Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Slow, Gruesome Death Of Black Radio.

I've long complained about the total f*ckery that is the state of black radio in 2012. I personally abandoned the Kiss/Hot/Power/Where Hip Hop and R&B Lives format over a decade ago. The advent of MP3's helped, and since I'm a SirusXM subscriber, I only find myself listening to terrestrial radio when I'm in a rental car with no other options.

The reasons are myriad. The Hip Hop and R&B playlist driven format basically ensures you're gonna hear the exact same 10 songs every hour, regardless of where in the country you are. Only songs that fit a specific radio-friendly sound are gonna get played. The repetitive "money/b*tches/drugs" messages are annoying and dumb. And when most radio personalities are actually allowed to talk, they're typical devoid of substance, talkin' (very!) loud and saying nothing. Whose life is really enhanced by listening to 4 Trey Songz songs in a 30 minute span? I'll pass.

Adding kids to the equation only makes this worse. My children are young, but they're also smart, so we try and shield them from as much of this nonsense as possible because, well, they're still kids. At some point in time they'll be grown enough to pick their own music. Till then, that Thomas And Friends soundtrack gets a bunch of play.

I don't typically like quoting other opinion pieces (for obvious reasons) but The Washington Post's Natalie Hopkinson recently penned something along these same lines that basically summarizes my thoughts on black radio.
I recently added D.C.’s two FM hip-hop radio stations--WPGC and WKYS--to the list of items banned in my house. I’ve long been tired of having to explain the latest raunchy R&B and hip-hop lyrics to my kids, and when I heard the radio ad for The Stadium (yeah, that strip club) for the umpteenth time, I realized that black radio is beyond redemption.

I clearly have nothing against strip clubs, but I’m bringing back the ghost of C. Delores Tucker because, bottom line, my children need to be allowed to be what they are: children. Because at the tender ages of 8 and 11, they have a whole lifetime of gutter street talk, cursing and unsubtle sexual innuendo ahead of them. Because, if they keep getting exposed to this stuff now, going away to college will be anticlimactic.

But they are allowed to listen to the local Top-40 (white) pop station. For a hip-hop fan and certified race woman such as myself, that is the saddest thing to admit. Given the plethora of other choices, Pandora, to iTunes, or satellite radio, I shouldn’t be so bothered by black radio’s descent into the gutter.

But for generations, black radio has been a driving force of black culture and politics, the modern day drum for communities of African descent as William Barlow explains in “Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio.”

Giving up on black radio, which was so critical for giving an immigrant like me a window into race in America, feels like losing a friend.

So where did our love go wrong? Paul Porter of the media think tank Industry Ears, recently explained in his essay “Why Black Radio is So Damn Bad” on that the community connection to black radio slowly began to unravel with the 1996 passage of the Telecommunications Act, which turned formerly black-owned stations into publicly traded commodities. The rise of syndication, which expanded the reach and influence of personalities such as Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, but muted local voices and news.

So this is how you have black radio being used to peddle kiddie malt liquor aimed at black communities. That is how it became the site of Cathy Hughes own personal grudge match against Congress. Black music and radio industry execs act more like tabloid editors, leaving nothing to the imagination.

White pop stations are not perfect either, but they offer a less grim view of reality. Those songs can be cheesy, corny. They are not nearly as soulful, catchy or stupid-funny as, say, the Ying Yang twins. But I can safely allow my son to listen to it in his room, with the door closed, without worrying about him losing his innocence.
I disagree with Hopkinson about "Pop" stations. They're probably even more mind numbingly repetitive, and the content of the music isn't really any safer for kids. When in doubt, tune in to Radio Disney.

As far as black radio goes, for me, it's a lost cause. I don't look to black raduo for my news/commentary, but when shows like Michael Baisden and Steve Harvey are actually considered serious conversation, count me out. When I can flip between DC's three Hip-Hop/R&B themed stations and simultaneously hear the very same Drake song on all three, there's obviously a problem. When a DJ promises one hour of uninterrupted music, then proceeds to plug some event at a club between every song, I'm changing the station for good.[1]

At least SiriusXM offers a far more expansive playlist, and that alone is worth paying $12 a month for.

Question: Do you listen to "black radio"? How do you manage the whole music situation with your kids?

[1] One Notable Exception: Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club with Angela Yee is the rare show worth listening to. The interviews are great, skip the music.

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