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How difficult is it for a local artist to get a song played on a commercial radio station? For the answer, consider the following cautionary tale, which pits rising Denver hip-hopper Kingdom (born Jeffrey McWhorter) against the apparently impenetrable playlist of KQKS-FM/107.5.
Kingdom, a previous Westword profile subject ("Kingdom Comes," February 12), issued his debut CD, I Reign Ominipotent, earlier this year on his own Three the Hardway imprint, and since then, he's moved more than 2,500 copies of the album in Colorado and received airplay at stations in Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego, Miami and Omaha. In addition, he's attracted the attention of both Priority Records, a nationally prominent hip-hop indie, and Pro Biz, a Virginia-based clothing manufacturer that is exploring a possible endorsement deal with the rapper. But his efforts to get KQKS, better known as KS-107.5, to support his first single, "Shrimp and Lobster," have been all but futile thus far. That's not much of a surprise, of course: KS-107.5 has one of the tightest rotations around, with the same small handful of tunes getting spins around the clock. But Kingdom is not the kind of person who surrenders at the sight of an obstacle, and with the aid of a Priority rep, he convinced staffers to test his tune as part of a now-shelved rate-a-record feature called "Suck or What?" According to Kingdom, listeners gave the ditty a rousing thumbs-up. "We got a 96 percent it-doesn't-suck rating--and the station got such a big response that they had to turn around and play the song again an hour later. But they never did program it any other time." To find out why not, Kingdom contacted Jennifer Wild, KS-107.5's music director. "She said that because of the politics and because we're a small label, it was hard to get us into any kind of rotation," he claims. "Which is kind of a bull excuse."
Although Wild disputes Kingdom's "Suck or What?" math ("I don't know if it was all that," she says), she describes herself as a Kingdom fan. She acknowledges, however, that when it comes to programming decisions at the station, size matters. As she puts it, "There isn't a policy against playing local music, but all of the songs we play go through a really rigorous testing. That includes looking at how it's doing nationally, who else is playing it, how popular it is, and how it fits in with what we're playing at the time."
Cat Collins, KS-107.5's new program director, elaborates on Wild's comments. "Every week, Jennifer and I sit down and decide what new songs go into our playlist, and usually only one or two make it on--and we have to play the ones that we think are going to be the biggest. I'm sympathetic to the plight of unsigned musicians, but I have a responsibility to my company and my listeners, and I have to draw the line somewhere. I could say, 'He or she is a nice person and the record is okay, so I'll play it,' but I can't do it because I would not be fulfilling my obligations."
Collins is similarly cool to the notion of airing a specialty show highlighting local talent. "It's not that there aren't going to be one or two good songs from local artists at a time. But you need thirteen songs an hour to fill out our music, and there's just no way that you can find thirteen songs from local artists every week that will appeal to our audience. But even so, I would encourage any musician to keep at it, because usually the cream will rise to the top and they'll get signed and promoted by a major label. And if they have a hit, it'll get played not just in Denver, but nationwide."
In other words, Kingdom can expect to be hyped by KS-107.5 when he no longer needs the help. But he may sneak onto the outlet's airwaves anyhow. He's scheduled to appear on radio and TV in a series of public-service announcements for GRASP, an area anti-gang organization. He's also contributing a track to a compilation disc being put together by Colorado rapper Nyke Loc, and assisting Hydro Bass of the Kut-N-Kru collective on a pair of new efforts. Finally, he's readying a Three the Hardway sampler set to feature "Ghetto Cha-Cha," his latest single. "When I'm ready, I'm going to send it to KS-107.5," he says. "They'll probably just dis me again, but I'm doing it anyway."
Another radio item: Rocky Mountain Bluegrass, now in its fourteenth year, has moved to KCKK-FM/104.3; it can be heard from 8 to 10 p.m. on Sunday nights. Longtime host Jerry Mills is still in charge, and he plans to continue his policy of including local and regional artists in his eclectic musical mix. Maybe Kingdom should learn how to play the mandolin.
Hakeem Abdul Khaaliq, a Boulder-based Kingdom associate, is also raging against the machine--and he's making progress. The Bizness, a long-awaited film about the Colorado rap scene that Khaaliq co-directed and produced, is finally completed, and while he hasn't lined up distribution yet, he's already received some national publicity via an article in the August issue of Rap Pages. In the meantime, Khaaliq and another local, DJ Chonz, have formed an adventurous hip-hop duo called Radio Bums, and they've already landed a lucrative gig: They'll be appearing with the Baka Boys in a series of more than twenty concerts in Southern California over the next several months. The first of these shows, sponsored by Pepsi, drew a throng of more than 5,000 to a fair outside Los Angeles. "The whole thing is huge," Khaaliq raves from the road. "But we're still trying to get people hyped about Colorado. That's what it's all about."
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