Many have been unsatisfied with how New York’s iconic radio station has represented hip hop music and culture in recent years. Turns out, there’s something you can do about that. So I did.
As a corporate owned, commercial FM radio station, WQHT (Hot 97) has little obligation other than to turn a profit for the shareholders of their parent company, the Indiana-based Emmis Communications.
The station’s music director, program director and general manager have little obligation other than to program music and content that will attract and keep the greatest amount of listeners tuned in, preferably listeners who are between 18 and 34 years old.
They have little obligation regarding the content of that content, so long as it falls within the guidelines of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and is not considered indecent.
All of this makes typical objections against commercial radio in general, and Hot 97 in particular, extremely invalid. After all, while there is no accounting for taste, if people are listening, and advertisers are paying, and nothing is considered “indecent,” there really isn’t anything else a radio station has to do but continue to rake in the dough.
Except for one thing.
Hot 97 is the self-proclaimed place “Where Hip Hop Lives.”
And “hip hop,” contrary to some belief, and contrary, it would appear, to what Hot 97 seems to think, is more than a genre of music.
It is a culture.
And that changes things.
It’s widely known that the FCC regulates public airwaves, including radio. Most casual listeners understand that radio stations must operate under reasonable decency standards, which is why cursing, for instance, is not allowed.
One lesser-known fact is that while the FCC regulates the stations in many ways, the public regulates the FCC.
It is the public who can complain to the FCC about indecent material broadcast on public airwaves.
It is the public that can report content that is perceived to be in violation of decency standards.
And it is the public that can file a petition to deny the renewal of a radio station’s broadcasting license.
That’s the one I did.
The reasons why someone might undertake to file such a petition can vary wildly. There have been examples of such petitions that accuse a radio station of not offering equal time to political candidates from opposing parties, a violation of FCC rules.
In the case of Hot 97, it is in the opinion of myself and many others that while hip hop — the music — is represented, hip hop — the culture — is not.
It’s an important distinction. Hip hop — the culture — is wildly under- and mis-represented throughout all aspects of media, losing traction every day, yet hip hop — the phrase — is used to market everything from radio stations to abdomen-reducing workout videos.
In the birthplace of hip hop, where graffiti art and B-boy culture continue to make headlines, the lack of attention by media embedded within our own borders is disappointing, to say the least.
One of the conditions that a government regulated radio station must adhere to is to “serve the public interest” of its listenership.
The quality of the content, musical or otherwise, that is broadcast from Hot 97 is subjective, and while debates can exist about that content, what is undeniable is that Hot 97, much like every other modern rap-oriented radio station, focuses merely on a very narrow segment of hip hop music, and an even smaller, sometimes insignificant segment of overall hip hop culture.
They equate hip hop with hip hop music. However, that is a mistake, and not only does it not properly represent hip hop as a culture, but in doing so, discriminates against the under-represented part of that culture.
A major media outlet who purports to be “Where Hip Hop Lives” should be much more cognizant and representative of the complexity of the culture it claims to represent, rather than trying to redefine the term to serve their own interests.
It is for these reasons, and a few more, that I have filed an official Petition to Deny, asking the FCC to block the renewal of Hot 97’s license to broadcast.
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