Jeanne Sparrow: Back Home on the Radio

Jeanne Sparrow/photo by Brandon Dahlquist

If you listen to V103, you’ve probably heard a familiar voice. Jeanne Sparrow is back on radio and doing what she loves—“playing music, running my mouth and keeping people company.”
The veteran broadcaster has been a staple in Chicago media for more than 25 years—mostly on popular radio programs on WGCI,  on television as co-host of WICU’s “You and Me,” and now V103.
Raised in New Iberia, La, a small town 150 miles from New Orleans, Sparrow first came to Chicago in the ’80s to attend Northwestern University, her mother’s alma mater.
She was first introduced to radio through a country and western station in her hometown. The station was looking for a few young people to train and it was “the only job my mother would let me have,” Sparrow said. Her mom wouldn’t let her work in retail or at a fast food place, like most teens.
Sparrow said she enjoyed the job at the country and western station and continued to work in radio in college although she was studying psychology. She worked four years at the radio station at Northwestern and was thinking of what to do between college and graduate school. A counselor encouraged her to try working at a radio station. Sparrow assumed that “people didn’t make a living” on the radio; she considered it a hobby. Eventually she did realize that it could become a viable career.
“Everything happens the way it is supposed to,” she said about her career and life. “God guides your steps; He sends you the way you’re supposed to go…if you’re open to it or paying attention. Even if you’re not paying attention, you can find your way and find the way that He wants for you…your calling…even if it feels like you’re doing something for fun.”
Sparrow gives credit to many of the great Chicago radio personalities and business people for shaping her career. From Ladonna Tittle, Tom Joyner, Doug Banks, Elroy Smith, Steve Harvey, Marv Dyson, and more, she said she is extremely grateful for their guidance. “This is a radio town…lots of big stuff happened here for radio as an industry.”
She fondly remembers how Smith told her to “super serve an audience.”
The concept means that she needed to give her audience her best. “The people are gracious to listen to me for however long they listen…I need to give them everything that they are coming for. That philosophy has served me well, I think,” she told the Defender.
The reception she has received on air has proven that her audience appreciates this philosophy. While Sparrow took a break from radio for about 15 years to pursue other opportunities, when she returned, she said she felt like an old friend coming home.
During one of her first shows back on the radio, she recalls receiving a call from a listener who called in regularly during her first over-night stint on radio, which she did early in her career.
When she picked up the phone and heard the woman’s voice, she knew it was familiar. When she said her name, Sparrow remembered her immediately. “Peaches!,” she screamed in recognition of an old listener.
Sparrow says she runs into people all of the time who remind her that doing radio is her calling.
“They say ‘girl, I was listening to you when I was in the hospital,’” Sparrow shared. “Or I was down that day and I listened to you and felt better.”
Sparrow gets personal satisfaction from doing something that is of value to others.
“That’s where you find your worth; what a blessing to do something where you see the value of what you can do for, with and on behalf of other people.”
Sparrow left radio in 2002. When Hurricane Katrina struck her home state, she realized how fleeting life and material possessions could be. She said she couldn’t be satisfied with just working and taking a nice vacation once in a while. “I realized that everything I needed to be doing to be happy needed to happen right now.” Having done everything that she desired in her current position, she decided to pursue her freelance work, do more voice overs, teach at the city colleges. She said she also tried to audition for other opportunities, but nothing worked.
“Again, God guides your steps. I don’t think that was for me.”
She did traffic at NBC-5 and the opportunity came along for her and Melissa Forman to develop a morning show, “You and Me,” at WCIU. They built the show together and Sparrow is proud of their work, especially realizing that two women from two different cultures and races were able to find such commonality.
“This is what Chicago is; many times we see the separation, but we have so much more in common. We as women have so much we are concerned about…we are people concerned about the heart of our community.” The show ended in 2017.
Going back to her roots in radio has come naturally to Sparrow even with the learning curve technology brings.
“It’s like going back home and they redecorated it really nicely; it’s not like your mom turned your room into a craft room…it’s like she got Nate Berkus to redo it.”
You can catch Sparrow at “home” on Saturdays from noon-5 p.m.; she is also on-air substituting for others often. Sparrow also has a consulting company, The Spoken Bird, that helps people with presentation skills and media coaching.

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