If you’re active on the Washington, D.C. social scene, it’s likely that you’ve heard of Sunni And The City. Not only is she a daytime host on hip-hop station WPGC 95.5, she also is an integral part of the nightlife world, working with brands such as Ciroc and De Leon while keeping her large social media audience plugged in to some of the livest events in the city. You’ll also find her frequently leading the charge for a number of charitable events around the city.
Her bright, bubbly personality and polished delivery is a great fit for the high profile nature of her work, and her life. That being said, the story of how she arrived is far from glamorous. Sunni, whose real name is Vildana Puric, was born in Bosnia, in a small town called Donji Purici. In the 90’s, when Sunni was nine years old, bombs literally began to drop. Conflicts stemming from Bosnian civil war turned into pure chaos that forced the Puric family into a three year period when they were essentially on the run, fighting for survival before finally being offered an opportunity to immigrate to America.
That was just the beginning of the fight for Sunni, who entered into the American school system as a teenager with a thick Bosnian accent. She struggled to gain acceptance during her time spent in high school. She started her career in Detroit radio after quitting a job in a dentist’s office. Her first job in the radio industry? Working as an intern. How did Sunni progress from being an unpaid intern with a “terrible radio voice” to becoming a premiere Washington, D.C. radio personality? That story is better told in her words.
You truly started from the bottom, as cliche as the phrase has become. How did you find the willpower to push through all those years?
It was incredibly difficult. My family was questioning why I was interning for free. At one point I was working in the morning, interning in the afternoon, and working at Walgreens at night from 11PM to 7AM. I would repeat that process every day, over and over again. It was funny to me when there was a discussion on twitter about internships recently, and this girl told me that I was “privileged” to have been able to work the internship that I had. But I was 19 years old, not sleeping. Working day and night. People don’t understand the sacrifices that were made.
Seriously. When did you even find time to sleep?
I didn’t sleep. I exhausted myself. I don’t know what kept me going. My family was against me interning, and my friends told me that I don’t speak well. The other personalities at the station were against it. They told me that my voice sounded pretty bad. My boss became my mentor. I pretty much went into his office and told him, “I want to be on air. Whatever I need to do, I will do.”
He told me, “you sound awful. Work on your voice.” Every night I would sneak a key to a production room and read books or commercial logs. I would record myself and play the recordings back. I quickly realized how bad I sounded. I would record my voice over and over and over again until I started getting better. I would be in that back room for hours. Nobody thought I could do it, but I told myself that nobody would stop me.
I never doubted that it was possible. My desire was so natural. I think it stemmed from really wanting to be considered “American.” I didn’t want to have an accent. I didn’t want to have people ask where I’m from when they hear me pronounce certain words. I didn’t want those barriers. It took years, but I overcame those limitations.
Now that you’ve achieved a certain level of success, have the naysayers changed their tone?
My family is more cool and accepting, now. I’m at a point in my life where I’m happy and have some level of success now. So, of course , now that that’s out of the way, they’ve all shifted to asking me why I’m not married. They don’t even care anymore. Success is cool, but why aren’t you married? Where’s the husband?
I think that everyone has doubters or naysayers. My situation isn’t unique. Every person in every career path has people telling them what they “can’t” do. I always felt that everything was worth it. I believed that if I simply worked hard enough, I didn’t even have the option of failing. There was never a Plan B. There’s still no Plan B. This is what I love, and this is what I do. Maybe I’ll find something later if need be. Once you find something you love enough, there’s no valid thing that can hold you back. I’m not physically unable to do the work. Nothing’s holding me back. Why not me?
Did you ever give serious thought to just giving up and choosing a path with less obstacles?
There were definitely hard times. I was broke for a long time. The hustle was essential, though. I always told myself, “I have no kids, no pets, and no plants. The only thing I have to keep alive, is me.” If I had to eat two chicken nuggets a day, I would still survive. Of course, my family didn’t want me to choose this career path. They brought me to this country to be a doctor, or a lawyer. Something more acceptable to traditionally minded people.
I went so off course that I always felt as though I had to prove them wrong. There was no way I could quit. My mother would say, “I told you so.” or “Do you see how poor you are?” She never holds back. I legitimately would be broke and getting thrown out of my apartment, but I would still head home and act like everything was great around my parents. I couldn’t tell them. That was always a huge driving force for me.
What drives you to be so involved with philanthropic events?
It’s always been a part of me. It’s a part of my job in radio, but it’s also a part of my life because of what I’ve been through. This wasn’t just handed to me, by any means. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been hungry. Not to say that other people who haven’t truly experienced that need can’t relate, but it’s more personal for me. I choose causes that are dear to me. It’s a natural, everyday thing. DC is a great city for this type of endeavor, because so many people are working on causes like this.
How can we stay in the loop, in regards to charitable events in the city?
My twitter. Social media in general. Sometimes I wonder what we did before, because we didn’t have this when I started radio.
I think we had friends in the real world, at some point. Maybe?
Right. Now, we can talk to people all over the country who we never would have known otherwise. I’m big on social media. It’s special, and I really say what I want. Sometimes, I forget that corporate people, news anchors, and generally more conservative people follow me on there.
My timeline is full of people like us - people who would attend the events that I go to, and listen to the radio regularly. And we go in, often. All types of different discussions and inside jokes come up. I have to remember that some of the people who follow me have no idea what those discussions are about.
You’ve built significant audiences on both Twitter and Instagram. A lot of people tend to focus on just one platform, but you do a good job of keeping things balanced. Is there an intentional strategy behind it all?
It’s not necessarily intentional. Social media is fun. We talk about everything on there. I keep things balanced, but also make sure to keep personal things below the surface. You’re not going to hear me chiming in on very personal dating or sex debates. You don’t need to overly share your whole life. I like to keep things balanced, though. I don’t use Snapchat, but I definitely creep on there.
Why do people trust you so much on social media?
People trust me on social media because I never promote things that I dislike. That’s a non negotiable. At the station we have to promote certain things, but I always tell my boss what the deal is. If I don’t use the product or wouldn’t appreciate the event, I can’t talk about it and encourage people to support. That’s shady.
I’ve always been a girl’s girl. If you see me at an event, I’m not at my table being stuck up. If you come out, everybody’s drinking and having a good time. I’m having everyone come and drink shots with us. My girls hate it, but that’s the way it is. I love empowering women and having a good time. We have one life to live, and I’m just trying to be happy.
Life’s too short. I won’t say it’s popping if it’s not. When I first moved here, I would go to certain parties that I just couldn’t tweet about. If it was dead, I’d have to pull someone aside, give the money back, and call it a day.
In recent months, I’ve heard indie artists like Russ and Amine on WPGC. Which is crazy, because that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. How are these new lanes for indie artists starting to open up?
It’s a known fact that program directors are the decisionmakers for radio stations. They choose what is played. That being said, personalities are given more room to pitch an artist based on their popularity. We didn’t have options like that before social media. We just did our job. Now, more lanes are definitely opening up. When J. Cole’s “False Prophets” dropped online, it was on the radio at the exact same time due to how much discussion it generated at such an accelerated pace. The same goes for Wale’s response, “Groundhog’s Day.” Social media plays a role in what we can pitch to program directors and get on air.
That’s exciting. You kind of have to be fast paced, given how quickly streaming services are providing everyone with what’s “new.”
It’s crazy to me that everyone thinks radio is dying out. We have our place. At the end of the day, we’re always going to be here. We’re free, and we provide a unique experience. Radio is its own little community on a local level. As long as we keep up with everything else that’s going on, and offer streaming on apps like Radio.com, we’ll be completely fine. I think we’re doing just fine.
Yeah, that makes sense. In essence, radio stations are community hubs.
Yeah. Recently I had an experience that really drove that home. I was at a charity drive, and this lady who always comments on my Instagram approached me. She told me that she’d been listening to me for over six years now. She said, “I was a little bit upset when you first started, because you took over Michelle Wright’s spot.” Michelle was the daytime host before me, and she had been the daytime host for about fifteen years.
She went on to tell me that after giving me a chance, she grew to love me, and that she listens to me in her headphones every day at work until she heads home. Now that we have social media, it’s easier to hear from our listeners, but to hear it directly from her mouth made it even more impactful. She really made my day.
I get down on myself sometimes, because some days I feel like I’m not really making a difference, celebrity gossip is very shallow. But then after having conversations I realize that people really draw life from simple stuff like this in a world full of so much craziness. People need this escape. I’m happy to help provide it.
Now, I know that at one point you described social media as an “online dating catalog.” Do you have any advice for people looking to shoot their shot before cuffing season truly gets under way?
Definitely. When you’re meeting someone from online, always meet up for coffee during the day. Gives you a chance to chat and see if it’s even worth going to dinner. You don’t want to get stuck having a long dinner with someone who you aren’t feeling. Saves you a lot of time.