Entertainment feature

On the Air with Pure Country’s 94 Tanaeya Taylor

Tanaeya Young knows a thing or two about hardship, but even more about hope—and with music as a guiding force in her life, she continues to prove that the obstacles that appear to be roadblocks are actually just speed bumps on the path to her future. Starting with a life-long connection to the written word and performance, to her work as an afternoon host of Ottawa’s Pure Country Radio station, to the creation of her podcast ‘Longer Than COVID’, Tanaeya’s journey to who she is today has been full of ups and downs. Tanaeya has invited us into the passenger seat as she looks back on the road behind her—so buckle up and dial in, because her airtime is only just beginning.

What were you like as a child? How are you different now, and how are you the same?

As a child I was a fun combination of extremely creative, quiet, and shy. My family always said I should be an actress because even though I was shy in public—because at home I was ever the entertainer.
I always seemed to be more passionate than my peers about reading and writing; two of my favourite things to do. I was also stubborn to a fault…you can ask my mom. At present, I am similar to that younger version of me, with what I’d like to believe is a lot of added character development. I’ve learned to hone my creativity in ways that younger me would be amazed by; through random ideas and projects, social media, my music, and my job. I still tend to be a bit shy, but I’ve learned to embrace it—it’s part of who I am. I also still take a lot of pride and find passion in my writing; I write songs in my free time and I hope to make a career of it someday. I would also love to write a book or two.
Oh, and I am no less stubborn than I was a child, but it works quite well to my advantage.

How important was music to you growing up?

Let’s just say…. VERY. My earliest memories involve my mom putting music on to wake me up instead of setting an alarm. That was the beginning of a relationship with music that has quite literally guided me through life. I remember having to rewind cassette tapes to play my favorite songs again, and flip them from side A to B. Then, music and I grew up together. My love for music translated fluently and effortlessly throughout those earliest memories, into childhood and my teens; during which years I started putting my own words to the songs I heard, and from that, started writing songs of my own. I taught myself to play guitar and piano. From being in choir, band, musicals, to late night drives at 16 in my first car, my whole life has been: music, music, music. I still write songs in my spare time with the hope to sign a publishing deal someday, and it just feels like part of the ride music and I are on together; it just feels like the right thing to do. I feel that I have grown up alongside the world’s changes in the mechanisms used to enjoy music––and I find that so special. To watch as cassette tapes become CD’s, then MP3’s, and now online streaming, has been the coolest thing ever. How lucky am I?

What was your dream job as a child?

My dream job as a child was to be a dentist…however, that quickly changed when I found out that people could do “music related jobs” for a living. My mind was blown. I could work in the music industry? When I was 10, I remember wanting to own my own record label. Then wanting to be a “Songwriter” kind of stuck.
What inspired you to work in radio?

Honestly, I had all of these things I wanted to do, and most involved music, most actually involved a plan to be on the radio as an artist… but no arrow really never pointed toward being a radio host until it was right in my face. Then, it was a no brainer. Maybe the universe misunderstood me when I talked about ‘being on the radio’. I think when all is said and done, I’ll have been on the radio as an artist AND a host. Maybe a song I write will get some radio time too––my type of career trifecta.

What’s the best part about the job?

The listeners. I have made so many instant friends just from text-in-contests or being out in the community, and I love it. On top of that, simply having the platform I do is not lost on me. A microphone with my voice, filtered to be clear as day, sending things I say through airwaves––in a world where so many people have so many great things to say, but never get the opportunity to say them. That is a huge deal.

What’s your favorite interview you’ve ever done with Pure Country?

I loved the interview I did with Jimmie Allen. It was my first time interviewing someone in country music who had the same colour skin as me. Representation is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

What’s the most significant change you’ve seen in your job since you first started?

Social media has made a big wave even just over the past year or so, in thanks gigantically to TikTok. TikTok has become larger than I think any of us expected, and the clear need for radio hosts to also become relevant, interactive social media personalities has become pretty big. It moved very far, very quickly. From just “posting a selfie” to keep relevant, we’re now talking “post videos to keep yourself relevant…try to go viral…keep up with the trends.” Honestly, it’s fun, and I’m all for it. My only complaint is that it can sometimes be frustrating when videos don’t reach a lot of people, but I’m learning not to take that personally. Algorithms are hard to figure out—I just roll with the punches.

What’s your biggest challenge working as a radio host?

With this job, there are weeks when things are really busy. We just had one––I had an artist interview every day. During those weeks it can start to feel overwhelming. I actually have only experienced a few so far… I don’t have much room to complain. My co-workers will read this and laugh while saying “she ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Regardless, my boss, Brittany, does a great job of talking me off of theoretical, nonexistent ledges. Well, sometimes the theoretical ledges do exist but it’s because I 100% built them myself by freaking out over nothing.

I also find it challenging to maintain the “work-health” balance I would like to. This job provides endless community events and concerts to attend, which I love, but because of an ongoing post-viral illness, my body frequently requires me to choose between attending an event and sleeping. And the unfortunate, frustrating reality is that most times my body needs the rest.

What inspired you to start your podcast/support group “longer than COVID?”

I got COVID back in March of 2020. I unfortunately ended up with severe and long lasting post viral effects. Now coined as “LONG-COVID”, these effects included but were not limited to disastrous neurological issues, heart issues, lung issues, nervous system damage and malfunction, and an understandable amount of illness-related PTSD and anxiety. These were not things I ever dealt with before getting COVID. The result was two of the worst, most challenging and devastating years of my life, including 11 months off of work completely. At my worst, I could not sit or stand up. I was getting full body tremors at random, my resting heart rate was 140-150 BPM, and I felt like I had suffered a head injury or bad blow to the head (extreme head pressure and pain, extreme exhaustion, bad motion sickness with turning my head at all.) “My worst” lasted for months, and no doctor could tell me what was wrong. I knew that If I ever recovered enough to help others deal with similar situations, and give those people some hope, I wanted to. So that is what I did. January 2021 (after being sick for almost 2 years) I started a TikTok page called Longer Than Covid, (a play on “long covid”) and a podcast sharing my story followed. The account now has 15 thousand followers, many of whom say they are also dealing with Long Covid, and have nowhere else to turn because doctors either don’t believe them, or don’t know what to do. I help with advice and support as much as I can and I really believe I am making a difference. One of the only things I wanted when I first got sick was someone to understand what I was feeling. Providing that understanding for others is an amazing feeling. Validation can help fellow sufferers tread some water for now instead of feeling like they are drowning and alone. With regards to my personal health—I have seen significant improvements as time has passed, but I am still nowhere near 100%.

On your podcast and support group, you speak openly about mental health and chronic illness. What is your biggest advice for people struggling?

My biggest advice is…you are stronger than you think. I genuinely don’t know how I made it though what I did. There were multiple times I truly thought I had reached the end. It approached, and I felt it. It was terrifying. In those moments, and others, I told the people in my life “I can not do this. I do not have it in me.” But the strength to fight it, and to begin my healing journey, came from somewhere inside. It was there even when I didn’t feel it. You have that too. And what a story it will be when you get to a point where you can look back and realize you didn’t give up. Always have hope; hope is a great thing to have.

Do you have any career-oriented new year’s resolutions? If so, what are they?

I’d love to voice as many commercials/supply my voice to as many things as I can. Some type of major brand commercial or voiceover work is on the list for sure. I am also just really excited to get better at what I do in general in 2023. I am still relatively new to radio, on top of still getting back into the swing of things after being off for 11 months, but I’m very lucky to be surrounded by brilliant people who I’m sure will help me improve simply by being around them. Brittany, Rebecca, Sophie, Jeff, I’m lookin’ at you!

What’s the most essential part of your daily routine?

The most essential part would be taking my dog, Fin, for a walk. We try to go somewhere new every day, and he keeps me on my toes because he’s still just a puppy. Getting outside in the fresh air really helps me wake up, relax, prepare for my day, and has been helping my body on its recovery journey. Then I go get an iced coffee, essential part of my routine #2, and I am really ready to rock.

Is country music your favorite genre?

YES, but I also love R&B, everything Taylor Swift and Noah Kahan do, and…pretty much everything else.

Who is your favorite local artist?

Nayana! She was one of the first people I met here in Ottawa and she has one of the best voices I’ve heard in a long time, plus she is so great at what she does. I’m excited to see her career take off over the next few years!

Do you have any advice for others who want to get into your line of work?

Go the extra mile to make connections, network, and put yourself out there. Say “yes” as much as you possibly can. Social media is your best friend and probably one of your biggest keys to opening doors. Be real; be nice; be yourself; and be truly grateful for every opportunity that comes your way.

Photography by Sean Sisk

Interview by Kathleen Barr