Over 2,000 people converged in St. Louis, Missouri last weekend for the second-ever National Conference on Media Reform. Among the keynote speakers was journalist, hip hop historian and radio DJ, Davey D of Pacifica Radio station KPFA. He spoke about the "Clear Channleing" of America and the hip hop generation. [includes rush transcript]
- Davey D, Hip-Hop historian, journalist, deejay and community activist. He is also a co-founder of the Bay Area Hip Hop Coalition and a member of the Bay Area Black Journalist Association. He’s the webmaster for what is considered one of the oldest and largest Hip-Hop sites on the web Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner— which can be found at www.daveyd.com.
AMY GOODMAN: Over 2,000 people converged in St. Louis, Missouri, last weekend for the second ever National Conference on Media Reform. Among the keynote speakers, journalist, hip-hop historian and radio deejay Davey D of Pacifica Radio station, KPFA. He talked about the Clear Channeling of America and the hip-hop generation. This is Davey D.
DAVEY D: I have been involved with this sort of struggle about media accountability for a very long time. I think I can safely say when I speak, especially for a lot of us who are in communities of color, dealing with the onslaught of media injustice and distortion has been — has forced us to be in the fight, whether we care to be in it or not. Turning on the evening news and constantly seeing depictions of black males as criminals, unintelligent, and every other negative pathology that people like to talk about, and the Bill O’Reillys of world make a good living off of misreporting, has forced us to be in this fight, and it’s been going on for a long time. But there was a time where you wouldn’t have this many people coming together to talk about reforming and changing the media, so give yourselves a lot of props for being out here, because this is a very strong showing.
The thing that I always tell people is that media — at this point in time, 2005, we can no longer afford to treat media as a passive spectator sport. 2005, it requires us to step it up and be interactive. Interactive means that we hold everybody who is reporting the news, who is presenting information, who is on the airwaves that our tax dollars help pay for, we have to be in their faces 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every angle possible, whether you are coming at it from the low end, from the policy side, whether you are creating your own media to be competition to them, but we have to hold them accountable, because I can tell you as somebody who has been involved with some of these stations that have laid out some of the groundwork for some of these ongoing assaults — and I worked for Clear Channel for a number of years — that they spend a lot of time studying and figuring out ways to seduce and attract and lull a lot of the people who aren’t in this room to sleep and make it seem like what they present is something that is all good, and therefore, there’s no problem, until one day we wake up and find out that there’s a lot of things we don’t know about, there’s a lot of laws that have been passed, there’s a lot of things that that are missing that are very important to our lives, but by then, the train has left the station. So it’s up to us in this room to not only continue to do the work that we’re doing, but also to inform creatively and intelligently all of those who may not find this issue very attractive. We have to do that.
That means we have a responsibility to first of all to truly know the full spectrum of this game. I often tell a lot of the rap artists before you get in the business, understand the game, that it’s a business. Know the shot callers. If you don’t know Rick Cummings or Jeff Smulyan or John Hogan or Doc Winters or Steve Smith or Kathy Hughes or Alfred Liggins, these are people from Radio One, Clear Channel and Emmis Broadcasting, Steve Rivers. If you don’t know these people, then there’s a problem, because these are the folks that shot-call what goes on these airwaves day in and day out. And when we talk about radio, especially urban radio, in every city in America, these stations are the number one or number two or number three station in the market.
So when we talk about a lot of the things about poor people and crime and prison-industrial complex and things that we need to do to change that, and we look at media as being one of these agencies that may be moving people in the wrong direction but has the potential to move them in the right direction if it’s used creatively and effectively, then we’ve got to know that these are the people that are 40 and 50-year-old men and women behind the scenes, calling the shots, deciding that at 7:00 at night, you can hear the Yin Yang Twins talking about "wait until you see my d-i-c-k," and that it’s not a problem. That is a 40-year-old man that makes that decision, but then we’ll blame the artist and we’ll blame the kids for falling prey to the seducing techniques that these people do.
I’m very happy that there’s a lot of us on the other side of the spectrum, that hip-hop spectrum, the communities of color spectrum, that have been fighting the good fight and really making some head waves. Malkia Cyril, who was here earlier from Youth Media Council, probably talked to you about the very effective campaign that we ran in San Francisco with a lot of local artists who looked around and said, 'Well, you know, news and information is cool, but for us, it's the fact that local artists don’t get on the airwaves.’ And so there was a well-heeled campaign that required us to monitor the stations and take notes and keep bringing the heat up. And we identified. We sat in a room and strategized. What’s the weakness? And this is something that all of us can do. What’s the weakness, so that we can make sure that when we shoot the shot that we hit it effectively. So in 2005, you go to the Bay Area, you do hear local artists on the radio, but that victory is not enough for us. That victory is not enough, because that’s just a stall tactic so that they can continue to maybe misinform the community.
So you have other people like my man, Raheem Pierre, who has decided to go around the country, interview people from the inner city, get their perspectives, talk to artists and then he brings to the forefront a documentary that he’s going to drop in June called Radio Politricks, to make sure the community understands what it takes to run a radio station and how these people are misleading us and abusing the airwaves. So these people deserve props.
In New York City, 2002, 2003, radio veteran Bob Law was sick and tired of the way that we were being mistreated in the media, so he brought together more than a thousand people and held a tribunal in Harlem and brought everybody out there to talk about what was on the radio. Six hours later, there was an earful that the city council people and everybody had. Started a campaign called "Turn Off the Radio Campaign." People didn’t pick this up.
Fast forward to this year, Hot 97, which was one of the targeted stations, that’s Emmis Broadcasting, decided to play a parody song making fun of the Asian community. They figured, 'You know what? These Asian folks, they're kind of small in number. They don’t know anything. Nobody is going to hear them.’ But they didn’t realize that some of those Asians that they pissed off were very good friends with the people from the Turn Off the Radio Campaign. So blacks and Asians and Latinos all came together and brought the heat to Emmis Broadcasting, made their stocks plummet, started strategically going, 'You know what? We're not going to talk about the deejays, Funkmaster Flex or Miss Jones, and none ever these people. We want to know Jeff Smulyan’s name. We want to know Rick Cummings’s name. We are going to put them on blast.’ And we started sending emails to advertisers. And people — this got everybody involved. The hip-hop community from all over the country was supporting the effort in New York to the point that they had to call a meeting.
And here is this. This is what we’re up against in 2005. Hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa is sitting in the room. People like Rosa Clemente from our sister station BAI, an activist well known in New York, is there. DJ Kuttin’ Kandi, all these people who mean something to our communities are sitting in the room, intelligent human beings. They’re asking for community access. They’re asking for racial sensitivity. And more importantly, saying, you know, every time we turn on the radio, we hear your deejays using the n-word and the b-word and other disparaging words that we say we don’t want to hear anymore. White program director who never programmed an urban station in his life sat up there and looked these people in the face, looked Afrika Bambaataa in the face, the man who started the hip-hop movement that he is making money off of, said, "No, we can’t stop using the n-word because we don’t want to lose our lower demographics." This is in 2005. This is the fight that we’re dealing with.
So, when you turn on the radio and you go, "What’s going on?" it is not the people in our neighborhood that’s making these decisions. Let me just quote, I think it was Rick Cummings or Jeff Smulyan who said, "Well, you know, we don’t know what these young people — we don’t know what’s going on with these young people. How do I know? I’m a 50-year-old white guy. I don’t know about hip-hop." Then why the hell do you have a license for the number one station in that market? This is the fight that we have.
But we are winning it. First thing I tell people all the time, recognize our victories. We shifted the conversation from talking about the artists and the shortcomings of the deejays to talking about the shortcomings and the lack of responsibility of the broadcast owners. So, that’s a major victory right there. And we will continue to bring the heat.
Big shout out to the folks from Industry Ears, who decided that, you know what, these folks are doing a smack-fest where they get sisters to smack each other until they start bleeding, and then the corporation, Emmis Broadcasting, gives them $500 when one of them gives up. Well, they didn’t think hip-hoppers were smart. We’re all 30-plus. We all have houses and homes. One of them was a law student, found out that it’s a violation of New York state laws to have a pugilistic competition, and then one of the fools from Emmis went on "Hannity & Colmes," and said, "It’s just like a boxing match." So a few phone calls later and Eliot Spitzer and a few city council conversations brought him up on charges and said, "You can’t have a pugilistic competition. You are violating New York City state law."
These and others are victories that are taking place. And these victories come because of several things. One, we communicate with each other. Two, it’s not about the individual, and it’s not about one organization, but it’s about all of us looking out for the future generations that are coming up that are being seduced by these broadcasters day in and day out, who think it’s okay for them to do the things that they do because they don’t live in the East Oaklands, they don’t live in the Southsides of Chicago, they don’t live in the Harlems. But what we do, and we have to deal with the nonsense that they leave. So we’re committed to it.
Young women up in Boston, we got to give them a major shout out, because they got sick and tired of what was going on. And they decided to start their own radio station. Big shout out to my crew in Los Angeles. They started their own. Big shout out to people like FreeMix and all of those with websites and podcasters. These are communities of color doing their own thing, creating their own media, trying to not only counteract what’s going on, but to make themselves competitive and hopefully surpass some of these people who are misusing the airwaves today. So those people deserve props, and I wish that those stories could be told in more fuller detail. But I’m going to represent for them tonight and give them a round of applause, because they’re not here, but they’re hard at work.
Lastly, as I close, the big white elephant that’s in the room, that we’re getting ready to deal with, the big white elephant that is determining a lot of the stuff that we have to deal with day in and day out, the big white elephant that is saying, you know what, we are going to play these nasty songs for seven-year-olds in the middle of the morning, we’re going to keep some of these beasts going on, because it makes us money, etc., etc. The payola word. A lot of people don’t like to talk about it. The commissioners are here. We are making these recordings and making it known that what is on these airwaves is bought and paid for by corporations. We gotta deal with that because nothing else that we do will matter, if you got big-time money funding some of the nonsense that we’re up against right now. And it doesn’t stop with the records. Maybe some of the news things that we hear as Commission Adelstein had alluded to, maybe those are bought and paid for, too. So don’t talk about the war effort. You’re paid not to. Let’s not play any of the anti-war songs — there are four compilation albums out by hip-hop artists. Not one of them gets on the air? Who is paying for that not to happen?
And in closing, all of us got to continue to do three things. One, communicate with one another. Continue to network with one another. Use each other’s resources and, more importantly, recognize that all of us have strengths, and that we should use these to our full advantage to make sure that next year when we come to this sort of gathering, that the landscape has significantly changed for the better. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Davey D, hip-hop historian, Pacifica Radio producer at KPFA at DaveyD.com, speaking at the National Conference on Media Reform last weekend in St. Louis, Missouri.