and then when Barack Obama came, that just made it more magnificent (laughs) for many African-Americans, and now, some are watching the news just because they hate to watch the news, because of what’s going on in the White House now. So, I believe that there are a lot of people who are paying attention to politics. Particularly African-Americans because it affects them.

What do you think about Millenials and the news?

Millenials activate, I think, they get their news off of social media, and off their smart phones. They’re aware, they are very aware. Don’t put anything past them.

Have you ever thought about doing a call-in type of program where you do exchanges with people? 

Not really, not right now. I’m just trying to figure out what each day is. I’ve got so many people asking me to do so many different things, I am just at the point where I’m just trying figure out what each day is. I am just trying to figure it out. And again, trying to make it fit into my schedule. (laughing)

Can you talk about your new book or do you want to keep it a secret?

photo credit: White House Correspondents

One other question I wanted to ask you after President Trump asked you about the Black Caucus and arranging a meeting with them, you mentioned that you knew some of them, but you were just a reporter, what was the Caucus’ response to you after that?

They were upset that he did that, that he would ask me, but they respected my statement and they were thankful that I raised the question and brought them up.

And at that point, did you also noticed that your star started to rise? Did everything sort of change at that point?

No. I was doing MSNBC before I did CNN. Actually, I was doing CNN first, and then I was doing MSNBC, now I’m back at CNN but now I’m employed by CNN. See, here’s the thing, I have friends over at CNN, and they were telling me, they thought I had a contract with MSNBC and I didn’t, and I’m still there. But, I made some decisions that week, because, actually, my agent and I were actually in some conversations that week, and I made some decisions that week. And I made the decision to accept a possibility of moving on and maybe doing something different. And it’s worked out. So, CNN had been eyeing me a while ago, it just all fell at the same time, that’s all.

Oh, I see, a perfect storm. When you said you were thinking about doing something different, I thought they you were saying, as far as news.

I was in flux at that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted something different. I didn’t know what I wanted, I was just thinking, at that moment, at that point, it was a lot. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay here, there was a lot of things I was really reconsidering.

I noticed that you hosted some sort of a panel with T.D Jakes. What was that about? 

It was an international pastors’ gathering.

It was the first time I ever saw you hosting an event like that, you did a pretty good job with that, so that may be the next calling as well.

We’ll see. (laughs). I’ll take the Oprah Winfrey definition, and I love it, is when opportunity and preparation meet.

I just wanted to ask, was there anything that I didn’t cover before I let you go?

No, you did a good job.I appreciate you so much.

Likewise. And I thank you so much for taking the call and getting this done, and congratulations being our first Radio Facts Media legend of 2017. 

Well, thank you. 

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