Radio host breaking the stereotypes
There are some ugly stereotypes about members of the Navajo tribe. For one, that they are silent pushovers, said Courtney Begaye, who is Navajo.
But every weekday morning, on local hip-hop radio station U92, Begaye the brash, vocal, Oakland Raider-loving host is changing the stereotype.
Better known to his listeners as Poetik C, he hosts "The Navajo on the Radio" show from 6 to 10 a.m., waking up nearly 150,000 people from Provo to Ogden to Tooele.
Begaye, who has hosted the morning show for six years, has helped make U92 one of the area's most listened-to stations. The 34-year-old is one of the reasons U92 was recently named Rhythmic Station of the Year by the respected national trade publication FMQB. In previous years, the award was bestowed on New York City and Los Angeles stations in New York City and Los Angeles.
"Everyone has had a hand in what we do," said Kevin Cruise, U92 program director, who also was awarded FMQB's Program Director of the Year.
Poetik C was born and raised in Salt Lake City and has lived in the valley all his life, except for two years when he resided on the New Mexico portion of the Navajo reservation. It was that time away that shaped him as a person and a DJ.
While attending East High School, Begaye and his family moved to the isolated Navajo reservation in Newcomb. His mother had received a tribal scholarship to study special education at the University of Utah, which required her to spend two years teaching on the reservation.
Poetik C felt alone in the tiny New Mexican town, even though he shared a cultural heritage with its residents. At the time, the town had fewer than 400 people, there was only one store and Begaye could only find country music on the radio with poor signals, to boot. In addition, most of the people spoke Navajo, a language he didn't understand. Compared with Salt Lake, living in Newcomb felt like living on the moon.
"I hated it," Poetik C said. "It was rough. Man, I was isolated."
But Poetik C gained a lot from the experience. The first was his nickname, coined by a friend who had never met a boy named Courtney but appreciated that Begaye would spend time in class writing rap lyrics.
In Newcomb, Begaye became the announcer for the high-school basketball games, and later he DJ'd at reservation dances.
He also met and fell in love with Tracey, who eventually became his wife and is the mother of his two sons. They've been together for 15 years.
After two years on the reservation, Poetik C moved back to Salt Lake City and quickly became one of the area's top turntablists, winning numerous competitions in DJ battles.
That drew the attention of the bosses at U92, who sponsored some of the battles. In 2003, Poetik C told Cruise about his dream of being a radio host. "He was very rough," Cruise said. "He had no radio experience. [But] we were able to see something in him."
Poetik C started at the station part-time. Three months later, he was promoted to the weekend shift. A year later, he was offered the morning show.
It's a salaried position, but it's something Poetik C said "I would do for free."
Although he despised how isolated he felt while living on the reservation, Poetik C says it was a formative experience that made him proud to be an American Indian.
"I'm happy for the love I get when I'm out on the streets from all native nations," he said. "I've had great times and hard times. I wouldn't change that time in my life for anything. It made me who I am today."
Loud, that is, and proud.
'The Navajo on the Radio'
Listen to Poetik C on the radio from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays on U92 (92.5 FM).