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Black Radio Pros Still Haunted by “The Vent”

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Isn’t this a “Communications” Industry?

Radio Programmer or “PD:” A radio specialist that leads the on-air team and creates the flow of the station’s overall presentation. He or she is often a part of an upper management team that makes decisions on what songs get added or gets spins on the station. A programmer pays very close attention to research and PPM (Nielsen’s radio ratings system) in order to compete against other stations in the same market. Most of them are former radio DJs who were promoted after going through the on air ranks in radio. Fewer have never been on the air at all. 

I am constantly researching the RFFocus audience, checking analytics, answering email and looking at social network responses, likes and follows to our stories . In the process, I have come to a conclusion about the big names in urban radio…. nobody (outside of the industry and even then it’s rare) knows them. When it comes to Rhythmic radio, another format in the industry (Drake, Weeknd, Fetty Wap, Bieber, Flo Rida, Gomez)  from the analytics on our allradionews.com site and often more often the non black programmers… EVERYBODY knows them. Rhythmic programmers have no problem promoting what they do and what’s going on at their stations, accepting interviews,  taking pictures with celebrities and themselves at industry events and even thanking you for promoting them. It’s not the same, however, for urban radio Programmers. When I have interviewed them, they rarely respond, are often hesitant to do the interview, have to have corporate approval (which is unacceptable for me) and they rarely if ever say thank you almost as if they are in fear of what may happen next if they promote themselves.

In today’s industry, it would certainly behoove black radio Program Directors at radio stations to promote themselves and what they are doing in order to better connect with the audience and possible future opportunities. But why is it that many Urban Programmers don’t promote themselves?

“It was an informative and interesting site started with good intentions, I would hope, that turned salacious and was full of bitter character assassination…”

Many urban PDs have told me, “I don’t have time” or “I will work on it” but truth be told I see very little if ANY urban programmers promoting what they do because they want to remain “Under the Radar.” Quite often urban (black) programmers (and jocks alike) feel that they are under more pressure from radio corporations to stay behind the scenes and the less they are seen and heard, the better their chances of keeping a job. It’s completely the opposite for non black programmers who believe self promotion on social networks and online is essential to their brand as well as the radio stations.

To that extent, there is a part of me that understands the corporation’s policing themselves on the urban side as they do.

The Death of Self Promotion for Urban Radio Pros

In the early part of the 2000s a site feature called “The Vent” run by a former black programmer premiered and was extremely popular in the urban industry. It was an informative and interesting site started with good intentions, I would hope, that turned salacious and was full of bitter character assassination and revenge against some of the top industry decision makers. With a name like “The Vent” unfortunately, it was just a matter of time. The feature was poorly monitored and many black jocks and industry professionals went in on urban radio PDs as well as the corporations like black-owned radio corporation Radio One and its upper management including owner Cathy Hughes. What was once popular and an industry go-to feature quickly turned into a playground for vicious attacks on urban brands and the black decision makers in the industry.  The vitriol that was spewed on that site became so toxic that the owner had to shut it down by requiring all of those who made comments to sign up and leave their names. At that point the concept met an immediate death as nobody wanted to be identified (and rightfully so) after the things they said for fear of being fired and/or blackballed. Shortly thereafter, letters were passed via the corporations to urban radio employees that they were not to do any press without the approval and review of the corporation. This deeply hurt the respected industry trades (the former R&R, RFFocus , Billboard and the early radio version of Urban Network) who wanted to write about successful urban radio programmers because programmers knew publicity was now a sensitive subject and they thought it was better to steer clear of the press instead of  asking the corporation for permission to be interviewed. Unfortunately, this is a case of where WE did all of this to ourselves and the concept of fear-of-publicity remains today from an urban radio perspective even as the social network concept continues to grow and lead.

Solutions?

Some Urban Programmers have started doing more interviews but at this point and after many years, few people in the industry know more than their names, if that. There are many urban radio PDs with amazing stories to tell, great PPM wins and overall station success but they still, for the most part refuse to talk. In today’s broadcast industry, a radio career can be lucrative leverage to do something else, even greater. Urban program directors owe it to themselves to hire someone to help with their social network presence as most don’t have the time but are they willing? As the industry doesn’t have any radio conferences for urban radio where awards and accolades were often given, it’s a sad state of affairs when a successful businessman or woman is afraid to promote their hard-earned success. Corporations also need to loosen the reigns.  “The Vent” has been dead for years along with message boards. I highly doubt that will happen again.

In a recent research poll for RFFocus , when asked who industry people wanted us to feature in the 21st Anniversary Magazine issue, the industry’s biggest radio names got the lowest marks. Black industry entrepreneurs, black corporations, super jocks with side businesses and those who have left radio for more lucrative careers won out. The RFFocus 21st Anniversary Magazine issue “MAKE ROOM” will be available the first week of April. More info here. For advertising, contact [email protected]

 

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