Hip-Hop As Elevator Music?
December 9, 2014
"Tradition is forever changing" is one of my many favorite sayings I use from time to time. Radio is slow to change unless someone else does something that proves successful and others then jump on the band wagon. Ironically, KMJQ/Houtston (MAJIC 102) was the place VP/GM Jim Maddox tied the term "Majic" to the Urban format in the late '70s. Others copied it not realizing it was more of an attitude than a format. He was not your ordinary upper-management type; he had previously programmed KDAY/Los Angeles into the spotlight of Urban radio.
Moving the dial forward to 2014 and once again Houston has been the site of a format lift-off. This time it's Boom 92 Classic Hip-Hop. Since Radio One's earth shattering format flip in October, old school Hip-Hop has been springing up around the country like wild weeds. Hell, Atlanta has three and Dallas has two. I have not seen anything like this since the Pet Rock, Cabbage Patch Dolls, and Beanie Babies. Lately, many of my phone calls, texts, and e-mails eventually drift to my opinion on the matter. I find myself sounding like a White House Press Secretary reading from a prepared statement. Hopefully my response to a recent text and follow up e-mail will make my thoughts clear on the subject.
Jock: What do you think about the Urban ACs with the Hip-Hop flips?
Coach: It's been long overdue, but it is still Urban AC?
Coach: The target demos are still the same; it's just that the people within the demo have grown older and brought along with them the music they grew up with. It is a normal thing and I suspect Sales Managers and researchers, reflecting the thoughts of their clients, have held this day off for years.
My base line has always been 14-year-olds when it comes to updating a music library for any contemporary adult music format. It should be a matter of common sense and simple math -- if you were 14 20 years ago; you would now be part of the 18-49/25-54 demos.
Jock: But it's Hip-Hop.
Coach: Yes, "Old people" Hip-Hop which has been researched for years.
Jock: How do you figure that?
Coach: I have been saying this for years to anyone who would listen, for example, in 2005 as OM at Service Broadcasting I had a long talk with the COO at the time, Ken Dowe, and we needed to refresh and put some distance between us and our direct competitor. I suggested we look at all our Core Research call-out back in the early 90's of our mainstream K-104 and find the entire top tested Rap and Hip-Hop for women 18 to 24. Meanwhile, I also had all the call-out from my previous station and the national monitored lists from back then. One of the other things I had done during my tenure at KPRS, I had purposely included Hip-Hop &Rap titles from the 80's into the weekly call-out. It was my way around paying for an auditorium test and I thought at some point I might be able to incorporate some of it into a weekend specialty programming idea I had in mind for the future. Little did I know the future would come years later working for another company. I also took a look at KDAY's 24 hr. Hip-Hop experiment and Urban AC WMMJ's Hip-Hop format tweaking.
My COO gave me permission to do a Classic Hip-Hop 20 minute mix for AM drive and the 5'oclock drive home. It took 3 weeks before the sales manager noticed and he started complaining to the owner that we were driving away our adult listeners with Hip-Hop. The COO blamed it on miscommunications on my part, but this was our fallback all along just in case he could not make a convincing argument of why it was a good idea.
Jock: Wasn't it risky to play Hip-Hop?
Coach: It was never risky back then any more then it is now. People always bring along with them their memories of childhood and the music they liked. It happens with every generation.
Jock: So you think throwback Hip-Hop will work.
Coach: Call it what you want ... Throwback, Classic Hip-Hop, or Boom .... these are all branding names. It really will be about how the music is implemented. Like I said, it is still Urban AC. Stations who tweak by adding it to their presentation will realize Hip-Hop was just part of the R&B experience for kids 20 to 30 years ago. I also think the stations shouldn't go further back than the '90s for the R&B and continue to play currents. Those stations who are top-heavy in playing Hip-Hop run the risk of a quick burn unless they make some adjustments. By the way, did you notice nobody referenced the word "Rap?" Things used to be referred to as Hip-Hop and Rap
Jock: I never thought about it.
Coach: Realistically, it is a perception thing. I can remember people in perceptual research testing being asked if they liked Rap and the vast majority would say no. When the same people were asked about individual Rap titles, they would acknowledge a long list of acceptable songs from the genre. The term Rap has taken on the same negative connotation as the word Disco.
Jock: Hmm, but I am confused .... how is it still Urban AC?
Coach: In the grand scheme of things, every contemporary music format falls under the heading of Rock & Roll. Urban AC is a name, not a definition of the music within it. Never get confused by the gift wrapping; pay attention to what is inside the box.
Jock: So how is this going to all work out?
Coach: If done correctly the fallout will take nibbles from Mainstream Urban, Top 40 Rhythmic, Top 40 and Hot AC formats. To what extent will depend on the market, signal strength, station history, dial position and the situation. You can trace the history and maturation of the Hip-Hop back to the late '80s and MTV, VHI, and BET. Classic Hip-Hop is green and crosses all races and cultural landscapes. We have Jay-Z and Diddy with clothing lines; Snoop Dogg doing Chrysler TV commercials and presenting at Country music award shows; LL Cool J and Ice-T as TV detectives; Will Smith making box office movie smashes; Dr. Dre a billionaire electronics business man; Queen Latifah as a mainstream pitch person for CoverGirl Cosmetics; and Salt-N-Pepa featured in Geico insurance commercials. It becomes apparent radio has been way behind in bringing old Hip-Hop forward.
Jock: Hot AC?
Coach: White females 25- 49 grew up with Hip-Hop as part of the cultural backdrop. Even when it comes to White males, 39-year-old NBC/MSNBC's Willy Geist openly talks about his love of Hip-Hop and he grew up in a middle class New Jersey town.
Jock: No kidding?
Coach: Yes, and I will make a prediction: One of these Urban AC's which has tweaked or flipped to Throwback Hip-Hop will take a page out of Classic Rock and incorporate a current Hip-Hop category and use the phrase "Here's a future Throwback Hip-Hop Classic." The station could play the Hip-Hop that scores high with 25 -34 females on Media Monitor and or callout research. Come to think of it, some Top 40 Rhythmic and Mainstream Urban stations might also make a few adjustments and do some day-parting with an eye towards tightening the reins on some upper ended demos.
Time slips by quickly and culturally it's easy to fall behind if we do not occasionally step out of our daily bubbles and pay attention to the world around us. With all the new technology and social media sources, it is hard to believe anyone could miss a cultural shift in music or anything else for that matter.