Michele McKnight By Charese Fruge’ @MCMediaonline
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on April 24, 2020
Deejaying Parties alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff, Kid Capri, Biz Markie and DJ Green Lantern, just to name a few, are some of the most exciting experiences in Michele McKnight’s life. Like many other professional DJs right now, she’s adjusting to virtual sets where the audience is on the other side of a screen instead of surrounding the booth in the club with requests and spilling drinks all over her. The biggest challenge she’s facing with the COVID-19 pandemic is dealing with the awkwardness of it all. “Navigating through this new normal has definitely been an adjustment. Hell…it’s awkward. Going from being around everybody all the time while working in restaurants, clubs and bars every week – to now having random conversations with my animals because they are the only ones I see every day, is testing my mental.”
The bigger challenge for many artists and DJ’s right now is being at the mercy of the internet. “Virtual DJ sets aren’t as interactive, but it still gives deejays an opportunity to engage,” says McKnight. “Getting kicked off the live streams, because of copyright laws or Instagram’s refusal to let you go longer than an hour consecutively can drive you kind of nuts though, but I think that this new culture will pressure the social platforms to accommodate this realm of entertainment,” she says.
“Once bars and clubs are open for regular business again, I can definitely see virtual deejaying still being a thing,” says McKnight. “Companies are already cross branding with deejays for direct advertising. And I do like how this has brought a lot of deejays together from across the country to help entertain and raise money. DJs advocating for deejays doesn’t happen too often because everyone is always competing. This has been a nice ‘time out’ to see people start supporting the artists in their own community.”
Michele got her start in the music business as an intern for 104.1 KRBE in Houston. Based mostly in Texas over the years (except for 2 years in Milwaukee), she’s worked on air in many capacities for major market stations in Houston like 97.5 The Ticket & Jack FM, Majic 102.1 and 97.9 The Box, Hot 95.7 and Mix 96.5. She was most recently driving back and forth from Houston to Lake Charles, LA (about a 2 hour drive), to fill in on 107 Jamz for Townsquare Media, but with the recent COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, that scenario is no longer an option.
Like most people in the industry, Michele dove in because of her passion for music. “It’s always been a key contributor to my energy,” she says. “I had a playlist for every mood growing up – even at the age of 7 when I played the hell out of my ‘Mickey Mouse Unrapped’ cassette tape until it damn near had burn marks on it. Everything started to change when I started making my own mixtapes in middle school, and by that I mean hitting the record button on my radio/cassette player every morning before heading to school while it was set to my favorite radio stations.”
It’s no surprise that the biggest influences on Michele’s career are some of most legendary personalities in the Houston market. “I spent years listening to industry vets like Madd Hatta and Shelly Wade, and when I finally got to crack the mic, I was beside myself,” she says. “Funny thing was – the opportunity came from a conversation of sarcasm with my then PD of Majic 102, Jeff Harrison,” says McKnight. “I was filling in for the receptionist at the front desk one day – and while walking to the back, he smiled and said, ‘hey you have a really great voice, do you want to be on the radio?’ I laughed but then in all seriousness looked him dead in the pupils and (borderline screamed) ‘YES!’ I don’t think he was at all expecting me to say that – because he looked back at me kind of confused but moments later said…ok let’s talk. That was the moment that changed my life. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason because what would’ve happened if I hadn’t agreed to work the front desk that day….Jeff Harrison gave me a chance and I took it.”
Michele’s had a very rewarding career, especially when her DJ business took off in both the Houston and Lake Charles areas. She has had her share of challenges though. “It’s a hard business to be in. Especially when it’s critical to stay relevant,” says McKnight. “There were times when I was hitting road block after road block…..working so hard to land ‘the next perfect opportunity’ just to be subject to the politics and uncertainty of the entertainment business. That’s a hard defeat to cope with….especially when it happens back to back. You start to question yourself and even doubt your decision to pursue a career in a business that isn’t as secure as a traditional 9 to 5 (which my dad is still hoping I’ll get).”
That’s why it’s so important to mentor women who want to get into the business, according to McKnight. “Regardless of what people think or say, there are still several obstacles we face simply because of our gender. Female deejays have to go above and beyond to prove their talent so they can discredit the notion that they were only hired for being a pretty face,” she says. “And while this person may not even realize the impact she had on me and probably doesn’t even remember, Brandi Garcia, former midday host and DJ for 97.9 The Box, was the first woman to really encourage me to go after not only being an on-air personality, but being a DJ. I told her that’s all I wanted to do for years, but the timing was just always off,” says McKnight. “She literally stopped me mid-sentence and said, ‘Dude, just do it….max out a credit card, get all your equipment and do it!’ Now…..while the process wasn’t that quick for me – it still lit the fire in me I needed.”
McKnight goes on to say, “Often times, people don’t encourage others pursuing the same goal – but Brandi changed that narrative for me, which is why I try my best to encourage other women who are building a foundation in the same business. Your ability to positively impact someone else holds more weight than you think,” she says. “Your words can literally set the path to change someone’s life. That shouldn’t be taken lightly. The best advice I can give is take the bad with the good. If everything was all rainbows and unicorns people wouldn’t learn how to navigate through obstacles. I used to take things personally, but now I just recognize toxic situations and people early and say ‘hey’ from a distance. I’m here for the music – not the drama.”
One other thing that’s important to Michele is mental and physical health. “Not working out is not an option for me!!! That is literally the bread and butter of my sanity along with prayer. Natural stress relievers are the best stress relievers. I still like to eat good and indulge in a good pinot noir though, so I definitely have days where my workout and diet just cancel each other out.”
So what’s ahead for Michele McKnight: “I want to expand my platform to promote health, wellness, entertainment and greatness. I want to be living proof that there are layers to success and everyone’s timeline is different. Everyone’s story is different. Everyone’s story is great. I’m just trying to be the greatest I can be for mine.”
For weekly mixes by Michele, check her out: