The Trouble With Radio One

Don Cheadle as black radio pioneer and DJ Ralph Waldo “Petey” Green who’s frank style spoke profoundly to many. Some would argue this voice is missing in modern black-owned radio.

Radio One founder and chairperson Cathy HughesAre black radio’s chickens coming home to roost?

Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Radio One, has been hitting the air waves and the black press pleading to anyone who will listen that Rep. John Conyers’ Performance Tax Bill (HR848) will destroy black owned radio.

The bill would require radio stations pay more money to artists to play their music. Anyone who knows anything about the entertainment/music industry knows the artist is always the very last person to get paid and usually that check is peanuts unless they are a major player. And by major, I mean Madonna. Most folks no matter how successful their records are still are sitting by the mailbox waiting for that check to come it.

The complaint is that this bill would adversely affect black owned radio stations as they tend to be not as financially well off, so Hughes went on the Tom Joyner Show Friday to plead her case.

You could almost feel sorry for her.


More after the jump.

While Hughes is black and there are still some black owned radio stations, I would argue that “black” radio, as it historically was, died a long crusty time ago. I can still remember when the last black owned, independent station in St. Louis shut down (before Hughes and Radio One turned up). It was a blues station, KATZ-AM, and my mother’s favorite station. Everyone mourned its sale as it was independent as they came, playing absolutely nothing mainstream (Denise LaSalle, anyone?) and being the last beacon of where the DJs were still colorful, yet community oriented. (RIP, Doctor Jockenstein.)

I was a teen at the time and hated KATZ because I hated what I thought of then as my mother’s old fuddy duddy music, but even I knew it was bad if KATZ was going down as the last of its kind. Therefore when Hughes popped up and started buying up stations across the country, we were excited. Would she bring back stations similar to KATZ or what St. Louis’ Majic 108 FM (now an entirely different station) used to be when they were black owned? A mixture of music and a community forum?

And the answer was … no.

What we got in St. Louis was a constant rotation of booty shaking music and not … much … else. Black radio was black radio in name only and felt deader than ever.

Paul Scott of No Warning Shots Fired put it thusly:

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.

Scott points out that many black people have begged, cajoled and pleaded for Hughes’ empire and other stations to give us more than sugar water and sexually charged ear candy to stimulate our brain matter, but these pleas have largely been for naught. He sees this as Karma, pure and simple.

In a later post on his site, Scott compares the radio stations to snitching drug dealers in their efforts to keep from having to play artists.

When I heard the Tom Joyner Morning Show, today I thought about the scene from New Jack City when drug dealer Nino Brown, facing a possible trip to the electric chair, started fingering everybody in the courtroom …

Well, it didn’t take too long for Joyner to start squealin’ on the record industry.

(In the ‘hood they call it snitchin’)

“It’s not us. It’s the record companies!”

Bingo, Tom! But black radio has been an accessory to the crime.

In drug dealer terminology you might not be the king pin who brings the drugs over from South America but urban radio is the main distributor. So both of you are guilty of putting poison in the black community.

But this bill isn’t the only thing keeping Hughes up at night.

Radio One’s stock has fallen to Mickey D’s dollar menu levels. Urban Radio Nation reported that there was an emergency meeting of the executive board on Friday and that the company’s stock closed Thursday at 93 cents a share.

During the company’s Aug. 5 teleconference with Wall Street analysts and investors to report the company’s second quarter earnings, CEO and president Alfred Liggins III, reported that the company was making every effort possible to get the company’s share price above a dollar. At 10 a.m. this morning, shares of ROIAK were up 2.15% or 2 cents to 95 cents. If Radio One does not achieve compliance, and it does not appear that is likely, Nasdaq will provide written notification that Radio One’s securities will be delisted.

This makes Hughes recent “Obi Wan, you’re our only hope” letters to black consumers all the more relevant. Her baby, her company that she built from the ground up is facing extinction in today’s tough economy. All radio stations are hurting, but Radio One seems to be hemorrhaging cash, hence why paying out to artists and record companies sounds like a death sentence to them. But is this a death sentence Hughes and other black radio stations deserve?

Already a minority in the medium, the few African American owned stations could become fewer says key people of interest. Hughes appeared on Radio One talk syndicates to discuss the bill and urge listeners to interact with their representatives to stop the bill. Ballentine urged Gospel stations could be affected mostly. (

Blog makes the point that any extra cash to the artists will come at the expense of black radio stations, but in today’s environment where artists are seeing even less money due to illegal downloading and record companies trying to cash in on touring (traditionally the main way a musician actually makes money), what can you do? Should broke artists continue to starve for the sake of the radio stations? Will the radio stations stand up to the record companies on the artists’ behalf (if only to avoid having to pay more themselves)?

The radio stations can’t survive without the music from the artists, they deserve to be paid, but if the radio station kicks the bucket, who’s going to play the music?

While stations owned by larger, non-minority owned corporate entities will be more than happy to supply people with their Lil Wayne fix, is black-owned radio something that must be preserved, even if we’re not always happy with the results?

In other words: Are you for saving Cathy Hughes if it would save your local black gospel station? Or should the free market be allowed to absorb more and more of the weaker, cash strapped stations as it happened in St. Louis?

Or is this really the consumer’s fault? It’s easy to complain about Hughes and accuse her of only wanting to make money by her stations playing a lot of meaningless pap, but it’s meaningless pap that someone must want to listen to, otherwise she wouldn’t play it at all.

Yet that same meaningless pap must not pay like it used to considering Radio One is trading below a four-piece chicken McNugget. So what’s going on here?

Can this house be saved? Do you even want it to be saved, or are we talking about something that is already dead and gone?

23 thoughts on “The Trouble With Radio One

  1. Black Radio has been dead since….disco?This whole bill stinks. The whole fight is like watching AIG battle Union Carbide. I really wish they could Both lose. I haven’t decided who i hate more. The people who killed Black Radio or the people who killed the Music Industry.

  2. Bill Clinton killed Black radio and radio in general in 1996 (Telecommunications Act). So this is really about corporate radio not Black radio. Cathy Hughes is nothing more than a mini Clear Channel. If this Bill means that Radio One will go under then I support it.

  3. …and I just watched "Talk to Me" last night for the first time. Anyways, good points made by all.

  4. I’m one of those geezers who believe black music went the way of the dodo bird once rap music was introduced. Sure, I like a few songs here and there, but for the most part, it gradually eroded musical standards. The toothpaste is out of the tube and there’s nothing we can do about it.

  5. I’m going to keep it real simple here folks…Black, White, Latino & Asian Radio of the past died a long time ago. The truth is what killed it was modern technology and taste in music styles. People buy stuff by artist like Souja Boy, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lil Wayne etc… Because "SUPRISE" they like listen to this crap. If people didn’t listen to these many untalented artist the industry would stop producing there junk music and put it on the air. New artist back in the day use to be able to get a local DJ to play there music and promote them easier then by today standard. Now, days mostly established artist or the only once heard on radio stations. There still is a need for Black Radio in the 21 century its great for spreading need to know information about events that effect the Black coummunity. Most new upcoming artist put there music on the internet and promote vie the web easier building fan bases faster too. I have come across music artist and comedians through the internet that sound way better then some of the fools on TV and Radio. Black radio is not going any where but it will like country music stations, talk radio and others become less important as time goes on. I say blame it all on the 21 century…lol

  6. What kills me is that "Black" radio hasn’t adopted the instrument that is killing so much of the media, i.e. the internet. Why is it that performers haven’t simply created more internet streaming radio stations? You can play as local as you want and tailor to your audience, blues, jazz, hip hop, soul, neo soul, black rock. Pay for DJ’s would be small at first but Tom Joyner should be able to be a national program that can draw advertisers and finding a lower station to work off of should be a snap in this environment.

  7. I think that there is some good left in Black radio. Although Tom Joyner was mentioned in your post, he uses his show as a medium to continously give back to the community. I believe that his contribution heralds the continued need for Black radio and more like him. Just because the music played isn’t the type that we always agree with, doesn’t mean that every aspect should be purged. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. And, correct me if I’m wrong, on most stations where Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden are syndicated don’t play rap music. This argument is for those whose primary concern is the play of superfluous, nonsensical rap music. I’m still conflicted re: how I feel towards this bill.

  8. So-called Black Radio is dead. In Boston there is one soul station that I believe Radio One owns. It fades out of reception around 7 o’clock every day. The "other" R&B station is garbage. The demographic here allows for the lack of avriety. Souljah Boy Rules in MA.

  9. Personally, I get my news from CNN, MSNBC and other outlets. If black radio goes under, it really wouldn’t affect me. I would advise black media moguls to pool their venture capital together and invest it into something more profitable. Perhaps a TV network to rival BET or a movie studio to counterbalance Tyler Perry’s influence.

  10. wow snob!this is classic poetry you have penned…ditto!!!i am a radio vet who mourned the death of black radio long ago:What motivates a racist industry that showers any fool who can rhyme with millions of dollars? Why are there no industry scouts grooming the next Sarah Vaughn, Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye, or Dinah Washington? How many more cloned gangsta rappers do we need to hear???? see more: banksOUTLOOK

  11. I agree with Monie the telecommuncations bills of the 90s killed radio period…once Clear Channel was allowed to buy 1000s of stations that was pretty much it for radio black or white.

  12. Thanks for explaining this bill. I wasn’t paying attention and I caught part of the plea for general public aid.I don’t think Hughes TV/Radio is much better than BET of ole (est 1980s)I would love to see someone providing airwaves that didn’t pander to what "they" say black people like. Go back to what passes good quality musicianship.

  13. I’m really indifferent to what is going on with Radio One. While they are the Black face at the table, their fare is no different than what corporate radio has shoved down our throats over the last 25 years or so. They could re-think their business model to prepare for the possibility of this bill’s passage, but that would be too much like right. However, I will say this — music has evolved. While some of you may not dig the music being made nowadays, it in itself is not the reason for radio’s downfall. Soulja Boy isn’t at the top of my list, but I respect his right to make his type of music.

  14. Just to clarify, is this a fee that the radio stations would pay to the artists or to the record labels? As far as I can tell the record labels are the ones asking for the money claiming it will go to the artists for their "performance." Regardless of whether the artist is new on the scene or Beyonce, if the record labels have a hand in this the artists will see maybe 5% of that money if they’re lucky. Record labels have a history of signing up artist and tricking them into signing these horrible deals where most of their royalties go to paying back the record label for the money spent on advertising, marketing, music videos, and the like.I suppose we can argue about whether Black Radio is dead, but I think the real issue is that these record companies are crying broke and they’re trying to recoverr the money they’re losing to music downloads and pirating by shaking down the radio stations for even more money (stations already pay a licensing fee to ASCAP)instead of trying to create a new business model based on the emerging technology of they day.

  15. My name’s Saycon, and as an emerging R&B artist and actress from Atlanta, GA I grew up listening to the changes in radio. As a child I heard the changes in the variety of music played and the lack of variety, as my brother, a truck driver who listens to radio all over the country would say, "In Atlanta their rotation is tight". And I’m talking about a city that is now the center of R&B/Hip-Hop industry. All the stations could be better as far as I’m concerned. Even the contests and programs for emerging artists tend to focus only on the party booty-shake genre, and I’d love to see a platform for local soul & R&B talent. Hip-Hop is POP now and I’m not sure what "Black radio" is anymore but I enjoy the TVOne television stations that Kathy Hughes anchors. RadioOne and TVone seem to be totally different. On television the Tvone cable station is the place to find grown up topics, and poetry, lifestyle shows, and new soul music, which I love, but I’m not sure that the Radioone stations are giving us that type of quality though they are from the same source — so to speak. I’d have to know more about what this bill calls for, there must be another way to save black radio and keep artists taken care of. The money must be there there just may need to be a re arrangement of the budget. Rob Peter, pay Paul. Artists gotta eat. The music industry as a whole is going to have to undergo a rebirth and a change in radio, money, and bigger residual payments to artists will have to be a part of that. This topic is close to my heart.Love it.SAYCON"Southern Pin-Up" available

  16. @ladyscribe: dont get me started on boston’s radio stations. There’s one station that plays the quiet storm genre on Sunday mornings and then that’s it for the rest of the week unless you want lil’ wayne….and I don’t.

  17. There’s a documentary coming out that’s all about the death of black radio called ‘Disappearing Voices’. You can check out the trailer here: We have a Radio 1 station here in Philly and after Tom Joyner in the morning, it’s local the rest of the day. Tia-people buy stuff by artist like Souja Boy, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lil Wayne etc… Because "SUPRISE" they like listen to this crap. If people didn’t listen to these many untalented artist the industry would stop producing there junk music and put it on the air.But it becomes like a chicken or egg question- do people buy this stuff because they hear it on the radio all the time or is it played so much because people are buying it? Is payola still in effect?

  18. I truly miss the good sound of music. You can distinctly hear the difference when tuning into other stations. When will the Executives realize Black music is eclectic and beautiful? More than the continuous rump shaking genre. I also heard that Jazz Stations are weaning out. It’s truly sad. My 8yo son listens to Jazz on the radio. We won’t allow him to listen to anything else since it is inappropriate.

  19. When Black Radio Died in Detroit MI: when people interested only money and sucking up to the racist republican party bought out a viable radio station only to bring in something not even worth lining the bottom of a bird cage.A very good radio station, with a whole range of voices (educated, well informed, well read) in talk radio, were kicked to the curb in favor of a 3 hour single talk show hosted by someone who should be ashamed to come on the air and by mind numbing 21 hours of so-called religious programing (stomping, shouting, moaning and groaning). To be a follower of this radio station means that you don’t need to read books, newspapers, journals or know about anything outside of the city of Detroit.I should sorry that this station might go off of the air? Not for single minute. Maybe the the station could be purchased by someone with the intelligence to realize that black people are about more than the stomping, shouting, moaning and groaning.

  20. I think a lot of people are missing the point here. The problem with radio today is that there are simply a lack of options. Yes, we know that they’re simply chasing dollars. Yes, we know that Soulja Boy has a right to make what he calls music. Yes, we know that someone must want to hear it. Soulja Boy has the right to create his down’s syndrome on wax (shows how old I am), and I have the right to demand a higher standard of music to listen to. But that’s not the issue. The issue is a lack of choice.That lack of choice is why so many people don’t care if RadioOne goes down or not. RadioOne became the exact same thing as it’s larger counterparts; a nameless, faceless, entity that plays the exact same thing on every station, regardless of various market tastes. There is a huge adult audience that RadioOne clearly doesn’t want to cater to (except for in Atlanta, apparently). So screw RadioOne, and mainstream music as a whole. You’ve got a huge market begging to be exploited and they’re leaving dollars on the table, chasing everyone under the age of 25. They’re chasing the demographic with the least money to spend, that has the least time to listen to the radio, and is the most likely to simply download music. It’s all about ad dollars, yet, who’s more likely to hear the ad: The 17-year old kid in school all day, or the 31 year old adult, listening to the radio at their desk?

  21. the reason why people fall for the lil waynes of the world type boogie is because that’s all they will hear on commercial radio, and have been for almost 20 years now, that means we have weened a generation on that stuff to where they wont know any better unless they can wake up from that type of boogie, it’s not that people like that music it’s that they are conditioned to like it because that’s all they hear everyday. Ask yourself this, why has black commercial music in american history stayed stagnent for the last 20 years, it’s because we have let our kids and young adults be conditioned to it, no other time in recorded music history in america has black recorded music lagged for a time period as long as this without innovation and growth and new higher levels, what was once a creative and always worldly sought after artform has become cookie cutter art.

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