Hip-Hop Fridays: E-Letter To Newsday and Rafer Guzman Re: "'Jack' radio too white for New York?"
Your excellent, short article, "'Jack' radio too white for New York?," by raising the right question, hits the nail on the head regarding the swirling buzz and radio business model transitions surrounding the new ‘Jack’ radio format. I first learned about the format in a conversation I recently had with Star, of the Star and Buc Wild Morning Show. I strongly urge you to consider his possible hidden and unacknowledged role in creating the atmosphere and verifying the viability of Jack’s success. Furthermore, I think he and his show reveal the best answer to the question you posed, "Is ‘Jack’ Too White For New York?"
Personally, I believe that ‘Jack’ as it is currently structured is ‘too White’.
As you wrote, "So why hasn't Jack taken off with New Yorkers? Here's one theory: In a city filled with racial diversity and music that crosses racial divides, Jack sounds pretty darn white."
You go on to specifically address WCBS-FM’s version of Jack, writing (italics and bold face mine), "Maybe WCBS, after only about four months under the Jack banner, simply hasn't yet figured out what mix of music will appeal to a New York audience. Listening to Jack for an hour, it's clear that the station is positively afraid of rap. But maybe a little less Rick Springfield and a little more Slick Rick is all it needs."
Enter Star, who is the only person on radio that I have heard that has proven they are capable of playing Rick Springfield and Slick Rick, in the same hour at that. The ‘dirty’ little secret, which I have mentioned in a previous column, is that the majority of those of us Black and Latino Hip-Hop and ‘R&B’ fans - in the lucrative 25- to 54-year-old demographic, highly coveted by advertisers - did not grow up on stations which boast that they program, ‘Today’s Hip-Hop and R & B.’ We grew up on Top 40 Stations that played rock, pop, punk, dance, disco, some heavy metal and some rap; as well as those stations that were programmed as ‘Soul’ or ‘Urban Contemporary’, where we took in such artists as Phyllis Hyman, the S.O.S. Band, Norman Connors, and Stephanie Mills. Star, as an authentic member of this generation and even student of its music - although working for stations programmed in Hip-Hop and R&B formats over the last five years - plays what he enjoys and respects. His ‘playlist’ includes gospel, reggae, rap, rock and pop - the type of ‘Jack’ that could eventually work in New York, and virtually anywhere else in America.
To get a better understanding of how this relates to your column and insight, here is the excerpt of my conversation with Star that most directly pertains to your thesis:
Cedric Muhammad: What you are doing, even though you may have one intention and it is genuine; as well as a need to establish your personality, over the music, as your show successfully grows into more markets across the country; my overriding perception is that what you are doing may be hinting at a viable new format for radio.
Star: Oh yes, absolutely! Now they have a format called ‘Jack.’ Have you heard of this?
Cedric Muhammad: No, I haven’t.
Star: Jack is an actual format that if you listen to the old station where Mickey Dolan was just fired -WCBS-FM, in New York – you can hear it. But when I was sitting on Hot 97 playing one freestyle record, one heavy metal record and then one rap record, people were listening. And they were listening in awe, and watching the ratings, in awe. And this is why Power 105.1 couldn’t gain any ground on me in the mornings. Because of the fact that the format I was playing was real – really needed (laughter). You know what I’m saying?
Cedric Muhammad: Yeah and I used to remember, Hot 97 used to play the call letters over the songs.
Star: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Because they were concerned about…
Cedric Muhammad:…losing the listener, right?
Star:…well, jeopardizing the conditioning process they had bestowed upon the market place for so long.
Cedric Muhammad: I thought it was kind of hot! But I knew why they were doing it.
Star:…(laughter) yeah. Well, I actually recommended that (technique) to them. And Miguel and I put together that drop and that’s why you would hear, Judas Priest, "Breaking The Law," and then you would hear ‘Hot 97 (WQHT).’ So it actually worked and they would say, ‘Well we don’t get it, we can’t figure him out, but just let him do his thing.’ But no, it is definitely a format that I think could and will take off.
If you look at the radio programming in England - I have never heard a radio show from England, but I understand they do something very similar to that – they play different types of music and it is not as contrived as it is here in the States.
But just to prove my point – when 102.7 changed formats, they started playing one Hip-Hop song, and then they would play a Christina Aguilera song, then they would play a TLC song, then they would play some sort of Hip-Hop song and people were saying by way of e-mail and phone comments to me, ‘Wow, man, these people at 102.7 are trying to make a run on your format that you started at Hot 97.’ And in a sense I was flattered but at the same time I would say that I didn’t see it picking up speed because the people they had in the morning, I think were J. Lo’s sister and someone else, but they just had nothing to say in regards to why they were jumping like that (in and out of various genres of music on their playlist.)
See, here is where I give myself credit. Call it patting myself on the back or whatever.
To be able to jump around format-wise, like that, you have to know the music and be somewhat aware of the different cultures. You can’t just sit there and think you are going to play a Lynyrd Skynyrd record, and then all of a sudden jump into a Memphis Bleek record. You have to justify just why you are doing it. You can’t go from Hilary Duff to G-Unit without saying, ‘ok, here is the parallel.’ Otherwise, you will be viewed as a fraud and somebody who is just trying to benefit.
Cedric Muhammad: The talent is just as important as the playlist.
Star: Absolutely. And you see this is why the phenomenal success of someone like Frankie Crocker was so poignant, not only during his time but for years to come. Because Frankie Crocker, and I will even say, people like myself – we don’t come along that often, where we are so outspoken and we are able to relay our love for diverse music as we do. We are almost looked upon as charlatans to a certain extent, you know.
Some of the people at Clear Channel didn’t really understand why I did some of the things that I did at Hot 97 while I was there. But what they knew was that I was winning in the ratings, so they said, ‘Well god damn it hire him. We don’t get it but hire him.’ (laughter.)
I hope you will see that in addition to making points relevant to your thesis, Star adds historical perspective with his reference to the legendary Frankie Crocker, he also stresses the role of talent in making the ‘Jack’ format work. I think in addition to the racial dynamic you raise, this is an important consideration. The on-air personality, his or herself, has to know how to authentically tie the Jack playlist together – across eras and genres.
I hope you will continue to write on this emerging phenomenon – Jack - and I applaud you for having the courage and intellectual honesty to question the possibility that race is an important factor to consider.
P.S. Another sign of a paradigm shift in radio as it relates to your article, and my thesis that partly because of his broad appeal, Star is the most important man in radio is the news this week, that the Star and Buc Wild show will be replacing Howard Stern on KXBT in Austin, Texas. In case you missed it, and its implications here is the official press release from Premiere Radio Networks:
THE STAR & BUC WILD MORNING SHOW TO REPLACE HOWARD STERN ON AUSTIN’S THE BEAT 104.3 KXBT-FM
The Star & Buc Wild Morning Show will take over Howard Stern’s 6 - 10 a.m. CT weekday morning slot on Austin’s The Beat 104.3 KXBT-FM beginning Monday, December 19, 2005. The move to replace Stern marks Star and Buc Wild’s return to rhythmic radio since they catapulted to #1 on New York’s Hot 97, beating Stern in the 6-10 a.m. time slot, Adults 18-34. (Source: Arbitron, SP'01, AQH Rank, MF 6-10a, A18-34)
"Uniquely, Star has exhibited ratings and revenue results on both Urban and Rhythmic stations. Austin’s The Beat is first of several rhythmics which as an overall strategy will expand
the Star and Buc Wild brand well beyond the reach of other Urban shows," said Julie Talbott, EVP affiliate marketing for Premiere Radio Networks.
Star and Buc Wild are known for their no-holds barred reality humor that punctuates today’s dynamic hip-hop culture.
The Star & Buc Wild Morning Show is nationally syndicated
by Premiere Radio Networks and originates from Clear Channel New York, Power 105.1 WWPR-FM.
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Friday, October 28, 2005