Until “modern hip-hop” station B-96 arrived in the early ‘00s, no commercial station here regularly played rap. And after B-96 shifted to pop in 2010, no commercial station would again feature contemporary hip-hop until the January 2016 launch of Go 95.3.
The key word there, though, is “commercial.” For four decades, Northside community station 89.9 KMOJ has consistently brought African-American music, including rap, to Minneapolis when the pop stations shied away.
And last Wednesday, Sept. 20, KMOJ launched a new high definition station devoted exclusively to hip-hop: the Ice. KMOJ is touting the Ice as “the state’s first urban hip-hop” station” – the first station that’s not mixing in pop and dance hits in to appeal to a wider demographic.
“When KMOJ first came on the air, back in 1976, we played straight R&B and blues,” says KMOJ station manager (and morning show host) Freddie Bell. “You weren’t hearing John Denver along with the Temptations. You were just hearing unfiltered R&B. In this iteration, you’re hearing straight ahead R&B and hip-hop.”
Bell says the plans began in late 2016, and stresses that the new station is an extension and an expansion of KMOJ’s role as a community station. “It’s an opportunity to reach deeper into our existing marketplace, to the younger audience, to play their music and bring forward issues we all deal with, but from their perspective.”
As a high definition station, the Ice will only be available in your car or online. The plan is to play several weeks of music before regular programming kicks in. At that point, it will integrate community programming, as KMOJ’s license requires, and spotlight “young, urban female announcers,” according to Bell.
“We’ll play what’s #99 on the charts, because we don’t have to protect an audience,” Bell says. “You heard Mint Condition, Prince, and the Time on KMOJ when no one else was playing them. I suspect that we’ll be breaking a lot of new artists.”
How does Bell feel about commercial radio’s new embrace of hip-hop? “We’re not in competition with mainstream radio,” he insists. “We have a different license and a different mission. What we can do is service our community—and we do that better than anyone else.”