Today Billboard Magazine published a news story on the growing Urban Alternative format and its role in helping change the complexion of public radio. Interviewed for the story were CPB’s Jacquie Gales Webb, THE DROP Denver’s Nikki Swarn, Radio Milwaukee’s Jordan Lee and Paragon’s Mike Henry.
… The latest round of CPB grants, issued Sept. 14 and totaling $1.3 million, went to public-radio stations that are, like Radio Milwaukee, building a new format known as “urban alternative” — it’s like album adult alternative, the longstanding commercial rock format that mixes new and classic tracks, only focusing on hip-hop, R&B and dance music rather than white rock artists. A station might play Drake, then 2Pac, then a new local group. The other grant recipients, Jackson State University’s WJSU in Mississippi and Minnesota Public Radio, will also launch such programming on mostly digital and streaming channels.
About 10 years ago, longtime radio strategists began talking about a hole they’d discovered on radio dials that even public-radio stations — which are known for eclectic programming — weren’t filling. “Young and diverse audiences,” saysMike Henry, CEO of Paragon Media Strategies, a Denver entertainment consulting and research company working with several stations that have received CPB grants. “It’s really been a blind spot for public radio for its entire existence.”
Stations in the urban-alternative format also emphasize local DJs, as well as community engagement, like voter-registration drives and political activism. In February, earlier grant recipient WNSB, or Blazin’ Hot 91 in Norfolk, Va., worked with PBS to host community discussions about the historical importance of Black churches. “That’s where we’re going to make an impact,” Henry says.