January 13, 2012

Houston, We Have a Problem: Let's Talk Radio in Houston

Take a listen and read the insight from guest blogger and vlogger (via YouTube) Akeim Bailum as he challenges the Houston radio landscape - - Why isn't there more Black radio stations in Houston?

Wouldn't a station featuring The Steve Harvey Morning Show do well in the market... and what about Trae tha Truth and Praise 92.1 being bounced out of Houston?

Houston, We Have a Problem!


Ok, this is probably (at this point) a somewhat overused cliché whenever describing anything going on with the city of Houston, but it’ll stick for the time being.

But to make a long story short…Houston does have a problem when it comes to black radio. I’ve been following the radio industry for a little over 5 years now and once lived in the greater Houston metropolitan area for a 6 year period spanning from 2000 to 2006. I wasn’t a radio-head then as I am now, but I’d always observe something interesting about H-Town radio that somewhat made it unique….

….in the wrong kind of way.

Houston, Texas is a city with a 17% (and growing) African American population and an even larger Latino population. To say Houston is very diverse would be like saying Oprah is extremely rich. Most people know this by now.

The Latino/Latina population of Space City USA is well-served by now on both the AM and FM sides of the dial with many different radio stations.

On the AM, there is:
KEYH La Ranchera 850 AM
KRTX Tejano 980
KLAT La Tremenda 1010 (Spanish News/Talk)
As well as a few smaller outlets.

On the FM, there is:
KQBU Que Buena 93.3 (Regional Mexican)
KNTE Baila 96.9 (Spanish Rhythmic AC)
KTJM/KJOJ La Raza 98.5/103.3 (Regional Mexican)
KLOL Mega 101 (Spanish CHR)
KLTN 102.9 Estereo Latino (Regional Mexican)
KAMA 104.9 Tu Musica (Spanish CHR)
KOVE 106.5 Recuerdo (Spanish Oldies)
KQQK/KXGJ El Norte 107.9/101.7 (Regional Mexican)

With the African-American radio landscape in Houston, it’s a little less than certain. The only major black radio stations in Space City, USA are KMJQ-FM Majic 102.1 and KBXX-FM 97.9 The Box. The Box plays Urban Contemporary music while Majic focuses on Urban Adult Contemporary (Oldies). As of the writing of this post, The Box and Majic are #2 and #3, respectively, in the monthly Arbitron ratings. Only Clear Channel-owned soft-rock station “Sunny 99.1” KODA is higher and it is the H-Town radio equivalent of the US Mint. Money and ratings grow on trees at Sunny.

Both stations are owned and operated by the Cathy Hughes-owned Radio One which specializes in black radio. Out of the 50+ plus properties Radio One has across the country, only a few of them are not running what could be termed as a black-targeted format. One of them is Top 40 station “Radio Now 100.9”. The other is 98.9 Jack FM in Columbus.

A third is in Houston that made headlines with a recent launch last year.

Radio One in Houston has had an interesting history with the 92.1 frequency considering what you would think they’d regularly place there. 92.1 was once the home of its own Regional Mexican format known as “La Mera Mera” before changing to an Urban Gospel format called Praise 92.1. The station also became the flagship of Yolanda Adams’ morning show which is syndicated on Radio One’s various “Praise” stations such as those in Atlanta and Philadelphia.

But, Radio One Houston vice president Doug Abernathy mentioned how their 3-station cluster was plagued by financial issues and had to start cutting budgets and making changes to bring in more revenue. With The Box and Majic’s ratings and cume being sky-high, one had to feel that R1 had no “Praise” left for the Gospel station.

What scratched many heads in the radio community wasn’t the fact that they flipped formats, but what they changed formats to. It was announced that 92.1 would assume a News format while Praise would be relocated to the HD2 feed of Majic 102.1. It seemed rather odd for a radio owner that you think would be cutting costs to instead be adding on cost by deciding to run a news outlet. All-News is a notoriously expensive format to run in radio, but it’s a risk by Abernathy that could affect Radio One Houston going forward.

The reason why they did it is because Houston (at the time) was the largest city in the US without a full-service news station with no political spin. They even added a popular morning show that was present on News/Talk 740 KTRH when it was a news station before they poached all of the right-wing newscasters from their sisters at KPRC 950.

As expected with radio format changes, it was met with enormous backlash from the community, particularly from local black churches all across the Houston metropolitan area. The Houston Press even had an article about the change shortly after it happened, and it highlighted the interviews it had with local pastors and ministers.

So, Radio One axes that urban-targeted format for one more aimed at the majority of Houstonians. I understand that, there’s more to Houston than just the black or even the Latina/Latino community, but there’s no way that the extensive black population of Houston can be represented with only two radio stations. I thought that if they would launch a News station on 92.1 that it’d feature mainly a mix of local and syndicated African-American hosts.

As far as 97.9 The Box is concerned, despite its high ratings and cume, it can also be attributed to the fact that it has virtually ZERO competition in Houston. It did once upon a time with Univision’s Party 104.9 which leaned more in the direction of Spanish Hip-Hop/Reggaeton, but it was plagued with a faulty signal. Shortly after “Chico & Rascal” (aka The Mexicanz) were canned from Mega 101, they were quickly scooped up by Party 104.9. Univision also tried moving Party 104.9 over to 93.3 to replace Que Buena and advertised it with the idea of 93.3 being a 100,000 clear channel blowtorch as opposed to 104.9 which transmits at less than 10,000 watts.

Except for that little thing, of course, about 93.3 being a predominantly Beaumont-centric signal and not a Houston-targeted one. 104.9 changed formats to “Amor” which is Spanish Love Songs before rebranding as “Tu Musica”. The Party was over before it ever began at 93.3 as it quickly assumed the Que Buena format again. CBS Radio’s Top 40 station at 95.7 quickly welcomed displaced “Partygoers” over to 95.7’s Hurban-leaning Rhythmic Top 40 station.

Ever since then, 97.9 The Box has had no real competition in Houston, Texas. And their reputation amongst the massive hip hop community there has soured.

Well-respected Houston rapper Trae Tha Truth has been banned in all fashions from 97.9. This stems from an incident on the radio involving Trae and N’nete, a co host on 97.9’s Mad Hatta Morning Show.

N’nete accused Trae and his music of inciting violence at one of his “Trae Day” events. Trae was given this honor by the City of Houston because of his massive community outreach that he does throughout the city. Trae dissed N’nete on a record that must’ve got to the higher ups at Radio One Houston, and that prompted the subsequent ban on his music at the radio station. Many Houstonians and hip hop fans came to the support of Trae after his ordeal. Even Bun B extended his support. Trae has since filed a lawsuit against KBXX and Radio One.

Another duo of well-respected Houston radio personalities, The Krackernuttz were also canned since for one of their shows they played a Chamillionaire song that featured a verse from Trae. Another former Box personality, DJ Brandi Garcia, was spinning records at an event that 97.9 The Box did not have anything to do with, and in her mix was a Trae song. She was fired from KBXX, but she later was hired by KDAY 93.5. As in…Los Angeles’ KDAY.

One could be of the idea that since The Box and Majic’s ratings are so high that any other radio station owner would be foolish to compete with them since they (in many ways) protect each other. But, we’re talking about a city with a 17% black population and one that’s growing bigger given the migration of African Americans to the suburbs of major Southern cities including Houston. Chicago has around the same percentage of African-Americans and its black population is dwindling while its Latina/Latino population is on the rise. Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, and other cities have black populations either at or above 20% and have many more Urban-targeted stations than does Houston.

So is Dallas. This isn’t Los Angeles where its black population has collapsed. I say LA because everyone knows how huge the Hispanic population is there.

If there is demand (and I’m sure it’ll only increase) for more black radio stations in Houston, I’m sure it’ll only increase. I don’t mean to say Houston has too many Latina/Latino stations, in fact I think it has the right amount. But there has to be room for maybe 2 or 3 more stations in Houston targeted at African Americans and people in the inner cities. One has to be a Houston-centric Mainstream Urban/Hip-Hop station that really gives focus to the hip hop scene in Houston while still playing a lot of mainstream stuff that seems to be duplicated on Hip-Hop stations across the country. Not only that, it can be a station that plays local club hits and showcases both black and Latina/Latino MCs from all over H-Town. The other will probably be an older-aimed R&B station featuring Steve Harvey’s Morning show in the morning and maybe Michael Baisden during afternoons. The Harvey part of that equation is definitely possible with him consistently outrating Tom Joyner in many other cities.

As Cathy Hughes once said, that’s “Reality Radio”.

Reach out to Akiem on Twitter: Li495Akiem Facebook.com/BailumSamuelBobbyAkiem YouTube.com/longisland495

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