Though it may have taken WQOK-FM program director Derrick Baker several months to deliver on the radio station’s plan to bring back its weekly “919 Radio” show, he kept his word. Last October, he resurrected the station’s local hip-hop showcase as a once-a-month Sunday broadcast—at least until January, when K97.5 on-air personality Mir.I.am became involved. Baker turned the show into a weekly broadcast with Mir.I.am at the helm. (Mir.I.am also hosts the Saturday night “Real RnB Radio” show on WKNC 88.1 FM.)
“Submissions have been out of this world,” Mir.I.am says. “We get about 75–100 per week.”
According to Mir.I.am, K97.5 puts these submissions through a gauntlet of criteria such as hit potential, production quality, lyrical content, playlist compatibility, and catchiness.
“We also look from a branding perspective,” she says. “What’s their social media presence like? Do they have a website and following? We want to be able to tell the listeners where they can find out more about the artists. If your online presence isn’t up to par, the impact is lessened.”
While most of the area’s top rap and R&B prospects—Ace Henderson, Ashley MarShell, Drique London, Nance, Professor Toon, and Well$, to name a few—have made the cut and have had at least one song played during a 919 Radio episode, K97.5 still seems to have some placating pretenses here, at least in my view. Does the station have a genuine interest in helping artists gain exposure? Or are these weekly showcases simply a marketing strategy cloaked as music community outreach?
Case in point: Three days ago, a poll on K97.5’s website asked its readers “to vote on who you would like to hear more of on #919Radio and on K97.5.” Specifically, the poll question asks “Which #919Radio Song Should We Replay?” not “Which #919Radio Song Should We Put Into Rotation?” Yes, I’m splitting hairs here between “replay” and “rotation”, but there’s a remarkable difference between, say, Drique London’s “Laybach” getting one measly “replay” on a Sunday afternoon and it getting the same amount of spins that Top 40 songs get—or even a small fraction, for that matter.
“What artists have to remember,” says Mir.I.am, “is that you’re not competing for airplay against other local or indie artists. You’re competing against Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Kendrick, etc.”
The point is that none of those artists stand a chance at getting the repeats needed for their songs to gain traction. They’re not competing with Beyoncé or Chris Brown; they’re simply competing against long odds.
Recent research has shown that the average radio “listening occasion” is now at around nine minutes, down from the previous twenty-minute time frame that stations would use to schedule their programming. In this environment, it’d be silly for any artist to believe that minor “replay” of their song would lead to a popular tipping point.
It’s even worse here in this section of the Piedmont, where one can just as easily pick up a clear signal from WJMH-FM, or 102 JAMZ, as K97.5. Plenty of times, I’ve switched from one station to the other, only to find that the same song was being played on each station at the same damn time. There can never be enough Future or The Weeknd, right?