#18: Emmis Captures The Hip-Hop Market
MTV opened its doors to hip-hop in 1988 with Yo! MTV Raps. Radio took longer. Much longer. In fact, three years later, in 1991, both pop and black radio stations were backing away from rap music with slogans like “No rap, no crap.” The only station in the country that devoted most of its playlist to hip-hop—a weak-signal AM station in Los Angeles called KDAY—went off the air in March of that year. Even as kids across the country watched rap videos by the hour and bought rap albums by the millions, radio programmers couldn’t grasp the power and potential profitability of rap.
Then, in late 1991, one programmer had an epiphany. Rick Cummings was the head of programming for Emmis Broadcasting, which owned two Latin-leaning dance stations in Los Angeles and New York, Power 106 and Hot 97, respectively. When the ratings for those stations began to tank, Cummings ordered focus groups to discover why. When he found out that his young Latina target market in Los Angeles were listening to hip-hop, Cummings didn’t flinch. Instead he plunged Power 106 into rap, aggressively programming music by hardcore rap artists like the Geto Boys and EPMD; and, in an unprecedented move, embraced the name of the genre in his pop station’s slogan.
“Where Hip-Hop Lives” became not only the motto of Power 106, but eventually that of New York sister station Hot 97, which took the credo to its ultimate conclusion. By 1994, both Emmis outlets were the top music stations in the number one and number two markets in the country, and it wasn’t long before the rest of American radio fell to the truth that few but Cummings seemed to grasp: Hip-hop was indeed the new pop.