KS 107.5's Rosa Jad Is Tuned In to Her Identity

Rosa Jad of KS 107.5.
Rosa Jad of KS 107.5. Brandon Donohoo
Each day before the sun rises, KS 107.5 host Rosa Jad wakes up ready to perform salat al-fajr — one of five daily Muslim prayers.

Mondays through Fridays, she’s at the mic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Rosa’s Risky Rotation. She plays R&B and hip-hop, occasionally sprinkling her joyful banter with commentary about Black Lives Matter, Palestinian rights and self-help tips. She often blurts out Arabic phrases and talks about Muslim holidays like Ramadan and Eid, joking relentlessly about whatever comes to the tip of her tongue. Alone in the KS 107.5 studio, she’s unsure whether anybody’s listening.

But the city is.

Between rotations and interviews with local and national artists ranging from YaSi to Lizzo, Jad — one of the few Muslim women working as an on-air personality at a major-market radio station — prays the dhuhr at noon, the asr in the afternoon, the maghrib at sunset and the isha at night. When she’s not working or praying, she shares photos of herself pumping iron, modeling high-end fashion and mugging with superstars on Instagram. Her parents’ friends sometimes wonder why she isn’t married with children. But at 26, Jad is busy building her own life.

“It’s this new day and age of Muslim women — of being independent, having your own money, having your own career, being able to speak up for yourself — that I'm here to represent,” she says.

Jad, who’s Palestinian, was born in Saudi Arabia. There she went to a British school, where she learned English. Her family moved to Colorado when she was around six years old. Upon arriving, she quickly ditched her British accent in order to fit in with other kids.

In the States, her peers didn’t practice her religion, speak Arabic or observe Muslim holidays, and since she wasn’t always Muslim-presenting, many assumed she was Native American or Latina. She didn’t always correct them.

“I kind of get mad at my younger self,” she says. “I wish I would have known that being Muslim is my superpower.”

One day that younger self was on a drive with her family when her cousin asked, “Have you heard of this station?” and turned the dial to KS 107.5, where Kelis was rapping: “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” Jad’s mother was horrified and told them to turn the channel — but Jad was captivated.

Once a week, she stealthily played the station, and soon decided she wanted to be on the radio. She confessed her dreams to her mother, who eventually admitted, “I don’t see you doing anything else.” Jad’s parents have championed her career ever since.

In 2013, Jad had to pick a high school internship. While her friends went off to work for dentists, doctors and lawyers, she interned as a grunt in the marketing department at sports station 104.3 The Fan.

The office was in the same building as KS 107.5, where Jad soon grew close with the staff, who showed her how to work at a sprint. She learned to operate the mixing board and started recording her voice for practice.

“I sounded atrocious,” she recalls. “I had braces on the inside of my mouth.”

Nonetheless, she sent her recordings to the programming director of KS 107.5, begging him: “Hire me! Hire me! Hire me!” By September, he gave her the chance to sit in during the Friday and Saturday night Street Party from midnight to 2 a.m. She put in the sweepers — short samples — between songs, never going near the mic.
click to enlarge Rosa Jad hopes to inspire young girls through her work. - BRANDON DONOHOO
Rosa Jad hopes to inspire young girls through her work.
Brandon Donohoo
Jad graduated from high school early, at seventeen, to attend the University of Colorado Denver, where she continued to hone her skills, majoring in business and marketing and minoring in communications. But her real education was at the radio station.

“I was just the yes girl — always the first one in and last one out," she recalls. "There'd be times where I'm working 12 to 5 a.m. And then I'd run to class and college at 9 a.m., so I would sleep in the studio. Sometimes, if it was a snowstorm, I used to get PTSD. If my phone rang at night, I'm like, you know, the station needs me.”

One day when she was eighteen, the programming director called and told her to start talking on the air. “I acted like I was Oprah,” Jad says. “Every show was so important to me...I did every shift that was allowed." For a couple of years, while still in college, she hosted the midnight-to-2 a.m. slot. Her favorite holidays to work were Christmas and Thanksgiving, because as a Muslim, she celebrated neither, and nearly everyone at the studio would be on vacation, giving her ample air time.

She finished college in three years so that she could focus entirely on radio. She started applying for full-time jobs at KS 107.5, but her supervisors turned her down, encouraging her to gain experience in a smaller market. Jad refused. She recalls: “I would always tell them, ‘Hey, I'm Arab. We don't leave our house until we're married. I'm not moving. I live right here. I’m not going anywhere. You need to hire me.'”

Eager for a full-time gig, she confronted her bosses at a Cinco de Mayo party.

“I said, ‘Yo, you guys have seen me everywhere. Come on. Hire me,’” she remembers. “My boss was like, ‘Yo, what are you doing?’ And then a week later, I got the call: ‘Hey, you know, nights are open.’ And then I started nights, and then from nights I got middays. And then I started the Risky, and I started with local artists, and then I moved to national artists, and now I feel like I'm finally getting into my stride.”

Through it all, she continued to practice Islam.

“Being Muslim, you practice the religion outwardly in a way where you’re physically praying five times a day. And I’m blessed to work for a company that has always been extremely supportive of myself and my religion. I’m talking since 2013 — since I was seventeen years old — they allowed me to pray in the studio," she says. “I had to be vocal about it. It was nothing that I was going to compromise. I was like: ‘This is who I am. This is what I come with.’”

When she wasn’t praying, she was grinding, and her voice was becoming a fixture in town. Jad was out at shows promoting the station, speaking on panels, and using her mic to hype her favorite up-and-coming musicians.

Then the pandemic hit. For Jad, a hard-core extrovert, lockdown interrupted the nonstop hustle. Forced to be at home and away from the scene in which she thrived, she started losing her focus. Ultimately, though, that pause in business as usual proved to be a blessing.

“I was kind of forced to stop and look internally,” she explains. “And that was never something that I had the time to even do, because I was always go, go, go, go, go. I think we all were — as Americans, we all were just always busy doing something at all times.

“So when COVID hit, it allowed me the chance to kind of slow down and ask myself: 'Who am I? What do I represent? What do I want to be? What are my habits?'” she recalls.

Through the lockdowns, she found answers to those questions. After morning prayers, she started heading up to Red Rocks to work out by 6 a.m. She replaced partying with journaling and daily walks. In August, she led the Isha prayer at a Muslim women’s group — a performance she's even prouder of than she is her prime-time radio show.

“I'm comfortable with who I am,” she says. “And I want to represent for my people and for young women, and let them know that you don't have to get plastic surgery to be pretty, or you don't have to wear skimpy clothes online for life. You could just be exactly who you are, and there's a place in time for you. You just have to own it.”

Own it she does — and she’s ready to share her spotlight with young Muslim immigrant girls who find inspiration in her work.

“Yo, we made it,” she says. “We're here. We're doing everything that we want to do in America. We're taking advantage of these opportunities America has given us, and we're still able to practice our religion, our faith, our spirituality. We're able to keep up with our family. You can do it all, as long as your course is grounded.”
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris