Class Year: 1986
College: College of Arts and Sciences
Major: Communication Studies
Top-rated radio personality Wendy Williams has been called “The Queen of Dish.” “Shock-Jock Diva.” Even “The Mouth Almighty.”
During her afternoon drive-time show, “The Wendy Williams Experience,” on New York City’s WBLS-FM, she’s a gal on the loose. In a rapid-fire voice that’s all brass and sass, she bounces from gossip, to advice, to in-your-face commentary, to interviews. Sometimes she even spins a song or two. Whether she’s talking about celebrities or herself, you can bet it will be blunt.
After nearly twenty years in radio, Williams, AS’86, has carved out a media-spanning niche. In addition to the ’BLS show, she hosts a series of specials on cable’s VH-1 called “Wendy Williams Is on Fire,” has a syndicated radio show called “Wendy Williams Down Low,” wrote a 2003 memoir titled Wendy’s Got the Heat, and is working on a book-length compilation of her interviews.
She’s interviewed an impressive roster of celebrities—Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, and Whitney Houston, to name a few. And she’s known for outing stars’ secrets. Like whom they’re sleeping with, or how they feel about their breast implants.
Though Williams appears completely comfortable asking provocative questions, she says it’s not easy. “I handle it by being upfront about it,” she explains. “I say, ‘I don’t want to ask you this, but I’d be a fool to have you here and not talk about it.’ And my palms are sweating.”
Williams is just as candid about her own life. In her book, the now-married mother of one spills all about her past drug addiction, divorce, liposuction, breast implants, and miscarriages.
Her brash style generates both praise and flak, especially after Whitney Houston “screamed and went crazy” during an interview last year—Williams had had the temerity to quiz her about her personal life and reports of a drug problem. “All of a sudden, I was on everybody’s Rolodex,” Williams says. “Now I’m the go-to person for Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, Hard Copy whenever something goes down in the celebrity world. And I like it, because I’m getting exposure.”
Williams definitely worked for her fame. The daughter of middle-class parents, the New Jersey native was never a great student. “I think my GPA was, like, 2.0009,” she admits.
Her parents had hoped she’d go into journalism or public relations, but Williams wasn’t into the straight and narrow. “I didn’t want to work at Wang or Palmolive, and I didn’t want to get a sensible wardrobe,” she says. “How boring!”
Instead, radio was her obsession. Williams hosted an urban music show on WRBB and lined up her own internship at Boston’s KISS 108, working for now-legendary morning disc jockey Matt Siegel.
She’d wake up at 3 a.m. to make it to the station well before Siegel’s 5:30 start time. “I didn’t want to be an intern that just meshed in with all the other kids who were looking for some form of cool,” Williams says. “I wanted to be the queen of all interns.” She’d miss her early classes because Siegel didn’t leave the air until 10.
When Williams had a little extra money, she’d hop on Amtrak to hang out in Penn Station and listen to the New York DJs on her Walkman. “I was listening for the conversation in between the songs, the one-on-one,” she says. “The part I always loved about radio was the talk.”
To this day, she’s thankful communication studies professor Carl Eastman “saw something” in her, despite her tenuous grades. “I said, ‘Professor Eastman, help me. I’m gonna go out and do something so great that it’s going to make the school proud,” she recalls. “And he let me graduate.”
She started her on-air career at a station in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Moved on to New York’s Hot 97 (WQHT-FM), where she got canned for being too outspoken. Took a job at Philly’s Power99 (WUSL-FM) for three years. Then back to New York, to WBLS. Over time, she’s edged her show away from music toward talk.
“It’s been mostly, ‘Read these liners, and play the hits’ and ‘You’re saying too much’ and ‘Shut the hell up,’” says Williams. “But since about 1990, I’ve been slowly and surely breaking the rules.”
She’d chat about everything from Seinfeld to a backstage fight at a hip-hop concert. “The listeners would love it,” Williams laughs. “The ratings would reflect it. And the boss would grimace.”
What’s next for the say-anything DJ? “I make it no secret—I would love to be on ABC, NBC, UPN, whatever,” she says. “I would love to be your four-in-the-afternoon or ten-in-the-morning fix. The girls, the coffee klatch—let’s talk about shopping, celebrities, breast cancer. Let’s get real.”
Till Williams hits a big small-screen opportunity, though, she’s content with her radio gig. “I love it because it’s so intimate,” she says. “It’s so easy to be your authentic self when you are doing radio.
“I love talking to the people.”
For more information about Wendy Williams and her career, visit her website.