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EDITORIAL: A new Frontier for Urban AC radio

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Some of you reading this article can remember the early days of Hip Hop or the emergence period of RAP music.

You see when Rap music was just starting at Radio in the late 70’s most of us in Radio saw it as a fad that would not last, but it was fun to play Rappers Delight sparingly as a novelty record because it was … A fad and the young audience were demanding to hear it. So, we Day-parted the music. Soon Came Kurtis Blow with rapping. There were others during that era of the new Genre. Like Rapping Duke and other fun songs to play with on Radio.

Around 1991 NWA Hit with Niggaz4life and folks were like, how did that happen? given the context of the song. But needless to say, from the early 80’s (RAP) was a viable form and the underground started to surface to mainstream Radio in order for stations to stay relevant to the younger demos.

Now we all know that Rap was happening in Pockets, Like in the South there was the heavy Bass sound (Luke Skywalker nem) on the west Coast was Gangsta Rap that was more musical via the samples of Funk, and danceable tracks and Basic R&B and of Course up North Beats and Rhymes was happening.

But by 1994 that was the year that Radio One hit in the Atlanta Market with the city’s first ALL HIP HOP Station with Hot 97.5 under the Direction of Steve Hegwood and Mary Katherine Sneed. By 2000 the All Hip Hop station niche had caught traction and was banging all over America. And even stations that claimed R&B still found creative ways to infuse (rap) into the mix either by Day-Parting or specialty shows. That is when a lot of stations chose to go with the Genre in their 6-10 pm slots.

Well here we are in 2018 looking for something to give Urban AC a shot in the arm. A lot of the Program Directors in the 80’s and into the 90’s was still either utilizing or competing with Consultants and being led or pushed to play the sleepy UAC format laden with Anita Baker, Sade, Luther kind of edge. Now days Urban Ac Radio is stuck playing the hip hop influenced R&B From the likes of Ro James SZA, Solange, Rhianna, Ella Mai and so on which may not be what your more Mature 32 plus audience is looking for.

Yes, a Hit is a Hit ……..but for who?

Just because a PD or the “INDUSTRY” Says that grown folks are really feeling Booed up these days does not make it so. There are not that many mature 32 plus folk rushing to Download/Purchase Ro James and others that we the “Industry is Branding as R&B”

In other words when you reach for a “NEW” R&B song it may not fair well for the audience that has grown up to Traditional R&B music types or Artist. Well, now there is a music Genre that has been bubbling under the mainstream for years. It is branded as Soul Blues or Southern Soul but in reality, it is simply SOUL music or R&B.

The South or Southern part of the name was drafted from the fact that Radio stations in the South or Southern states never left this music off of the radio but put it in weekend shows or specialty shows.

Why is it relevant now? Why is it a New Frontier?

Because of the rate of consumption in your market (WITHOUT) airplay still it rises. The same way RAP rose to the mainstream because of consumption and demand without airplay. Most of you are in Markets where the Blues is Alright Tour has touched down and you have seen the Concerts and Festivals sellout as the Promoters use your station to Promote the live shows to your audience. What a coincidence that when the blues show comes to town and they advertise on your station they sell out ….to your audience and you are NOT playing the artist appearing on the Concert ticket.

Even in the early 2000’s Mel Waiters was making his presence known with “Hole in the Wall”, and “Got My Whiskey” Bigg Robb was mixing Funk and Soul Blues, Swing out was out of Louisiana and Texas. Theodis Ealy was telling folk to Stand up In it.

Sir Charles Jones was asking “ Is Anybody Lonely” and was the first Soul Blues Artist that got airplay on the Tom Joyner Morning show.

The parallels are incredible when you look at Hip Hop’s journey into the mainstream as it relates to the Journey of this “New Frontier” of Urban AC.

Some naysayers feel this Music would not be heard North of , neither did Sir Charles Jones. In a recent conversation with him he said “I was nervous when we got booked in Rochester NY” but when we hit the stage and thousands of People were singing along with his songs, he knew Soul Blues was growing up.

A lot of you would be surprised to know that your Adult audience is sitting at home listening to this music while turning off your stations. Or for a look see go to some of the LOCAL places where true adults hang out and see what they are playing.

I was like so many typical Radio Guys passing my opinions about the music saying the “PRODUCTION” was bad with cheesy sounding fake horn parts, and dated sounds from synthesizers and iffy vocals.

But the part I missed was the lyrical content. The songs and song writing is Great to say the Least. There is always a story that you can relate to. Whether it is Funny, Dramatic or just everyday life issues that who? (ADULTS) face daily. It is the tracks of life.

And now with so many places to consume music adults are finding this music in places other than the Boot Leg dude in the Barber Shop or Beauty Salons.

Spotify, Pandora, Slacker etc are all aggregating Soul Blues Playlist based on the searches because your audience is looking for it but not on your station.

For those of you who are sleeping on this Genre, just look at some real numbers! Got to You tube and check the views on Songs and Artist in the Genre. Like Nellie Tiger Travis Sexy man has over 6 Million views.

Pokey Bear – Side Piece has over 12 Million views, Bishop Bull Winkle Hell Naw has over 25 Million views and the List goes on.

Bigg Robb Sugar Shack 3-4 Million Views.

When you consider the average, You Tube User is 14 years old these are NOT kids watching these videos and listening to the Soul Blues Southern Soul.

This is YOUR core Audience silently telling you they want this music in their lives, but Radio is reluctant to give it to them ……WHY? Did your Consultant or National PD say this is too old for your station.

News flash>>>>>The Music Production has gotten better, the Artist are getting younger and more relatable to the “New” Adults 35 Plus who is not (sleepy) waiting on your next Anita Baker song. They like the danceable music that they can relate to. What Danceable R&B can you find now that does not come from Bruno Mars in the Urban AC arena?

Is that it?

No that is not it, there is Sir Charles Jones, Tucka, Lomax, Lacee, Nellie Tiger Travis, TK Soul, Al Chauncy, Theodis Ealy, Willie Hill, Ms. Jody, OB Buchana, Calvin Richardson, Jwon, J Morris, Ms lady Blues, Katernia Jefferson, Joe Gable, Otis Redding III, Willie Clayton, Bigg Robb, Toia Jones, Karen Wolfe, David Brinston, Ms. Pat, Tina P, Ms. Portia, Labrado, Jaye Hammer, Val Mcknight, Pat Cooley, Kenne Wayne, Cupid, Chris Ardoin, Ronnie Bell, Levell, Uncle E, Miss Lady Blues and the Producers, J Redd the Nephew, Flippa, Jerry Flood etc. And the list goes on and on. P.s. Search the artist on Youtube and look at the number of vies they get.

Bottom line is there is no shortage of artist and Music to choose from and the Production is on par with traditional R&B from the 70’s 80’s and 90’ to today!

And I Promise you when you hear the Lyrics you will be able to say WOW this is REAL LIFE Stuff for adults. No Cranes in the Sky, no need to ask Permission, or Work, Work, Work. .. work

As with Hip Hop in the early days some PRO-ACTIVE Pd’s took the initiative and stepped out in the water, some just to check the temperature and others who checked the depth of the water and went all in! Who are you?

There are some Pro-active Programmers out here that Believe enough in the Genre to invest more quarter hours to it and they are getting results.

Back in the early 2k Ron Davis was the PD for Cox Station WALR in Atlanta and he started sprinkling some southern Soul titles in the Mid Day and evenings on the traditional UAC station and good results with Mel Waiters Sir, Charles Jones and others. Plus at One Time there was Ellis King here in the ATL on WALR doing Party Blues and then Rojene Bailey with a healthy Mix of Traditional Blues and Southern Soul.

Katt D and Hurricane Dave in Atlanta Radio One believe enough to give it (2) hours on Sundays on their 70’s and 80’s 25 Plus Station Classix 102.9 fm. It has been on for over 13 weeks and is growing not only in ratings but in sales as well. Advertisers are loving the fact they can reach (true) adults 32-49 plus with their products and services on this day Part.

At this point I should talk about the upcoming Soul Blues Syndicated Show coming soon from the Mitch Faulkner Group but that would be out of order here because we are discussing a Genre of music to help UAC radio to remain relevant and urge you to cover this Genre BEFORE you have to compete with it.

Here in Atlanta Listeners are amazed that they can now get their (underground) music on the air, much like we did when we could hear edited versions of Hip Hop on the radio in the 80’s and 90’s before there was a 24 hour Hip Hop Station.

Sometimes as a PD you must tuck your personal opinions in your jacket pocket and (LISTEN) to your listeners.

What a novel idea (lol) Radio listening to the Listeners? Where do they do that at ??????

At some point soon, somebody is going to start playing this music in your market and make you CHASE them the way we had to chase the stations playing hip hop before we did it. Like when the so called Rhythmic CHR stations came on the scene Doing Zebra Radio ( with White Jocks) with Hip Hop out front and we had to catch up!

It will really be like more of the same if someone else came in your market and start playing this music before you get “WOKE”

Soul Blues {IS} the NEW Frontier of Urban AC.

Record Promoters or a National PD or Consultant could tell you to do it,

But you might just see the Light Switch and turn it on for your audience.

Now there is a caveat to the madness. It is not necessary to get a Jock or Announcer to the show with all the antics of a Chitlin Circuit DJ doing a lot of old school style chatter, Just announce the music as you would any other artist on your station, by all means have fun but stay relevant and and do not belittle the Music or the Artist.

In the next 3 years you will see more of these artists rise to the TOP of the industry and you will be a part of it.

And remember if you are in Detroit, New York, Chicago, DC, Cali, or other points on the map, understand that most if not All African Americans are only about (3) Generations OUT of the SOUTH but our Taste Buds are still (IN the South) in our food and our Music.

I have not seen any of you turn down a Good meal of SOUL FOOD no matter where you live or work…..Come on somebody!

Where (yo) Family Tree from?………Really?

You can increase your TSL and cume by sampling some of this great music in your Grown Folk mix of your format. You will see the demand increase as you play some of the Soul Blues (R&B).

I challenge you to try it no matter what Market you are in, North, South East and West.

We as African Americans can all appreciate a great song with catchy lyrics and good production. And it is time to Serve your adults with something they feel.

To find this great music just search for a few hits and start to play it on your BDS monitored station and wait for it……the gates will open and the Promoters and or Artist will find you and offer more the same way it happened with Hip Hop back in the early stages of the Art form.

Here is what some of the PD’s that are early adapters are saying about the music and the results from the audience!

Recently I spoke with Steve Crumbley at WXXT Star 99.7 Fm.

We all know Steve Crumbley as a successful PD in Markets like , Baltimore, Norfolk VA, Orlando, and others.

Steve says he started playing Soul Blues on the weekends and was looking at the numbers and he decided to spread it to other day parts. He says by looking at the response and request of the Songs played on the weekends prompted him to add more of this Music to his weekly playlist.

Steve says he asked one of his staff members who is a Mixer what her favorite Old School song was and she said Aint Understanding Mello – Jerry Butler. And at that point he realized she grew up with that music being played by her Parents. He says that is what Soul Blues is, it is what we grew up with.  He says it is music for people 18-80 on his station and he continues to play it to this day. It has become an important part of his Programming mix and keeps him out front of his 25-54 target.

He said he was blown away by a viral video in his market of a 7 year old kid singing word for word Sexy Man by Nellie tiger Travis.

Steve also said that he saw an 11-year-old White kid in a Fair talent show performing “Strokin” By Clarence Carter while Popping and dancing to the song.

Steve Crumbley also said that when he was in Mobile Alabama in the early 2000’s when he became a true fan of Soul Blues. WDLT was doing Soul Blues on Saturday from 6 am til 12 midnight. He says there was an announcer there named Stormy doing nights who had a 33 share in ratings, and there is Niki deMarks who shuts it down with Soul Blues. She is the Queen of the market there on WDLT to this day. He said the Lowest Day Part was morning drive and they had a 14 share.

He also says this music does not need him to Validate it just play it and see what happens. He says I said it then and he will say it again Soul Blues Music is going to creep up and take over just like hip-hop did in late 70’s til now. In the next 3 years, it will be a dominant part of Urban AC radio.

Soul blues has a Huge number of Artist and songs that go From Danceable to Ballads, Comical, Dramatic, and some Racy Lyrics like Hip hop that may need to be edited. It has little to do with Traditional “BLUES” and it Rivals traditional R&B.

Today so-called R&B has turned to Ella Mai, Sza, Ro James, John Legend, Rhianna and others on your playlist but is this the only music that your 32 and up is checking for?

Consider the fact that when a Soul Blues Concert comes to your Market and advertise on your (Urban AC) and sell out Concerts with Artist that you do not play what does that tell you? It means that your listeners want something that you do not provide on your air waves. It is Soul Blues that they are spending Money and time for and you do not offer it.

Steve Crumbley says it keeps him out front of the competition and current with his audience. He says there is a Soul Blues Artist in Atlanta with a song Called Living a Lie by Katrenia Jefferson that rivals an old Aretha Franklin flava. He also said that this music should be further along and I don’t mean this as a negative because it is just you and me talking, but I blame the slow growth of this music on the Labels because it is not like is not out there, folk are sleeping on it because it is not Sza and Ella Mai. He says Calvin Richardson is real R&B  superstar but gets placed in the Soul Blues Genre. He say he has nothing against Ella Mai and Sza but do not sleep on Soul Blues for your adult audience.

Today with so many Markets with Multiple Stations competing in the Urban Ac Arena this can and will be your Break Out music. Programmers around the country are sticking their necks out on weekend shows to get a feel for it but it is Happening all over the country not just in the SOUTH.

So keep doing your homework and Check out the YouTube views on some of the following artist today. Don’t just wait for the Promoters to knock on your door because like Hip hop back in the day a lot of these artists are independent or with smaller labels with minimum staff to work the records. Here is a Short list of artists to start you off.

  • Nellie Tiger Travis Sexy Man 6 million Views
  • Ronnie Bell Cotton Candy 7.8 Million Views
  • Ronnie Bell – Shipping Cost 6.5 Million Views
  • Tucka- King of swing 9.6 Million Views
  • Pokey- Side Piece 18 Million Views
  • Sir Charles Jones – Friday 17 Million Views
  • Lacee – Sidepiece reply 5.4 Million Views
  • Bigg Robb-Don’t Judge me 1.5 Million Views
  • Bishop Bullwinkle- Hell Naw over 24 Million Views

If these were sales numbers back in the day all these Artist would be in your top ten…think about that. Also on the Artist above check numbers on their other songs and see the numbers. P.S. If we had YouTube back in the days of underground hip hop what do you think they would look like?

Other Artist to check :

  • Ms. Jody
  • David Brinston
  • Karen Wolfe
  • Theodis Ealy
  • Jwon
  • Magic One
  • O.B. Buchana
  • Omar Cunningham
  • Calvin Richardson
  • Katrenia Jefferson
  • Pat Cooley
  • MZ Connie
  • Uncle E
  • TK Soul
  • Val Mcknight
  • Jennifer Watts
  • Geno Wesley and others.

If you need more Just ask some of your Adult listeners who they like. This is called research to some of the Younger PDs out there. You have to keep looking for an edge to move your needle.

If you stopped at Radio Facts to read this article you are interested in Growing your Station in your respective market. Do not be afraid of this music if you are not in the south. As you may notice throughout this Article, we call it Soul Blues because even though it was born in the south it is a National music when it comes to African Americans.

This music is from the South Just like your Grand Parents or Great Grand Parents. But is not Southern Soul today, it is simply Soul Blues.

And just for giggles ask your parents how many generations you are from the South. (lol)

Big thanks to Kevin Ross and Radio Facts for giving those of us in Urban Radio a Place to see what is going on in our industry Daily. This is a much-needed platform as we rally around him to keep it growing as it starts my Radio Day, every day looking for the Radio Facts feed in my inbox.

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