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Hip Hop Fridays: Black Radio: From Hollywood To Harvey by Paul Porter

New York's legendary WBLS is once again the face of Black Radio. For over a decade Frankie "Hollywood" Crocker formed the floor plan for Black Radio. The silky smooth baritone Crocker shaped a generation of future broadcasters.

Thirty years after Crocker's inception, WBLS landed Steve Harvey. Harvey is the face of Black Radio literally. The Steve Harvey Morning Show is syndicated nationally by Clear Channel Communications. Clear Channel owns almost 40% of Urban radio.

Crocker's antics were legendary, from riding a white horse through the streets of New York, to his creative musical insight. Self labeled as "Hollywood" in New York, Crocker took Black owned WBLS to the top of the ratings. Crocker's individual success opened the doors to television and national fame.

Black Radio is suffering nationwide, caught up in the corporate crunch. Fewer choices with an abundance of syndicated voices. Tom Joyner is heard in over one hundred cities. Steve Harvey has quickly surfaced as the challenger rising quickly in 23 cities including Detroit, LA, DC, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Let's not forget the afternoon syndication with the rise of ABC's Michael Baisden and Premiere's Wendy Williams. Add Radio One's new talk network to the mix with Sharpton and Michael Eric Dyson then ask why are these select broadcasters the cream of the crop?

Black Radio has been marketed by corporate America like no other format. Pop radio counterparts have nothing close in the way of syndication. There are over 13,000 radio stations nationwide, but less than 250 are targeted to black audiences. Only AM Talk can boast more syndication than Black Radio. Rush Limbaugh, the King of conservative talk's annual salary more than triples Joyner, Harvey, Baisden and Williams combined.

The playing field in Radio will never be fair. Corporate suits picking out what is best for the hood. By now you should know life is not fair, but let's be honest syndication sucks. Less choices, less Black voices which limit what we hear and think.

For decades Black Radio was where you turned to hear about much more than music. Crocker's antics were musically and mentally stimulating. Radio for a long time was played in the home and not just limited to the car and Walkmans. Radio has effectively been silenced by stock holder profits. Good luck in finding anything more than an occasional laugh mixed with a musical track made for video instead of radio. Hip Hop has effectively pigeon holed itself to sex, misogyny and violence by corporate consolidation and payola.

During a recent interview I had on Sirius Satellite radio, Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame argued, "Hip hop is the music of the hood." I vehemently argued, "Bullsh*t!" It's the same story that some white exec is saying while they program the music for millions. There are numerous examples of Hip Hop that will never be played on radio or video. We all need to grow out of the gold chains of "I am proud to go to prison mentality."

It is easy to be fooled. Just take a look at BET's recent moves to reality TV. What do Lil Kim, DMX and Keyshia Cole all have in common? Maybe Viacom the parent company of MTV, BET, VH1, CBS, Nickelodeon, Paramount and Dreamworks to name a few, will air similar series with pop stars thru out the chain? MTV Films did bring "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp'" to the big screen. BET continues to make choices but few choose to turn it off. From "Amos and Andy" to BET are our images getting any better? Nuff said.

Black Radio has quickly turned into a few select dark faces. Gone are any songs of substance. Almost thirty years ago Black Radio played James Brown's "Say it Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud." Gone are local issues and voices. Thirty years after Frankie Crocker's FM debut in New York, Black Radio is saying less with much more. What made Crocker's rise triumphant was one Black owned outlet, programmed by one Black man. Thirty years later there is no Frankie "Hollywood" Crocker.

Paul Porter may be reached at

Paul Porter

Friday, July 28, 2006

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