I must have a reputation in the local radio community. This week, I wanted to have a talk--a simple, harmless, non-accusatory chat--with the program directors at 97.9 The Beat and K104.5 FM, Dallas' highest-rated hip-hop radio stations. Unfortunately, neither Jon Candeleria nor Skip Cheatham, respectively, returned my numerous calls, which means I didn't get to ask either of them why local hip-hop stations don't care about local hip-hop.
What's the harm in that question?
I mean, that's not nearly as harsh as when I said 102.1 The Edge is "killing rock music" (That Infernal Racket, June 23), but then again, the situation isn't as dire for hip-hop stations as it is for rock, either. Neither 97.9 nor 104.5 are slouches about new tracks, as songs older than six months don't exist on their ultra-competitive playlists, and as a result, they each play some of the best of the nation's hip-hop.
97.9 The Beat
Too much of it, really. Both stations play the same few songs over and over: Nelly's "Grillz," D4L's "Laffy Taffy," David Banner's "Play." At least they aren't going the 106.1 KISS-FM route and forcing the Black Eyed Peas down people's gullets, but the problem isn't just the "same few songs" argument. Radio has done that for decades, after all.
The problem is that nearly every "hot" hip-hop single on Dallas' two highest-rated hip-hop stations is about impressing women or getting laid, and man, it gets old. This misogynistic streak, seemingly started by the Ying Yang Twins begging women earlier this year to "see my dick," isn't just lyrically mind-numbing--it's disappointing when so many hungry MCs in Dallas are shoved off the airwaves to make room for that drivel.
You can read this complaint time and again at the DFWhiphop.com forums, a heavily populated Web site full of local performers and fans chiming in on the issue. It's a pretty messy site, full of inside jokes and petty arguments, but frustration with local radio stations rises out of the chaff--the most obvious example is when 97.9 DJ Headkrack posted tracks from his One Man Army mixtape on the site with complaints about how "local radio won't play my songs."
Maybe they don't need to, as neither station is suffering in the ratings, but there are two big, blaring footnotes to that thought: Latin stations have finally overtaken hip-hop as the ratings leader in Dallas, and 97.9 has always been a few steps behind K104 in the ratings battle. Two reasons to shake playlists up (at least for the Beat), right?
So I suggested on the site that a station start its own underground show. Take the lowest-rated time slot of the week, toss in local DJs and spin the best of local, international and underground hip-hop and rap, and bam--you get an urban Adventure Club or Good Show. It's a good way to sneak local stuff into corporate-owned radio stations, right?
Too bad 97.9 already tried it. 97.9 DJ Big Bink and former N.W.A. member The D.O.C. hosted Street Heat for a few months in late 2003, though as Bink explains, it wasn't wholly dedicated--on Sundays he played "about three songs from Dallas an hour" during the two-hour show. The program was subsequently canned due to "low ratings."
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Hmm. A local show with only three local songs per hour getting bad ratings? Who'da thunk? But Bink has answers to my other accusations.
"What people fail to realize is you make your own hit record. Radio does not dictate a hit record. If there's a buzz on something, whether it's Joe Thompson or Ja Rule, it'll get heard. And we do play local music. Big Tuck is a huge artist out of Dallas, just got a $7 million deal with Universal. Were we playing Big Tuck before the deal? Yes we were."
Bink lists other Dallas names--E-Class, Play 'N' Skillz--that have gotten more than 60 plays a week for recent singles. Still, in a rap city this big, Bink was only able to list four acts from our city to hit his airwaves. Dallas is a competitive market, but read this list: Pikahsso, Steve Austin, Tahiti, Headkrack, King Ashoka, Voice Rock, Versatile. Those are just some of the talented rappers I've written about with hot, radio-ready singles, let alone the performers waiting for publicity and a break to help them get into a studio. Combine them with the best of the nation's underground, and you'd have two hours a week that could kill.
"We do research studies and ask people what they like," Bink says. "They say, 'Y'all play "Grillz" by Nelly too much!' 'Oh, well, what's your favorite song?' 'Shoot, "Grillz" by Nelly!' Hmm." Bink says that last "hmm" like he's confused, but it's not hard to figure out--play the same songs over and over, and people will probably grow to like them. Thing is, this town's too big for those songs to beg us to see their dicks over and over and over. 104.5 and 97.9, Latin radio is putting the pressure on, and so am I. Steal my idea. Please.