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Urban radio has come to highlight some of the worst music, from the worst artists lately. But many do not know how the collapse of urban radio took place. Long time scribe Eric K. Arnold illustrates the story of how that happened. Check it out, and do check back. - Adisa Banjoko  


The Effects of Media Consolidation on Urban Radio

By Eric K. Arnold
May 16, 2008

Urban Radio: What It Is and Who's Down

Let's cut to the chase: urban radio sucks. You know it, artists know it, and programmers know it too. It offers little room for creative programming, tends to favor established artists at the expense of new voices, and kills any halfway-decent song that does manage to land in rotation by playing it as much as three times an hour. Most of all, urban radio sucks because it rarely meets the needs of the local community from which its listeners are drawn. Commercial stations and their advertisers are more than happy to have passive listeners who don't complain about programming decisions. But the truth of the matter is that people have a right to demand greater accountability from their neighborhood stations. Since all broadcasters use the public airwaves, they need to honor their responsibility to serve the public interest. Urban radio is no different, yet its lack of localism is even more appalling since stations often market themselves as being informed by street-derived culture.

Generally speaking, urban radio is defined as programming whose primary demographic targets people of color living in urban areas. This listenership is often broken down into three somewhat overlapping market segments based on age: "Hot Urban" (12-24); "Rhythmic AC" (18-34); and "Urban AC" (25-49). Hot Urban stations tend to spin current rap and contemporary R&B, while Urban AC stations rarely play much rap, preferring a mix of vintage soul and R&B with more recent neo-soul and R&B. Rhythmic AC stations fall somewhere in the middle: typical stations in this category program for both younger and older listeners, so playlists include contemporary artists as well as older, "heritage" acts.

Urban Radio is a multibillion-dollar industry controlled by a handful of large media conglomerates which program the majority of the genre's stations across the country.