KDAY-AM, the city's only all-rap music outlet and widely considered one of the most influential rap stations in the country, is about to call it a day.
The station has decided to drop its rap music format in favor of news and talk, with an emphasis on business and financial news, industry sources said. The change will leave many rap fans disenfranchised and will create a void for local groups whose music was often introduced on KDAY (1580).
"KDAY was perhaps unique in the country as far as being a major market outlet that spotlighted rap in such a pronounced fashion . . . and I think KDAY's format was an important cultural voice," said Ken Barnes, managing editor of Radio and Records, an industry publication. "It's a blow especially for the wider spectrum of rap that isn't covered by other stations in the market."
The date of the format switch apparently has not been set. It hinges in part on when ownership of the station changes hands. Realtor Fred Sands, who owns heavy-metal station KNAC-FM, bought KDAY from Heritage Communications for $7.2 million last April. The sale is expected to close within the next two weeks, said Paul Fiddick, president of Heritage Communications.
Radio analysts said Tuesday that KDAY's switch does not indicate rap music is losing popularity. In fact, rap music has become more mainstream and can be heard on dance music and Top 40 stations such as KIIS-FM (102.7) and KPWR-FM (105.9). Rather, they said, it signals the shift of the AM band from music to news and information.
"I don't think it spells the end of rap," said San Francisco-based broadcast industry analyst John Lund. "If you look at the top 50 (songs) today, there's got to be at least 12 rap songs among them. Rap is as big now as it's ever been and probably getting bigger. It has mass appeal. What this does is say something about the doom and gloom of AM radio. Music on AM radio is becoming a day of the past. When people want music, they go to FM."
Indeed, despite its strong signal (50,000 watts), KDAY's ratings have steadily declined in the past year. In the most recent trend estimates by Arbitron, it was 35th among 42 stations listed, capturing only .6% of the audience.
Rival urban stations are poised to pick up the beat. When rumors of a change in format began, KLJH-FM (102.3) acted quickly and lured away the station's popular morning drive-time personality, Greg Mack, and has added more rap to its line-up, said program director Lynn Briggs.
The rap community reacted with disappointment, both for the loss of a musical outlet and of a community resource.
"How can a station (abandon) the black youth when they consume so much of the market?" said Chuck D. of the controversial rap group Public Enemy, which received considerable airplay at KDAY, though few other stations will play its socially critical songs.
"It was like a community center," said V.G. Guinness, executive director of the anti-gang Say Yes youth program. "The key thing about dealing with drugs and gangs is communication, and that (station) was one of the main lines of communication."
For the rap record industry, where many releases come through relatively small independent labels, the loss is also ominous.
"KDAY is a singular station and there's nothing that exists in other markets as attentive in their rap programming as KDAY," said Monica Lynch, president of New York-based Tommy Boy Records, one of the first and most successful independent rap labels, with a roster that ncludes Digital Underground, Queen Latifah and De La Soul.
"Many of our artists were broken through KDAY and this is a slap in the face for the rap world at large," she said. "KDAY has been an oasis in an urban landscape that's getting bleaker and bleaker. The overall trend in black radio has been to back off of rap and shift toward a (mellow) 'Quiet Storm' or (classics-oriented) 'Black Gold' format. The cherished demographics are the 25-plus-year-old females, and most programmers now feel that's a direct opposite of the rap audience."
However, John Mack, the president of the Urban League, did not see the rap format's impending demise as particularly significant.
"Quite frankly, I think that the African-American community will survive without it," Mack said. "I find myself ambivalent. Clearly, rap is one way of reaching and communicating with so many of our youth. But some of the rap doesn't need to be communicated at all. I question it if there's no socially redeeming virtues to it."