September 17, 2009

WBLS, New York's Urban AC Radio Continues it's Search for Wendy Williams' Replacement


Is 107.5 WBLS running a contest that never ends? A better question might be what's the point of all of this?

So far WBLS listeners have heard on the air the last six weeks: Jeff Foxx, Osei the Dark Secret, Chubb Rock, Adimu and this week the afternoon airwaves are being graced by Egypt Sherrod. Oh and let me mention the leading vote getter is none other than Salt N' Pepa. Hey it's what the people want...

Maybe a name from the past such as this famous New York disc jockey might be on the air next week. Well that's what they use to call them.

Which one of those two men pictured here am I talking about? It has to be Ken 'Spider' Webb, (on the left) the former morning man on WBLS and 98.7 Kiss FM, who currently host mornings on Soul Town on Sirius XM radio. Not likely... The other guy of course is Frankie Crocker, who unfortunately died in 2000 and is credited with coining the phrase and the format known as Urban Contemporary in the late 1970's. However today we call it Urban "Adult" Contemporary.

Now if Frankie was still alive he'd probably die all over again and spin in his grave over what the format has evolved into. I turn on Urban AC radio nowadays and I almost have to scream at what I'm listening to. I always thought contemporary means modern and current. (Think of furniture. Urban AC radio is like a combination of Early American, Colonial and Pennsylvania Dutch.)

I'm sure that relatively "new", "cool", and "hip" was the essence of the format when Frankie developed it. Frankie Crocker received a lot of industry buzz for incorporating a mass appeal format. He was crazy enough to put Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" in rotation at the station. Of course that would only work in NYC, but at the time Sinatra's song was "current." So that type of out of the box programming with a strong roster of talent led to WBLS soaring to the #1 spot in New York until 'KTU and Kiss FM came along.

But now we have an over researched format that continues to push music from the likes of Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Sade, and most recently, thankfully Maxwell. All in all there's nothing wrong with these artists, but the continuous dose of this ballad laden music is monotonous. Meanwhile we see the rise of the Rhythmic AC format, also known as "MoViN" in various cities around the country. That format has seemed to tap into something that can be regionalized to the taste of the audience.

For my money I need a jock who shares his musical taste with me as the listener. The same corporate playlist emailed to program directors all over the country each week has taken a toll on radio listeners. I say leave the programming to the on-air personality. That of course is heresy. But if music radio wants to get out of it's dwindling and eroding listener base; then a return of the local DJ who is allowed to share his musical taste with his or her listeners is the way to go.


For the most part WBLS does a more than average job of staying out of the Urban AC programming rut and they sound like "New York." WHUR does a good job also for what they are- "Sounds like Washington." But in all honesty I still appreciate Donnie Simpson at WPGC, who programs his show with such songs as Kool Moe Dee - How Ya Like Me Now, Maxwell - Pretty Wings, Jay-Z - Run This Town (w/ Rihanna & Kanye West), Mary Mary - God In Me, Anita Baker - Sweet Love. It works for me and many other Washington area listeners. I would love to hear Donnie on an Urban AC station.

Now WBLS just remember you're not a reality TV show, a talk/celebrity gossip show, or a refuge for Old School Hip Hop artists. You're "in a class by itself", a radio station that plays music. Maybe the contest will continue until they find a radio personality that can get more votes than Salt N' Pepa...

2 comments:

  1. wbls has sounded out of town for many years now, that's because many out of town people are given the opportunity to program it, even with vinny brown the playlist was close to the vest, and still is today, if wbls really sounded like a new york city station today they would be playing alot more than the bet type stuff that passes itself off as wbls today... you do not hear real black new york city on nyc radio in general, only what suits deem to you as being that.

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  2. when frankie crocker was using the tag urban contemporary it was the music of it's era it wasn't a fragmented playlist back then, todays urban contemporary has been replaced with just urban, of course the tag urban today means todays hiphop & r&b both nothing more than a hybrid of hiphop itself, where u see the fragmented playlists at work is when u see the term urban adult contemporary that's told to us to mean for older heads, but urban contemporary 30 years ago was a playlist that was for the young and old, today black radio dosen't have a universial playlist, that ended with the advent of the stations where hiphop lives, u then got a 2 formatted black radio standard and playlists that is todays current black radio format it's just another way of saying fragmented radio and generational gap. You gotta remember also during frankies peak period in radio from 1978-84 in nyc, radio wasn't a corporate culture beast that it is today, frankie with the help dorothy brunson was allowed to do things that today would not even be considered because of the way corporate is run, than mom & pop is run, the cultures are starkly different. Will wbls attempt to give local a shot in the afternoon slot that 30years ago people from walter cronkite to richard nixon, frank sinatra, sammy davis jr would turn on to listen? that remains to be seen.

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