New urban hip-hop station engages youth, women

The name Freddie Bell is well known in the Twin Cities, having a morning radio show at 89.9 KMOJ. With a broadcast career reaching back into the 1970s, Bell has been a force in radio broadcasting, helping to launch three radio stations. This third launch, the brainchild of Chris Styles, the music director at KMOJ, can be found on KMOJ’s High Definition 2 (HD2) channel.

Conceived in December 2016, “The Ice” structure (“the coldest music in Minnesota”) came together within four months. The name came from the stereotypical perception of those not living in Minnesota.

The parent company of KMOJ, the Center for Communication and Development, is on board with the newly launched HD2 channel, which calls itself “the state’s first urban hip-hop station.” The new station is dedicating itself to women and youth.

“We could have put any type of formatting out there, but this falls in alignment with our mission to train young broadcasters and to give the community what it needs in terms of news, information, health, finance, fitness, community activism — all of that,” said Bell during an interview with him and Styles at the station.

Styles interjected, “Setting up for the future, right now we are getting organized and getting a solid foundation of it running and operating as a machine in itself.” But eventually Styles wants young people, “youth of the future,” to run, operate, program, schedule and be the voice of the station. “We want to intertwine youth running their own radio station.”

“Seven years ago we didn’t have this,” Bell said, pointing to a digital tablet, “and seven years from now we don’t know how the 12-to-24-year-olds will be communicating, but we know how they’re communicating today, and that sets us up for how we will be communicating in the future,” said Bell. “Our millennials — the 12-to-24-year-olds — will dictate that for us.”

KMOJ is reaching out to major corporations, the community, and foundations for help in supporting youth and women on The Ice station. “That’s the life blood of this whole thing. We’ve done what we can do, and now we’re reaching out to the larger community,” said Bell. Partnerships of sustaining funds are needed for operations, equipment, and to hire talented individuals in order to build get youth involved.

Currently, there isn’t a studio dedicated to The Ice programming at KMOJ, and no titled programs. Styles stalled at our questioning how soon titled shows will be found on the station, but Bell said, “This is typical when establishing a base foundation; you’ll hear a big influx of music and positioning statements about who we are.”

(Jonika Stowes/MSR News)

This is due in part to the legal aspects of developing a radio station. “We’re committed to 189 hours of straight music, so we have the luxury of not being forced to do anything at this point, and that way we can do it right,” said Bell.

“The majority of the music played is today’s hip hop and R&B, and it doesn’t necessarily follow the structure of what’s in today’s mainstream charts but has familiar hits of what’s new and household artists’ names,” said Styles. “It’s a young man’s game when you talk about hip hop, [including] artists from Minnesota.

“[Hip hop is] giving [The Ice] a heartbeat, pumping life into it, coming from kids and women,”  Styles continued. “We came up with the idea of allowing women to be the voice of the station, [because] so often in the culture…women are second class or not necessarily put on a pedestal. But when we start incorporating talent, there will be a heavy influx of the voice of the woman.”

Currently, Bdot and DJ Dime are holding down the fort on The Ice radio station while KMOJ continues to look for talent in programming.

“It’s more about how we can capture what’s going on in our community and be responsive to it. The music is the hook. We want great information going out through our community, and we want to do it as completely as we can,” said Bell.

Chris Styles interned at KDWB and B96 radio stations before landing at KMOJ, where he volunteered for the first seven years before KMOJ gave him the opportunity to be a voice on air. Since then Styles has helped KMOJ win a few awards.

 

FM 89.9, The People’s Station, broadcasts on the HD1 channel. The Ice broadcasts on the HD2 channel, and the HD3 channel is college radio at St. Cloud State University. All stations can be heard on vehicle radios with HD and streamed on electronic devices including iPads, tablets, laptops and cell phones.

Jonika Stowes welcomes reader responses to: jstowes@spokesman-recordergmail.com.