Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Live or Let Die: Should We Save Black Radio?

Live or Let Die:
Should We Save Black Radio?

Paul Scott

"I can't explain why Hip Hop died or the fact that it did and no one cried."

Big Swagg (local artist)

Funerals are funny things, sometimes. Never mind that the dearly departed cheated on his wife, borrowed a small fortune of unpaid loans from friends and habitually kicked his neighbor's dog, according to the pastor during the eulogy, the man was a saint.

I thought about that scenario when I heard folks mourning over the impending doom of black radio.

Radio One's owner Cathy Hughes was on the Tom Joyner Show this morning begging for a black community bailout of black radio because of a proposed bill by Rep. John Conyers that would make radio stations have to shell out some major dollars to stay on the air. The best part is when she mentioned that Conyers turned on his boom box during a meeting with radio execs, drowning out their whining.

She considered it an an insult. I call it karma.

For years, members of the African American community have begged "urban" radio stations to be more responsive to the needs of the community, especially highly impressionable black youth. Unfortunately, our cries have largely fallen on deaf ears. Seems that profit before people has been the order of the day.

The politicians are selling the proposed legislation, HR Bill 848, (the Performance Tax) as a way to put more money in the pockets of musicians who were forced to work at Mickey Dee's after their short careers were over but the radio folks are saying that it is a conspiracy to not only silence black voices but to prevent us from ever hearing good black music ever again.

Let's be honest. For many of us, black radio died a long time ago. We aren't producing any more Marvin Gayes and Stevie Wonders. What passes today as classic Soul music is Jamie Fox's "Blame it on the Alcohol." It's not that the black community is not full of talented, would be musicians singing and rapping on street corners in every hood but black radio is too busy playing Soulja Boy every five minutes to give aspiring artists a fighting chance.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the strong legacy of black radio stations, as the companies were instrumental in not only giving us the latest hits but giving the community critical, need to know info during the 60's and 70's. Ms. Hughes should be especially honored for her innovative approach to black talk radio with WOL in Washington DC.

But this ain't the early 80's and the days of radio hosts like Petey Green have long been replaced by the Lil Waynes of the world.

I find it very disappointing that while the Right wing media moguls are up in arms over the FCC's new diversity committee that could possibly break their vice grip on the air waves, black folks are concerned about whether or not they can get their hourly Beyonce fix.

As my grim faced college professor once told me when I ecstatically told him that I had scored an internship at the local station that would allow me to gangsta-rize the airwaves back in the late 80's.

"What our people need is information."

In all fairness. There are a few black radio talk shows in major cities and the syndicated guys do devote ten minutes or so every day with serious dialogue but these efforts are quickly negated by mind dulling music and slap stick comedy.

I must admit that when I heard Ms. Hughes' impassioned call to arms, this morning I was caught up in the moment as she, convincingly, warned that the end of black radio would totally devastate the African American community . I was just getting ready to grab my protest sign and bullhorn before reality set in.

If Fox News' top dog, Rupert Murdoch decided to start a new network of stations to target the urban consumer, would our children know the difference? Or would they even care as long as they could still hear T-Payne?

I didn't see too many of our people boycotting BET when it was bought up by Viacom. As long as they played the same gangsta videos and kept Comic View, life went on.

See, the execs are expecting the black community to exhibit a degree of cultural consciousness that has not been cultivated by black radio. You can't just push a button and expect the people who you have dumbed down for the last decade to automatically become Afro-centric scholars.

Just doesn't work that way.

What the radio folks have never realized is that we are all in this together and an enlightened community benefits all its members. If black radio had been fulfilling its duty of raising the consciouness of the African American community no one would have dared to even suggest a bill that would cut off their flow of information or good music.

So, do we fight against HR 848?

I say yes, especially since, as activists such as Davey D have pointed out, this could eventually effect the noncommercial stations that play progressive music. Also, the few black talk radio programs that we have are essential to our collective growth and development.

However, black radio must make a commitment to truly be the voice of the people. We must make Cathy Hughes and the rest of them sign a contract with black America that they will put the needs of the community first and foremost. They must immediately change their play lists and give artists with a positive message, both national and local a chance to be heard. They must also make sure that at least one hour a day is devoted to the dissemination of information. Also, they must set up community advisory boards that meet monthly to make sure that they stay down with the 'hood.

If this happens many of us will stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they fight the power.

If not, as the disgruntled airline pilot said as he saw his old 747 plummet to the ground.

Crash and Burn!

Paul Scott writes for No warning Shots Fired.com. He can be reached at (919) 451-8283 info@nowarningshotsfired.com