COLUMN: Radio key in niche programming

Angela Oliver

Before LL Cool J became Todd Smith, the cool-headed actor and lip-licking sex symbol, he was a ‘round the way emcee with less impressive abs, a loud voice and an even louder radio.

The 1985 release of his album “Radio” boasted the single, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” a fun, yet belligerent tribute to the medium that spread his music.

He raps that he’s “here to command this hip-hop land, kick it live with a box inside my hand.” And though we no longer have to lug around a huge boombox, thanks to MP3 players, radio is still largely important.

It may be slipping away from us.

At home, for instance, ads flooded Atlanta radio waves urging listeners to contact their representatives and oppose House Resolution 848.

If passed, it would require stations to pay a performance tax, with exceptions for noncommercial, educational and religious stations, according to the Library of Congress website.

Opponents, such as Radio One founder Cathy Hughes, argue that the act would destroy local and urban radio.

The tax would add more strain to stations with already weakening revenues in our trying economy.

Urban stations would be affected, possibly crushing chances of new artists having outlets for mass exposure, eliminating niche news or advertising and taking away a line of communication between many officials and their constituents.

Some say artists should be compensated for their work. That’s fair. But I’d argue that touring, songwriting and endorsements are where artists expect their pay. After all, if not for the radio, how would fans have such frequent and easy access to the music?

Besides, most of the tax money would likely go to record companies. And the copyright holders do receive royalties; without the tax, more artists may be encouraged to write, produce and own their music instead of being puppets for their labels. I’d be happier with that, as it would weed out those who are only in it for the money and not the expression.

Though local radio may have a diminishing future, many see the value of niche and urban radio programs and fight to keep them alive.

When I found out about Revolution 91.7 FM’s hip-hop show, Food For Thought, formerly hosted by Dave Christopher and Cedric Turner, I knew I’d found a jewel.

I visited the show a few times to talk hip-hop on the air with the guys or read poems based on the show’s weekly themes. I was happy to have that small participation in such a powerful concept. So when the show was canceled in November 2009, I was hurt.

Perhaps listeners expressed that they were unhappy, too.

Christopher, known as Grape Juice on air, said people told him they stopped listening to the Revolution when his show was canceled. But in September, it was born again.

This time around, the show, titled Renaissance Rap, focuses more on rising artists like J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa, who could reach the legendary status of artists like Rakim and other old school greats that the first show praised.

So I commend Christopher for not only ensuring that real hip-hop has an outlet on campus, but also for taking time to study the music, understand the craft and effectively relay its messages to an often ignored audience. See for yourself Saturdays from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Remember how cheery radio shows make you feel during your commutes. Think about the first time you heard your favorite song, artist interview or won a contest. And don’t let radio die.

Whether you stream it online from your hometown station, crank the tuner in your car or channel the infamous Radio Raheem by proudly blasting a boombox on your shoulder every where you go, support local radio.

You’ll make LL proud when he says, “I’m the leader of the show, keepin’ you on the go – but I know I can’t live without my radio.”

This commentary doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the Herald or the university.