Rida Naser is one of those young people that glows with a lifetime of wisdom. The 27-year-old’s professional attitude, interpersonal skills, industry expertise and high-level status as a program director for SiriusXM belies her high school student looks.
Naser is the program director for three channels at the satellite and online radio giant: the electronic dance music hits of BPM, the 2000s pop hits of Pop2K and Steve Aoki’s newly-minted Remix Radio. You can also hear her at BPM Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET, and on Hits 1 Sunday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET.
It may look like Naser showed up out of nowhere to take over one of the most powerful positions in electronic dance music, but take a closer inspection of her trajectory, and you’ll find an immense amount of hard work, determination, passion and drive.
A life-long pop music fan, Naser was a dental hygiene student at Farmingdale State College on Long Island. Born and raised in a Pakistani family, she was 19 when she won a radio contest to meet Selena Gomez at 92.3, formerly New York City’s Top 40 station WNOW. Exposure to the energy and environment of the station got Naser hyped.
“I saw all these kids my age, running around, helping out with Selena Gomez,” Naser remembers. “I’m not even focusing on meeting Selena Gomez, I just want a job there.”
On the way home, she saw a girl from the meet and greet on the train. She asked if the girl had also won a contest, but it turned out her older sister worked at the station and landed her an internship.
“The producer was following me on Twitter,” Naser says. “I messaged him to say I wanted to meet in-person at [another] event to thank him. I don’t know where this networking came from. I had never learned it, but I was working in a restaurant at the time so I had people skills. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I just swooped in there with no guidance and asked him about an internship.”
Naser was simply not competitive enough for an internship, and as a sophomore, she was not eligible. It was recommended that she try for an internship in Long Island and work at her college radio station - but her school didn’t have one. Two weeks later, she started a summer internship at 92.3 because someone dropped out.
“It was incredible,” she says. “Bryan [Carstensen, morning show assistant producer] taught me everything. I’m 19 years old. All my friends are in college and partying all summer … I’m waking up at 3:30 a.m. every single day. It’s a non-paid internship. I’m still living with my parents on Long Island, working at a restaurant to pay to get to the city.
“There were definitely times I was discouraged,” she continues, “more so because of the people I was surrounded by - a lot of college kids, a lot of insecurity, a lot of jealousy, a lot of things that didn’t have to do with actual work. I’d have to step back and remember they’re not going to be there forever, they’re not going to be at my end goal.”
The 92.3 internship became a paid, street team position. Naser stood outside of clubs to hand out stickers at 3 a.m. She slept at the station rather than take the long train back to Long Island, then woke up at 7 a.m. to hand out stickers at Good Morning America. At college, she co-founded a radio station, Ram Nation Radio, which is still on the air.
An internship at SiriusXM became available. Armed with a ton of experience in radio, it still took being interviewed by three different people to get her placed, including one of her early mentors, Tommy West. She began as an unpaid intern at the Hits 1 channel at 20 years old. She continued street teaming for 92.3, working at her college station and the restaurant, all while completing her degree which had changed to communications.
“Radio is one of those jobs where, if you’re in a high position, you know you worked your ass off,” she says. “Wherever you started, it’s always going to be shitty. Once you make it over that hump, you see the big picture. You’re interviewing Macklemore [and] Selena Gomez, you’re shaking hands with Kanye West … Talking to people who have been there, their stories are so similar and you realize they are where they are for a reason … No one who has been less passionate than I have been has gotten very far, so you know people who have gotten very far have stuck around through crappy times.”
Growing up in Long Island, Naser spent all her school years hiding her culture and, “Trying to be as white as I could possibly be,” making sure to hide the fact that she spoke a different language and practiced a “religion they didn’t know” at home.
“When I started working at 92.3, the program director, Rick Gillette sat with me and asked me about my background,” she remembers. “He was so excited to see a Pakistani girl come into this industry. People were so mean to me about it when I was younger. When someone invited me in with open arms—not to say that everyone did, but I’ve had a good amount of people that have been close to me be very good about it—I didn’t feel that sense of having to hide who I am. It was an amazing thing to overcome. I didn’t have anyone to look up to, but let me push being different. Let me take this and run with it. This is not to say that racism is non-existent, or that someone else’s experience is the same as mine, but the culture that hit me the minute I moved from Long island to the city made it okay to be me. The bosses I had were so supportive of me being different, of me being female, of me being of color. It pushed me more.”
Her family background had its own built-in motivation. Living at home put Naser five years ahead of schedule career-wise as she spent her time near New York, taking advantage of internships. She wouldn’t have been able to justify working unpaid positions to her parents post-graduation. Her intention was to work hard and secure a radio job while still in undergrad.
Upon graduating and three stringent interviews, Naser landed a job as a part-time coordinator at SiriusXM. The position didn’t start until the end of summer. Always practical, Naser worked maximum hours at the restaurant to build a financial cushion.
“I remember coming home with panic attacks,” she says. “You put that pressure on yourself because you don’t want to mess this opportunity up. In hindsight, I’m so glad I was thrown in the fire in so many situations. They put you through rigorous training for a month. Then it’s, ‘Broadway channel needs this edited and put on the air in 10 minutes, get it done.’ I’d work 6 p.m. to midnight and run the board for the Shade 45 live broadcast by myself because it’s Saturday night and no one else is there. I’m 21 years old, and I’m going live on the radio.”
Naser worked Monday to Wednesday learning to edit and work all the different programs. She came back Saturday and Sunday to learn how to operate the board. Radio is not a place where a future is guaranteed or even predictable. It’s dependent on how hard you work.
“I was surrounded by so many people working so hard,” she says, “that pushed my work ethic so much. I went in head first, making sure everything I touch, everything I do, is the best it can possibly be. I thought, ‘I’m young, I’m going to do this now so that six years from now, I can look back and say, I used that time to do that then.’ If I have to stay late, I’ll stay late. If I have to wake up early, I’ll wake up early.”
Four months in, Naser moved to a full-time coordinator position for Jimmy Buffet’s Radio Margaritaville, the gospel channel Kirk Franklin’s Praise, ‘70s on 7 and ‘80s on 8—all of which she knew nothing about. About a year later, she was promoted to assistant music programmer working on ‘70s at 7, ‘80s at 8, BPM, Studio54 and Pop2K. Her ultimate goal was to become a program director, and her dream was to be on the air.
West, now an assistant music programmer and on-air host at BPM, had her listen to the channel for two weeks to learn the music. He had her record demos in the studio, giving constructive criticism and direction. He worked with Naser for a year, perfecting her on-air skills, eventually putting her in front of Geronimo, BPM’s program director.
“[West] was an incredible mentor,” she says. “He taught me to be an incredible mentor to my interns now … I want my interns to have the same experience I had, and as they move on from their internship, to know that I’m always here. I have interns who didn’t get hired, and I still talk to them on a daily basis. Anything they need, I’m here for them.”
When Naser was 23, Geronimo put her on overnights. Upon West’s departure to a different department, Naser stepped into his position as assistant music programmer, taking over the on-air slot she still occupies.
In 2019, she finally became a programming director.
“Every boss I had really believed in me,” Naser says. “If they can’t do something, that they can trust you to handle it, that’s super-important. Every boss or mentor that I’ve had has taught me so many things … Vanessa Mojica who hired me is one of my biggest role models. It’s so important to have someone above you to rely on. I can’t impress that enough.”
Other than Mojica, Naser didn’t see any women in high positions in radio, but that did not deter her. On the contrary, it was an inspiration to be the first.
Through her BPM EMPOWERED Virtual Festival, Naser paid forward the opportunities given to her by creating space for women to shine in electronic dance music. It started when 1001 Tracklists’ list of 1001 top producers was published without a single femme presence. Naser knows there are a bevy of excellent women producers and DJs, and with the support of talent and higher-ups at SiriusXM, she put EMPOWERED together with Geronimo’s blessing.
Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Rezz, Krewella and Anna Lunoe signed on quickly, and the rest of the lineup rounded off with women Naser admires.
“Seeing EMPOWERED come together … was one of my proudest moments,” she says. “The people I connected with after were saying they want to make sure it keeps happening. It developed into something so big and beautiful that I didn’t expect. I already made a list for the next one I’m going to have. My end goal for EMPOWERED is to have a stage at a festival, and I want to make sure I’m booking the talent.”
Naser hit another high on Feb. 3 with the launch of Steve Aoki’s Remix Radio channel. She works as program director, and in Aoki’s words, “his partner.”
Aoki came to SiriusXM to promote his memoir, Blue: The Color of Noise, and Naser interviewed him after staying up all night to read the book. A casual conversation with Aoki’s manager led to building the concept, name and logo, coordinating with marketing, PR and digital as well as picking the 500-plus songs for rotation and daily programming.
“I have a really quick meet-and-greet picture with [Aoki] seven years ago at 92.3,” Naser says. “Now, he’s texting me and saying I’m his partner. He’s one of the biggest stars in the world. To think Steve Aoki’s a friend of mine is mind-boggling. He does a bajillion things a minute. Seeing how hard he works, I couldn’t have picked someone better to work with.”
With three channels at her command, Naser has a lot of music inundating her via every avenue. She says it’s best not to go past two follow-ups with any program director, and the majority of what is sent will not get on the air. While it’s not possible for Naser to reach out and explain why a song will not make it onto BPM, she is firm in saying, “It’s never personal.”
“I want to make sure people know that they can send whatever music they feel should be played on BPM,” she says, “but when you work in an industry like this, you have to know you might not hear what you want to hear.”
As far pitching her music, Naser has one simple do and one simple don’t: “Do be respectful. Don’t be disrespectful.”