Station Break

Can the Cities' oldest black radio station survive a date with the bulldozer?

Throughout all the contradictory crosstalk, however, one sentiment has flourished. Even the station's harshest critics want KMOJ to survive. In conversations, one vague but all-important question repeatedly surfaces: "How can KMOJ best serve the community?" Along with that line of inquiry come more specific questions about what purpose an African-American community station serves, and maybe what the phrase African-American community has come to mean as well.

Without dismissing them outright, Banks smiles at such broad topics. "The African-American community that exists in that neighborhood exists throughout the city," he explains. "KMOJ is a mecca, and if it didn't continue to exist, it would be missed."

Then he glances to his left, at the mound of rubble across the highway from KMOJ, ruins of what constituted, until recently, the Sumner-Olson Housing Projects.

"Yeah, there'll be some changes," he nods, matter-of-factly. His voice drops a notch as he glances toward the Center, to the station's transmitter, and to the condemned Glenwood-Lyndale projects on his right. "Things are really going to change around here soon."

"That man came to America hoping to find a better life, not to be shot," a female caller declares with somber finality.

"That man" is Amadou Diallo. Unsurprisingly, the only subject of discussion on the KMOJ morning show this February Monday is the acquittal of four New York City police officers last Friday afternoon in the controversial shooting of the West African immigrant. Out East, the Rev. Al Sharpton is calling for full-scale African-American boycotts. But on the near north side of Minneapolis, this particular broadcast forum is demonstrating that African-American unity doesn't necessarily mean unanimity.

The woman caller on the line isn't arguing with the court decision per se, but with the statements of a few listeners before her. These callers, also women, have already defended the police, saying that they're only doing their jobs.

The next caller brings it all back home. Identifying himself as Will, he argues that a de facto racial curfew already exists in downtown Minneapolis. He has been in largely black crowds downtown, he contends, that have been dispersed without reason by the police, and he, for one, is not having it anymore. "If my mom tells me to go home, I'll go home," he insists. "Other than that..." He trails off defiantly.

Next he touches upon the fear that was part of growing up black in a racially divided Minneapolis. "Remember, Q, what our parents used to tell us, when we went to the Capri [theater]? 'Don't go past Broadway, they'll crack your skull.'"

Q-Bear nods in the studio. He and his morning-show partner, Big Ant, have already publicly discussed their visit last Sunday to South Beach. At bar close, 14 police cars greeted the exiting, predominantly black clientele--either looking to keep the peace or looking for trouble, depending on your perspective.

"In the very near future," announces Q-Bear in measured tones, "there may well be martial law." KMOJ cuts to a jaunty station ID. Q-Bear flashes a peace sign through the booth window.

Hardly has R. Kelly begun keening on the air when Big Ant is back on the phone. "I feel you. I feel you. Right. Right." He rolls his eyes. Younger than Q-Bear, his hair threatening to bush out into a proper Afro, Anthony Simmons has the countenance of a man who speaks his mind, and a reputation for doing just that. "That dude was fired up," he laughs. His off-air voice is more plainspoken than his professionally lubed radio delivery. "He was going on about, 'I feel you, Big Ant. They armed, we gotta be armed, you feel me?' Then he started talking about AK-47s and I'm like, 'Uh, ain't they illegal?'"

It's the sort of grassroots African-American dialogue you're unlikely to hear elsewhere in the Twin Cities media. On-air communication between announcers and listeners (or between listeners and listeners) isn't always so explicitly politicized. Yet talk of some sort or another seems all but constant on the station. Tune into KMOJ during one of the time slots reserved for music, and you're just as likely to hear a Patrick Henry High student shouting out to her friends on the south side as you are the latest Beanie Sigel joint. On Saturdays music director J.R. Maddox hosts "Rush It Or Flush It," where he premieres new tracks and listeners call in to expound upon the music's merit, or its intrinsic wackness. It's not uncommon to hear listener dedications to friends and family in the county lockup. And drive-time DJ Mike Mike allows listeners to call in from their jobs to exclaim, "I'm blazin' while I'm paper-chasin'!"

Most of these radio gimmicks have long been mainstreamed by commercial stations. But there's an intimate looseness to KMOJ's call-in format that serves a community-consolidating purpose. This, according to station manager Vusumuzi Zulu, addresses two of the major problems facing the Twin Cities black community: "One, the issue of definition, of other folks still trying to define who we are, and what is in our best interest. Two, the attempt to marginalize our communities into strict, stereotypical views, like our communities are one-dimensional, rather than multidimensional."

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