Kanye West puts black radio stations in a bind

Backlash over comments made by the Hip-Hop star about slavery and over Trump have some wondering what to do

Urban radio programmers are waiting to see what effect Kanye West’s recent comments would have on their stations with one outlet – Detroit’s WMGC-FM (known as 105.1 The Bounce) taking action and pulling his music.

The Classic Hip-Hop station became the first urban outlet in the country to do so over comments he made Tuesday on Warner Bros.’ syndicated TMZ Live, seen locally on Fox-owned WFLD-TV about slavery. During a discussion of “free thought”, West said “When you hear about slavery for 400 years, 400 years?! That sounds like a choice.” The comments were challenged immediately by a TMZ staffer, Van Lathan. The comments made by West came under fire from many in the African-American community and is already under criticism for his support of President Donald Trump, who isn’t popular among people of color.

Thursday morning, The Bounce’s morning personalities Big and Shay Shay announced they were pulling West’s music off the air. According to the Detroit News, the station felt West went too far with his comments about slavery with listeners calling in to voice their disapproval of the comments and asked his music not be played. Bigg told the Detroit News: “In my 20-year radio career, this is one of the largest responses I’ve ever seen; the largest reaction on The Bounce, too. It’s very overwhelming right now. I’m just trying to keep up. Lots of people in support, but the people that aren’t are taking personal jabs. Weird.”

WMGC is owned by Beasley Broadcast Group and flipped to the Classic Hip-Hop format in June 2016 following a trend of other stations around the country who did so, including Chicago’s WBMX-FM. WMGC previously hosted a sports talk format.

So far, no other urban-oriented stations announced plans to pull Kanye West’s music from the airwaves, including Chicago’s five music stations targeted to African-American listeners. A Chicago native, local stations here have supported West in the past, including iHeartMedia’s Urban Contemporary WGCI-FM and Urban Adult Contemporary WVAZ-FM (on WFLD’s Flannery Fired Up this week, WGCI’s Leon Rogers did call West’s comments “delusional”.) West does have a new album coming out next month, but it is not known if any promotional singles would be released to radio. Recently, many contemporary urban and pop stations weren’t playing West’s music in the first place since he hasn’t had a chart single in years.

Since returning to Twitter, West has been creating controversy with numerous tweets. West even butted into the current saga involving The Simpsons’ Apu character by endorsing a screenwriting contest sponsored by an Indian-American writer, who wanted to “correct” the problem. The irony here is, West is endorsing a contest to “fix Apu” – and yet makes comments about slavery being a choice.

As for Bounce, it would be tough for other stations to “ban” his music. Unlike in the past when local stations had control over what music they played, large radio chains such as Radio One, iHeartMedia, Entercom, and Cumulus own most urban-oriented radio stations and do not allow radio personalities to pick songs as playlist decisions are made by higher ups. So if you continue to hear West on your local station, the decision isn’t really in their hands – that’s how corporate radio works in 2018. But if West continues to make comments detrimental to the African-American community, those radio chains would have to take another look as serving the community should be their main priority.

Meanwhile, West isn’t the only artist from Chicago facing scrutiny from black radio. Last week, Tom Joyner in an interview with MeToo founder Tarana Burke, announced he would no longer play R. Kelly’s music on his syndicated program as the R&B singer faces allegations of sexual misconduct, including holding women in a sex cult. So far, no other urban syndicated program or radio station announced any plans to drop his music as Kelly has a history of sexual misconduct toward women.