by Davey D
Now the mother of all boycotts has been brewing in New York City this past week. It centers around Hot 97 radio, its morning show host Star and the tragic death of Aaliyah. The question of concern is whether or not Star who is a self proclaimed hater and likens himself to being the Black Howard Stern went too far this past Monday when he played sound effects of an airplane crashing and people screaming when talking about Aaliyah's death? The incident sent shockwaves from coast to coast. His co-host Miss Jones walked out the studio in disgust. Q-Tip called Hot 97 and said he would no longer support the radio show. A national petition calling for Stars removal has been launched. Another email which includes Star's email and phone number has been circulating. Still another is being passed around that includes the address and phone numbers to Hot 97s Emmis Broadcasting corporate headquarters. People are being asked to call and express their disapproval. Me, personally have gotten over 200 emails on the subject. Folks are heated and calling for the permanent removal of Star from Hot 97...
Yesterday I reached out to Tracy Chloherty who is the program director for Hot 97. The Star incident has reached such heights that I saw the petition being passed around at a candlelight vigil for Aaliyah right here in Oakland 3000 miles away. Hence I wanted to do a story on this for my column at the SF Bayview. My conversation with Tracy seemed a bit tense. She came across as annoyed a bit shocked that some one from San Francisco would be doing a story about an incident that took place on Hot 97 in New York. She didn't feel that readers in the Bay Area would really know the ins and outs of what was going on 3000 miles away in New York on Hot 97. She didn't understand why a petition calling for Star's removal was being circulated in the Bay Area. I was a bit surprised that she didn't realize that what was done on her airwaves made national news.
I asked her what her thoughts were on such a petition being passed around. She felt that most people didn't understand everything that happened and while she supports people's rights to protest, she felt people outside of the NY area were reacting to Internet rumors and being emotional. She explained that what Star did was disgusting and completely out of line and thus steps have been taken to insure that there is never a repeat of such actions. She also emphasized the fact that Star did not personally bash Aaliyah. She explained that before Star played the airplane crash recording, he had spent the first 3 hours of the show taking dedications and condolences from distraught listeners. In other words he didn't spend the entire shift bashing or making fun of Aaliyah. She felt a lot of people were getting that 'misinformation' via the Internet. According to her, he simply played the recording of the plane crashing, which she again emphasized was totally offensive and horrible. She also noted that it was Star who committed the offense and not his co-host Buckwyld who happened to be on vacation.
Tracy also noted that Star had gone on the air the next day to apologize both to listeners as well as to Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash who was Aaliyah's boyfriend and totally devasted by her passing. She pointed out that Star was punished but declined to state specifically what sort of disciplinary measures had been taken. She did note that he was not going to be on air for the remainder of the week. Tracy also pointed out that while Star's actions were heinous, they were not a 'firing offense'. When I asked her to explain what she meant by firing offense she noted that Star had not broken any laws nor did he violate his contract, hence there was no reason for him to be fired. I asked her what she thought about people calling for a boycott of the station. She pointed out that people have a right to express themselves and repeated that what Star did was not a 'firing offense'. I asked her if she was backing him100%.. She said I was putting words in her mouth and that he had not broken any laws.
During our conversation we talked about whether or not Star's actions and the controversy around it would be good for ratings. Because of his antics and how widespead they were being talked about I was on the phone interviewing her for a story. Tracy noted that Star has been doing very good in his ratings. In fact he has been beating Howard Stern who has patterned himself after. She also noted that while it wasn't ok, Stern himself caused similar controversies when he mocked the deaths of John Denver and Salena. I asked Ttacy whether or not an urban Hip Hop audience would show the same type of restraint that Stern's audience showed him when he crossed the line? I told her about cats rushing local DJs and comedians who dared mock 2Pac death. She said she understood and steps have been taken to insure no further repeats of this incident and again she pointed out that Star had apologized.
Lastly I asked her whether or not it was true that Jay-Z and other artists were going to lead a boycott of Hot 97. She found the remark absurd and incredulous. She said that Hot 97 was the station that played all of Jay-Z's material so why would he boycott? She also noted that she had spoken to Damon Dash the night before and he had made no mention of boycotting Hot 97. I came away with the sense that all this hoopla over Star will pass.
It'll be interesting to see how this plays itself out... Conventional wisdom behind the scenes notes that controversy sells and while folks may hate what Star did, many will treat it like a bad car crash. We hate the fact that it happened but we look or in the case 'listen' anyway. The other thing that traditionally happens in such matters is our short memory. We often take the worse offenses and in time we 'move on' until the next slap in the face. It's like being in abusive relationship where we continously take the punishment being handed out and somehow rationalize our continuing to stay there... Watch carefully the people around you who are offended and horrified and see where they are a week or so from now... Far too often cats say one thing and do another.. They say they'll boycott Hot 97 but what happens when Hot 97 plays the next unreleased Biggie record, throws a free concert in the park or drops the new Jay-Z Micheal Jackson joint? Cats go back to listening.
"Yo did you just hear that new Jay-Z joint Flex played last night"
"Yo I thought you was boycotting the station?'
"Aaah man stop tripping you can't stay mad forever its time to move on.."
Bad habits are hard to break and trust me radio stations are in the business of getting you to develop a habit of tuning in listening. Radio spends every waking hour cultivating habits, that why we repeat the same slogans during every mic break. Thats why we play the same songs over and over again. .
I had a conversation with Hip Hop pioneer Vansylk about a Hot 97 boycott, he pointed out that as long as artists and people were putting all their weight and support behind one station -Hot 97 and not another urban outlets owned by a different company like WBLS then it wasn't going to happen. People will overllok things just to hear their favorite music. He also noted that Star makes Emmis Broacasting crazy money with his high ratings and at the end of the day thats all advertisers care about. So unless cats make the commitment to really stick it where it hurts, things won't change.
So will the Star incident be the straw that breaks the stations back? Only time will tell. Don't expect Hot 97 to simply roll over and die. This is Emmis Broadcasting's cash cow and they will do what it takes to keep you listening. Heck they just might get rid of Star, but will they still do the things to satisfy your needs? Cats were complaining about Hot 97 long before the Aaliyah incident. Remember this is the same station that didn't stop playing the music and open up the lines after the Diallo verdict when those cops were acquitted. A lot of cats forgot about that. I remember that day. I remember how upset people were. I remember all the emails I got how people were in disblief that the station was playing music during that time? Back then people were calling for a boycott. In fact, someone even started a petition. Folks were up in arms talking about its time to burn down the station. A few Biggie songs and a couple of Jay-Z records later it was business as usual.
Can you and will you resist the temptation to go back to a place that horribly dissed you? Unless, we constantly question each other and keep this conversation on the front burner, then 'No'. The other thing to keep in mind is this isn't just about the community versus Star. This is the community versus the corporation-Emmis Broadcasting. That's the underlying issue. Let's not get it twisted. If people's sentiments weren't already brewing with regards to this station, Star's antics would never have struck such a deep chord. Sure Hot 97 may get rid of Star but I'm willing to bet that folks will still be unhappy?
The challenege before us is to determine how to deal with a corporation that is supposed to act in the public's best interest when they hold a broadcast license? How do you deal with the corporation that some people accuse of butchering up the culture of Hip Hop? How do you deal with the corporation that gave you Star and not someone else who you may feel is more uplifting? Look, if Star was driving a Hot 97 truck and ran over someone who do you think would get sued? A smart lawyer would go after the company with the deep pockets who gave him the keys to drive the car.
The other question to seriously ask is where are the 'civil rights leaders' on this issue? Many of them have been recently aligning themselves with the Hip Hop community. Many of them have been going to the gatherings, award shows and forming political action committess etc.. What is Al Sharpton saying about this? What about Jesse Jackson? How about Kwesi Mfume and the NAACP? Where do New York's mayoral candidates stand on this? Will they try and dismiss this as simply a case of a crazy out of control DJ gone astray or will they hold the corporation's feet to the fire? Will they issue a public statement they way other organization do when some one does or says something offensive? Or will they try and tell you to let bygones be bygones.
I'm not saying depend upon these leaders or wait for them to act and lead the charge. However, since everyone is riding for Hip Hop these days why not pose the question in the course of conversation? Their answers or lack of answers will speak volumes. I will call their offices later this afternoon and email them the articles and try and get some answers, but others should call as well. In order for a boycott to be effective there will have to be some consistent follow through. Folks will have to continuously check one another by asking the fundamental question 'Why are you listeningto them? Why are you slipping and going back to the bad habit of tuning in to a place that dissed the hell out of you on Monday August 27 2001 two days after Aaliyah died. Heck, just don't ask that question to others, ask those question to yourself. The answers you get will let you know just how much work there is to be done before meannigful change comes along. The struggle continues. .
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