Local DJ Tony J. is like Superman. Okay, maybe not Superman; he's more like one of those obscure superheroes, like Aquaman or Dr. Strange, who can save your life, but only in very specific situations. When my plans for this column floundered on deadline day, leaving me with acres of space to fill, hearing Tony J.'s voice over the phone was like Mighty Mouse's "Here I come to save the day."
See, Tony can talk. Finding a story with Tony in it means half my job is over. I just need to sit back and let him roll (transcription, however, is a bitch: No one can type as fast as Tony spits). And Tony had a story for me: His new Internet radio station, trafficradio.net, went live at midnight this past Thursday. It streams a mixture of hip-hop and R&B, with a much heavier dash of local musicians than you'll find on any broadcast hip-hop station in town (all one of them). While there are other local streaming radio stations (check www.stlscene.net or www.stlhiphop.com if you're interested), Tony looks to use his newfound freedom to make a mark on this city.
"Right now I'm starting with local [music] because this is where I am, and there's a ton of it out there," Tony explains. "Because my phone is full of St. Louis artists."
Since Q95.5 switched formats away from hip-hop, leaving him without a place to yell his trademark "Traffic!" Tony's been building the Internet station as a way to sidestep the monoliths that have made modern broadcasting so dull.
"This market seems to be lopsided for a long time," he says. "Meaning, it wants to be a big market but something always keeps it from that, something always keeps it down, like Q95.5 shutting down. Especially with all these new artists coming out, everybody feeling like they can get on with just a couple of spins, it ain't working. People already know if they want to deal with [Clear Channel] or not. When there's one big dog in the neighborhood, you gotta abide by their rules."
But if the corporate giants who are sucking the life out of radio don't stop, their host body will die.
"With it being 2005 and technology being what it is and time's a-changing," Tony continues, "hell, you can start your own thing and you got a good shot at it. I didn't create those situations. They were just there for somebody to take advantage of, and if it wasn't me it was going to be somebody else."
Traffic Radio puts local crunkster Ruka Puff next to Ludacris, which Tony thinks makes listening to independent music sound more natural. "If you're an independent artist, just sending someone a single doesn't help, it's just there by itself. On Traffic Radio, you can let people hear it in the flow.
"You will get a mixture of 50 percent mainstream, 40 percent independent and the other 10 percent is going to be a splash of classics and old R&B for the ladies in the office that are in the office listening."
Another way the Internet frees up radio stations is by letting them escape the withered grasp of FCC tight-asses (cf. Howard Stern's move to Sirius satellite radio). But Tony wasn't sure at first if he would let profanity on or not.
"I wasn't going to do it, because I didn't want to lose my younger listeners and their parents," he says. "But if I was trying to get independent artists onboard, I wanted it to be as easy as possible. They don't need their song on wax, and they don't need a radio version. If I get a whole bunch of ladies coming to me saying, 'I was listening to your station, but there was too much cussin' for the office,' then I'll know to change it. Cause I'll know those ladies are listening."
The great MC KRS-One maintains the Temple of Hip Hop (www.templeofhiphop.org), where he champions hip-hop as a culture more than just a music. He lists the pillars of that culture as "Breakin, Emceein, Graffiti Art, Deejayin, Beatboxin, Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge and Street Entrepreneurialism." KRS is from the Bronx and probably hasn't spent much time behind the wheel, so I guess we can forgive him for missing yet another pillar: cars that bounce and go boom. You can get up to speed this Sunday at Da Jump Off, taking place in the parking lot of the old Schnucks at Delmar and Kingshighway, next to the Vault (where the afterparty is, natch). Along with the hoopties and spinning rims, you can dig Chingy's homegirl Ziggy, as well as Pure-P and the Young Boyz. Check it out, and then drop KRS a note to let him know what he's missing.