On June 26, Rocky Mountain Public Media announced it had launched The Drop, a hip-hop and R&B station that now plays on KUVO HD2, a sub-channel of the jazz station 89.3 FM; Denver Open Media’s radio stations; and on a few streaming apps.
The Drop aims to give radio back to the people. Listeners will drive programming choices by making requests over the phone, through social media and texting, or in person. The DJs will play whatever the listeners want to hear, seamlessly integrating local songs with international urban music.
To learn more about the station’s vision, we reached out to Nikki Swarn, director of programming and a twenty-year Colorado radio veteran. She founded the Local Love program at KS 107.5 back in 2005, has worked for ESPN, KYGO and many more outlets, and deejays the Drop’s midday slot under the moniker Amerykah Jones. Here’s what she told us.
Westword: Talk about how giving radio back to the people works.
Nikki Swarn: There’s this part of radio that has turned very automated. Everything’s based on, what does the People Meter say? How are those results coming back? What’s kind of happening is people are being treated more like numbers than people.
I wanted us to be part of the people. I wanted to give the people a voice. I wanted to say, “Wow, look what we did. We impacted a community. We impacted the Colorado community in such a positive way.”
When we talk about giving people choice, it’s really true. If someone were to text us today or call us today and say, “We want to hear Mary J. Blige’s ‘I’m Going Down,’” or some obscure track that nobody else has ever heard of — if we have it in the library, we’re playing it. Even if we don’t have it, we’ll go find it. We’ll get back to you and let you know that we’re playing it. We have that flexibility.
We’re doing EDM in the middle of the day. We’re taking hip-hop and mashing it up with EDM, dance versions of it, playing Latin in the same vein. We’ve got a little bit of everything for a lot of people. We’re just looking to grow with the Colorado community — not just Denver.
That’s what we mean by saying this is the people’s station. It really is. Tell me about your community event. We’re going to talk about it. We’ll show up at it. We’re nimble like that.
Will DJs be introducing listeners to new content?
Every DJ does that; it’s in every show. You can’t forget that local grind for us. The local aspect is everything. The Colorado independent artist is everything. We’re playing them every single hour, at least once, if not multiple times. Then we have two local-focused shows on Saturday and Sunday, hosted by Ontoneyo — those are two hours each. Then we’re going to be expanding that even wider with the relationship with Denver Open Media. That will be four hours, with deep interviews with artists talking about how they became music creators, how they wrote, all of this. The localism is very important to us, and we work very hard to make sure that meshes very well with what we’re doing on a national level. We do it so well you almost can’t tell the difference.
I’m curious how you situate yourself in relationship to KS 107.5 and other hip-hop programming in town.
There’s room in the sandbox for everybody. I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we are nimble. We’re less reliant on research. We do what the people tell us. We’re a public radio station. We have underwriting. You’re not going to hear these hopped-up, big-bell commercials. We only have about a minute, a minute and twenty in terms of any kind of underwriting break whatsoever. We do about fifteen songs per hour.
Our sauce: We’re going to do more music. We want to be able to let you enjoy the station as it moves and breathes. We allow the people to participate in music studies, which we send out through our social media and on our website. They can come in and say, “I like this song. I love this song. I want to hear this song. I don’t like this song. Don’t play this song.” We take that into advisement. We really do. We sit down every week, and we talk about what we’re playing.
It’s a unique thing. It’s a big blessing to me, and I don’t take this lightly. This is very serious to us, but we want it to be fun. And again, we want to give it back to the people and let them enjoy it.
What else should people know?
I want to thank the Colorado community for giving us this opportunity to be a part of the fabric of what we do here. Colorado is a big music city, lots of concerts. It’s massive, and it’s only getting bigger as we have more people come in and things change. This is a new Colorado, with all these music experiences and all these deep connections. It’s incredible.
I think that we want to offer something that’s unique and accessible and inclusive. We include everyone. We’re proud that we’re not hyper-repetitive. We’re really proud of that factor. You’ll see the music change fairly often, as we want to add in new things or bring awareness to civic matters or bring awareness to the whole community.
I’ve never been a part of something so thrilling as this is right now. I love our baby. I really do. I love our baby for what it is and where it’s going to go.
Tune in to the Drop at 89.3FM HD2-Denver, 89.7FM HD2-Breckenridge, DOM 92.9 FM, DOM 89.3FM and at kuvo.org.