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Hip-Hop Fridays: Star, As Frankie Crocker Redux, The Most Important Man In Radio

On the morning of his triumphant return to New York City on January 17, 2005, after acknowledging that he almost shed a tear while playing "It’s A Beautiful Day", by U2; and after proclaiming that within months he would have his former employer - "the sloppy station", otherwise known as Hot 97 – programming polka music; Star, of the Star and Buc Wild show, did something very significant. Deflecting associations and comparisons between he and Howard Stern, Star said that it was Frankie Crocker, the legendary maverick D J of New York’s 107.5 WBLS, who blazed the trail that he was following.

Having grown up listening to Frankie Crocker while a child and young adult, and then learning details of his contributions to the radio industry, as I got older, I immediately felt and understood what Star meant when he spoke glowingly of Mr. Crocker, one of the most influential and controversial men in radio history. "A man of color who played what he wanted to", as described by Star; it is hard to imagine what Black or "Urban" radio would be like today with the omission of the man affectionately known as "The Chief Rocker".

In describing the impact that his return to New York City’s airwaves has had, the new website writes, "Only from the legendary Frankie Crocker has urban radio ever come close to witnessing such a meteoric return." This is no hyperbole. In the historical context of radio industry history over the last 30 years, it is hard to underestimate the magnitude of what Star has already accomplished and is poised to do to the radio landscape, with a nationally syndicated program out of New York City. Not only in terms of the Hip-Hop music format in which he technically operates, but FM radio itself, as it is the entire industry that is currently in an upheaval facing competition for listener attention from not only niche-oriented AM-Talk radio but also from the emergence of a new technological platform - satellite radio – and its less inhibited environment.

While many properly focus on the music industry and the influence of video channels, one of the most underserved areas in analyzing the evolution of Hip-Hop culture and the industry that formed in and around it, is the role that radio has played in shaping thinking, tastes, markets, and business models. That is why we consistently have stated our position that Hip-Hop historian Davey D. is the most important opinion leader in the Hip-Hop generation. In addition to understanding the origin of the culture and the scope of the music industry, Davey is intimately familiar with the mechanics of the radio industry, its points of intersection with other power centers in the music industry, and most importantly its tremendous influence on and relationship with rap music. The act of leaving radio out of any discussion about Hip-Hop music and culture calls into question the seriousness and accuracy of the dialogue.

When Power 105.1 officially announced that they would be the new home to the Star and Buc Wild show in January, and that the show would captivate its target audience of ‘young listeners’, I understood why the Clear Channel radio station was saying that but I also immediately saw that they might not really understand what Star represents. Perhaps they did, and just did not wish to publicly telegraph the true value and broad appeal of their newly acquired controversial talent. What makes Star so valuable to Power 105.1 and its relatively broader Hip-Hop format is that he is the only morning show host, in recent memory, to be in a position to simultaneously satisfy the entire range of Hip-Hop fans – those from the ‘70s, 80s, 90s and those from the first decade of this century. In the purest context of the culture, music and industry it does not matter whether one is knowledgeable of graffiti and breakdancing, or a fan of The Sugar Hill Gang, Treacherous Three, Run D.M.C., KRS-One, Rakim, N.W.A., Snoop Doggy Dogg, Nas, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nelly, T.I., Lil’ Jon, Ying Yang Twins, Cassidy, Game or Common – there is usually something authentically appealing to you, every day on the Star and Buc Wild show. By speaking the languages of all of Hip-Hop culture, and of today's rap music fans, Star has already accomplished what others have only dreamed of. For better or worse, pleasure or irritation, at 40 years of age, Star is the embodiment of the sum of an entire cultural phenomenon, and its evolution. Who else can have interesting interviews with Scoob Lover and the Ying Yang Twins, as Star did this week and last?

What makes him so potentially valuable to FM radio is that in an era where the 24-hour news cycle and information age makes AM radio attractive; and where the ‘uncensored’ specialty niche oriented format of satellite radio is gaining traction; he is the only on-air talent on FM who is able to move so skillfully in and out of stratified musical genres and across eras all while pushing the envelope in terms of raw humor and news commentary. It is hard to imagine but true, that in a single show, Star has managed to bring together the raw edge of satellite radio, the cutting edge of AM and Internet news, without compromising the broad and selective appeal of FM radio. He analyzes popular mainstream network TV shows like ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Apprentice’; breaks down current events from a wide variety of Internet, cable and print media sources; interviews artists, celebrities and newsmakers; spins the latest Hip-Hop, classic rock and soul; all without forgetting to literally say, among other things, “F-you”, a few times each show and “you ain’t ‘ish”, on various occasions a week. If nothing else he has truly mastered the art of self-edited cursing.

It remains to be seen whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or other political interests will tolerate this and the implications of his consciousness, much longer. Not to mention his competition, which in typical envious fashion is believed to have reported Star’s show content directly to the FCC for investigation. On his first day back, in January, Star announced to his audience that he used to respect Howard Stern but ‘no more’. He briefly commented that Howard Stern personally reported the Star and Buc Wild show to the FCC and asked his listeners to do the same. As a result, Star now refers to the man he once respected, as ‘Coward Stern’ or ‘the long-haired fa----t down the dial’. In a pure Star-like rage, he also decided he should inform his listening audience that he heard Howard Stern’s daughters liked Black men, although, of course, he did not phrase it that way. Again, just yesterday, Star let loose on 'Coward' Stern, accusing him of "snitching" on him on April 1st.

If Clear Channel can continue to make certain listener-freindly moves (like its recent decision to reduce commercial break time by 25%) and through Premiere Networks, is able to execute a syndication business model and strategy for the Star and Buc Wild morning show - being sure to carefully introduce the show in markets that have sensitive and entrenched political establishments and interests groups who could be easily offended by the show - they may have stumbled upon a pradigm shift in morning radio that will erode or even make it immune to some of the gains that AM news-talk, Sirius Satelite and XM radio have made on the stale FM format.

On the surface and as he strengthens the Star and Buc Wild brand, Star seems to violate almost all of the laws of immutable marketing. But that is only if one thinks in terms of the business paradigm and marketing strategies of corporations rather than from the perspective of a unique talent operating in the entertainment industry. Star is not trying to be all things to all people, he actually is the rare individual who is all things to all people, for long enough periods of time that he does not offend or bore. Two of the ‘laws’ of marketing that Star, in his quest to cross boundaries in radio, appears to violate are the law of focus and the law of sacrifice which warn against making broad appeals to those outside of a core niche group. Think in terms of Coca-Cola selling clothes or Xerox making personal computers. Those who listen to the show know that few things irritate the host more than segmentation of the Hip-Hop audience in terms of ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ boundaries. Not only does Star explain how this has allowed the radio industry to exploit division for profit; he also elaborates on how this promotes disrespect for history among young people. No, Star’s efforts to reach masses of people are not a disingenuous or superficial exercise in line extension, they are credible expressions because they grow out of personal integrity, life experience and genius.

And, from brutal honesty and spontaneity.

When his critique of horrible rap music is not enough, he shares his “wisdom” on male-female relationships. When you are bored with that he tells you that he was violently ill the night before and allows listeners to tell him it was due to the Chinese food he loves. When he is through interviewing both Felix Trinidad and Winky Wright and is unsuccessful in getting the former to call the latter “nigga’”, he conducts wide ranging in depth interviews with Rev. Al Sharpton (who calls Star 'a breath of fresh air')and boxing promoter Don King (who told Star the interview 'rejuvenated' him). When you are perhaps tired of his efforts to encourage the New York Knicks by hating them (Star was actually kicked out of a New York Knicks game earlier this year because of how harshly he spoke to the Knicks players from his near courtside seats) he tells you and a guest on his show, in passing the name of a tape made by Minister Louis Farrakhan. After he tells you that he heard that al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab Zarqawi was actually a CIA agent he tells you how he and Jay-Z recently ‘locked eyes’ and shook hands after years of mutual distaste. After he helps members of the Five Percent Nation Of Islam on "Convict Wednesdays" assist convicted felons in obtaining gainful employment he launches into a tirade about how his eggs were not cooked with sufficient care and determination. When he is not complaining that Mariah Carey is too scantily clad in videos or “getting tribal” by appearing on the cover of Essence magazine, he is telling you that he knows that Whites in the media can’t stand Barry Bonds because he is a ‘man of color’ who speaks his mind. After expressing his fascination with the power of the Gay political lobby he then challenges listeners who have a problem with him to meet him downstairs in the lobby proclaiming that he has ‘ten rounds for ten clowns’. After he explains the ‘quagmire’ he found himself in years ago after making salat with some Muslims and then being asked to participate in a robbery with them, he next explains how after years of being a ‘White woman lover’ he has been recently smitten by ‘the Brown Sugar'. And after he questions the feminine qualities of a popular male rapper ('Hey girl! Aren't you’re a hot mess?) he then openly wonders aloud about life on other planets. Then, he plays a record by Guns-N-Roses, then one by Keith Sweat, then Jimmy Hendrix, next Amerie, followed by Jadakiss. And we can't forget Star's favorite group, his friends, L.I.E. In the process of doing all of this he dimensionalizes his audience, transcending genre, age, race and gender, setting the stage for a variety of business to be conducted with his over 6 million listeners.

Over time, I believe his ratings will reflect the complexities of his audience, in revolutionary fashion. And one can almost be certain that Star will continue to gratefully acknowledge Frankie Crocker, as he sets Clear Channel up to reap an advertising revenue windfall.

Deeper than mere versatility or politician-like multiculturalism, what Star offers his listeners is an experience that revolves around his genuinely eclectic background and lifestyle and his ability to present dialectics – he pits his Republican Conservative Black Jewish co-host, ‘Crossover Negro Reese’ versus his Bilingual Liberal White co-host, “White Trash Helene’; and although he has been struggling to get it done, you can see that part of the objective of having a ‘Buc Wild’ at all, is to create a dialogue between both ends of the Hip-Hop generation – the 40-year old Star having breakfast everyday with the 17-year old Killa' Kaheem. His worldview – objective hate - however heavily influenced by his interpretation of Ayn Rand and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, whom he claims, is very disciplined. It is authentic because it is a bid on the actual experience of his life, and it is popular because its presentation is cogent and scientific in its attunement with human nature, and what Star identifies as the human characteristic of 'hate'. Far from a show that revolves around shock, grotesque humor and silliness, for the sake of it, the orbit of Star and Buc Wild is one that many could relate to or admit they travel, when honest about their private or even secret thoughts and use of language.

In only three months since returning to the Big Apple, Star has already beaten his former employer in the Arbitron Winter ratings book. From 6 to 10 a.m. with listeners 18-34, his new station Power 105 rated a 10.1 share to Hot 97's 8.5. And perhaps more importantly, Power 105 has gained advertisers while Hot 97 has lost them during the morning time slot. But reportedly beating ‘the sloppy station’ in ratings is not enough, "I had this obligation and I fulfilled it. But this is just one step, because I have a much broader agenda. I'm also after the kids who listen to Hoobastank and Linkin Park. I'm as much about their culture as I am about hip-hop,” Star is quoted as saying.

It is his broader agenda and his unique potential for fulfilling it that makes him the most important man in the business right now, Frankie Crocker redux, if you will.

On January 14, 2005, just three days before his return to New York City's airwaves, in a piece entitled, "An Appreciation For The Genius Of Star and Buc Wild", I wrote of Star, in part, that he is "a person who I believe today is poised to nationally revolutionize the Hip-Hop morning show format, and maybe, down the road, comedic social commentary." He is more than well on his way.

The revolution will not be televised but some of it may be broadcast on FM radio.

Stay tuned.

Please Read Hip-Hop Fridays, January 14, 2005: "An Appreciation For The Genius Of Star and Buc Wild"

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, April 29, 2005

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