When 88Nine Radio Milwaukee launches a new urban alternative channel this summer, it’s not just courting an underserved audience; it’s seeking to survive.
The hard fact is, station director Jordan Lee says, public radio is dying. Traditional donors are passing on, and the average listener is 40 or older. That’s why Lee has been pushing for years to embrace the new musical format and the younger, more multicultural audience it attracts compared with the majority white listeners who tune into 88Nine’s current AAA (adult album alternative) format.
“This product should be laying the fire for the next platforms that public radio will survive on,” Lee says. “The growth happens with that thing in your pocket.” He’s talking about mobile devices, of course, and how younger digital natives are looking to YouTube and streaming to find music that’s missing on public and commercial radio.
With a critical $450,000 grant in hand from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 88Nine plans to launch the urban alternative channel on Juneteenth Day (June 19). It’ll play on its over-the-air station, 88.9 FM, overnight and 24 hours a day streaming and on WYMS’ HD2 channel.
The music will focus on the post-R&B Black music diaspora, and program director Tarik Moody, a longstanding tastemaker in national radio, will spearhead its development.
For Moody, it’s not business as usual. He’s hoping to make the city proud while paying it forward to the next generation of leaders and innovators in music and radio. “I want young people to take over,” Moody says. “Milwaukee, Black or white, doesn’t really let young people at the table.”
What Inspires Urban Alternative
MOODY SEES 88NINE’s forthcoming urban alternative channel as no less than a contemporary revival of a lost part of radio history. He calls the format an update of urban contemporary, a genre-mixing, Black-centric format sparked by DJ Frankie “Hollywood” Crocker of WBLS in New York, who featured artists such as Madonna, Grace Jones, Bob Marley and The Clash. “He played all different types of genre because it didn’t matter what people’s race or background was, it was Black music,” Moody says.
His update seeks to reclaim what urban means, carrying on the ethos of his syndicated “Rhythm Lab Radio” show by “slowly redefining urban sound.” He finds that new meaning in UK artists’ creativity in jazz, hip hop and R&B, younger Afrobeat artists modernizing the music of genre pioneer Fela Kuti, and the American styles of Jersey and Philly club, Chicago house, D.C. go-go, New Orleans bounce and Atlanta crunk. A few artists Moody is inspired by are Nigerian phenom Wizkid and the “creative genius” of Outkast.