Radio, as we know it, isn't dead ... yet.
Pittsburgh isn't doing much to keep it alive, either, says DJ John G. of JHN Promotions, especially when it comes to hip hop.
"Unfortunately, Pittsburgh radio is not [set up where] you have to listen or else you're gonna miss out," says John G. "It's boring and bland. It could be good, but it chooses to be average. It's just there. It's a light bulb -- if it burns out, oh well."
For John G. and his twin brother DJ J.J. Solomon, it's been the light of the computer screen that's kept them shining. They run two Web sites, www.webjhn.com and www.pghhiphop.com, where they feature "radio" shows. It's important to understand that "radio," as the brothers define it, shouldn't be thought of in its traditional, airwave-only format. They both have worked on air -- John G. as a mix deejay for 106.7 WAMO, Solomon as a producer for 104.7 "The Beat," before the latter became a toilet for right-wing news punditry.
The way they operate radio now, though, is by taking its fundamental elements -- playing new and popular music, free ticket giveaways, promotions and talk shows -- and moving it online. Much of radio, of course, is streamed this way nowadays. The University of Pittsburgh college radio station, WPTS, would hardly exist if not for its online presence -- its FM wave reach covers probably less than a square mile of its own campus.
The JHN brothers' first experiment with radio was in a dining hall. J.J. Solomon had just started school at Morgan State University, a predominantly black college in Baltimore. Upon arrival, he realized the cafeteria energy was not what he saw when he visited as a high school student with the Kingsley Association's Mary L. Stone Black College Tour. During that visit he witnessed a scene where people ate while deejays spun music in their presence. It was enough to attract him to the school, but when he got there the beats were gone.
So he decided to step up to the plates, setting the cafeteria's sound system back up, while also rebooting the college's failing radio station. His breakout moment as a producer of the student-run station was when he secured an interview with Woodie of Dru Hill after they broke up.
"That was my first experience of being in the mix of the entertainment industry, using my positioning to serve our audience better," says Solomon. "So they were the first people to know why Dru Hill broke up -- Morgan State, a school which wasn't really a big deal except maybe in the streets of Baltimore, but they heard it before MTV. That felt good."
The trajectory of their deejaying career, shot from a mess hall, did take them on air for a while -- including a stint at a country station in Washington, D.C. -- before hitting its target online. On WebJHN.com, their "mainstream, urban, lifestyle" station, they announce concerts usually months ahead of any traditional radio station's awareness, due to the connections they've made with various promotion companies and labels. You can also view streaming videos of interviews they've done with artists like Mike Jones and Mobb Deep. Their pghhiphop.com site features the work of mostly local and underground artists.
It's not yet lights out, though, for our parents' radio.
"As long as radio can still be live and local, it still is relevant," DJ John G. reckons. "And unless something comes along that's more convenient, radio still has the convenience factor" that satellite and Internet radio don't.
"From an advertising standpoint, radio won't die, probably," says Solomon. "Radio still has about 80 years left of being perceived as hot entertainment. It's still exciting for me. I still want to be a night show host at WAMO because of what I can do for hip hop and Pittsburgh."