Urban Alternative stations have broken the color barrier for public radio in America, and that’s no small feat for a sector that has historically reached mostly older White audiences.  They are doing something that’s never been done before.  And today, for the first time, they were all in the same room.

Sixteen managers from the first seven Urban Alternative stations in America gathered in Philadelphia for the Urban Alternative Conference 2022.  Led by Paragon’s Jordan Lee, the UAC22 was a spirited meeting that allowed attendees to share their own challenges, experiences, and success stories with an eye toward best practices and collaborations to benefit all the Urban Alt stations.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s former VP/Radio Erika Pulley-Hayes and I dreamed of a new radio format for young and diverse audiences, and in 2016 that dream became reality with the CPB Phase 1 UA station grant to Vocalo in Chicago, which transitioned to become America’s first Urban Alternative radio station.  Jacquie Gales Webb (Erika’s replacement at CPB), who also was in attendance today, led CPB’s Phase 2 UA station grants that brought us THE DROP in Denver, which started as a stream and now is heard on 104-7 FM, Hot 91 WNSB in Norfolk, and The Vibe on KTSU in Houston.  Phase 3 will launch the next three stations later this year – WJSU JacksonHYFIN in Milwaukee, and a new station by Minnesota Public Radio in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  There is no doubt there will be more UA stations to follow.

With a central theme of “Sustainability and Collaboration,” a range of discussions focused on revenue development, content, digital distribution, and station collaborations.  The major topic was, “What happens when CPB’s grant ends and stations must survive on their own dime?”  The conference also provided a platform for networking and building relationships that will continue after the conference.

Urban Alternative stations appeal to the real definition of the word “public,” which literally means “ordinary people in general; the community.”  These stations are the final frontier for public radio.  While each of them is at a different stage of the journey, they are all on the same journey.  The real public is their audience, and finally, this is their time.


Vocalo Chicago: Ayana Contreras

104.7 THE DROP Denver: Nikki Swarn, Unique Henderson

Hot 91 WNSB Norfolk: Michael Mauzone, Maynard Scales

The Vibe on KTSU Houston: Ben “Madd Hatta” Thompson, Ernest Walker

WJSU Jackson: Meredith Hairston, Anthony Dean

HYFIN Milwaukee: Tarik Moody, Cheryl Bennett, Danae Davis

The Current Minneapolis: Lindsay Kimball, David Safar, Derrick Stevens, Julian Green

CPB: Jacquie Gales Webb

Paragon Media Strategies: Jordan Lee, Mike Henry

Learn more about Mike.