If your target audience is 18-34 women or 25-54, the 18 year old “Michael Brown” incident could have easily been one of their children or perhaps even a brother.
St. Louis, Police shooting, Michael Brown, unarmed African American teenager, shot multiple times, community unrest, racial tension... just another list of urban issues that will not be discussed on Urban Radio. Sure, perhaps the subject will be covered during a segment on most morning shows or a station’s weekly public affairs program, but other than that, what else? What else can be expected from Urban radio stations outside of St. Louis? And The Urban Hip Hop stations? The stations that can actually talk to the people who are feeling what is going on…what can we expect? Maybe if we’re lucky, we might have a few programmers put a liner in the studio for the jocks to read for a few days or even have their imaging guy put together an emotionally moving 60 second promo. But after a week.. move on. Move on back to the “regular scheduled programming” which consists of playing the top researching songs that are filled with edited, bleeped out lyrics that you don’t want kids understanding, ticket giveaways coupled with live club broadcasts where the on air jock is sure to promote the need to pop bottles and buy a table to feel important… but what about the importance of being connected with the demo.
If your target audience is 18-34 women or 25-54, the 18 year old “Michael Brown” incident could have easily been one of their children or perhaps even a brother. Where are the leaders in programming? Or are we so desensitized that if a tragedy doesn’t happen in our listening area we don’t really care to be instrumental in change? Sure, if a tragedy takes place in the local listening area.. “those people might have PPM meters”, so a “Token” Town Hall meeting won’t take away from the ratings. But anything outside of that, where the effect isn’t immediately tangible or able to be translated into revenue or ratings… steer clear. Say it isn’t so (sad face). Urban radio is truly “The One” instrument that can be utilized to aid in change. Change starts with sending a message. With Radio, the message is spread instantly via the airwaves. The music is played 24/7, with lyrics constantly sending a message. Commercials spots are always playing.. and the advertisers are definitely sending a message to get customers. Station promos are played to send a message, jocks talk to send a message, even the station websites are sending a message. So what message can we expect radio to send to assist in changing or healing the minds and hearts of people affected by the incident that not only occurred in St. Louis, but in general? Or is it too much to expect Urban radio stations to send a message that matters.
In the 60’s, 70’s even in the 80’s, history shows, Urban Radio was “The Voice” for the Urban community. Metaphorically speaking, “Urban radio used to serve full course meals to it’s listeners” and now it is as if Urban Radio is only serving “candy out of the vending machine.” Sure, candy is food, nonetheless, but food having no real nutritional value. Actually, you can really get sick from eating too much candy all the time (especially if you are a diabetic).
Educator and media historian, Donna L. Halper, who has been a radio consultant for over 30 years broke down the reasons for the decline of Urban radio addressing serious issues during a recent interview. “The big problem is many of the Urban stations are corporate run and when they are run by a corporation, which is one of the downsides to media consolidation, they are very hesitant to take any risks because they are worried about losing advertisers, sponsors and revenue. Media consolidation has not just affected Urban radio, but I think it is more crucial for Urban radio because Urban stations are ‘The Voice’ of the community.
Unfortunately, with media consolidation, you have a small handful of owners buying up most of the stations which ultimately makes the Urban stations more ‘conservative’. Not conservative politically, like ‘republican, democrat’, I mean conservative like, ‘not wanting to take any chances’, not wanting to go out on a limb because you might alienate a sponsor or some important person in the community.” Halper continues, “so now you got the ‘Big’ owners who are just not gonna take any chances because there is money at stake, and then you’ve got the small individual owners who want to take a chance, but in many cases they just don’t have the money to do the things that they really would like to do.” Halper adds, “there are individual stations that really are trying to speak out, but for the most part Urban radio has become a format where it is very predictable and it doesn’t take the type of chances that you’d like to see it take. I absolutely understand that stations want to make money, I get that, I want to make money; but on the other hand it’s a balancing act, and you’ve got to think not just ‘how can I make money’ but how can I also ‘make a difference’. I see a lot of the ‘making money’ part, but the ‘making a difference’ part is where we really need to focus.”
Making a difference is a key factor. Right now in St. Louis that is what Industry Vet, Kathy Brown, the Program Director for iHeartmedia (formerly Clear Channel)’s Urban AC KMJM-FM (Majic 100.3) and Gospel KATZ-AM (Hallelujah AM 1600) is trying to do. Brown states, “We are trying to disseminate information to our listeners and keep the city calm because the emotions are running very high right now.”