Fighting The Power 

Upstart rap station Power 92.7 had its eyes on big, bad KMEL, but didn't watch its back.

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"Well, there's something for everybody," Gomez retorted. "I mean, you know, I'm not making excuses, I'm saying we do play a lot of the stuff that we're talking about. ..."

"Well, just play more of it."

Paris sprang to the defense of Gomez: "Chuy doesn't make all the programming decisions here. ... He's definitely doing his part."

"No, Chuy's my dogg ..." the caller agreed.

"The point that I was making is most people don't look for music," Paris concluded. "You know, most people only go off of what they see on TV or hear on the radio."

Paris said that Gomez went to another song, and KMEL's program director promptly yanked his guest off the air. "Michael Martin came in and demanded I get the fuck off his station," he later recalled. "All behind callers calling in, saying they were disgusted with the way KMEL was getting down. It didn't really have anything to do with anything I specifically did. I served as a conduit to let the community speak out."

As listener discontent grew, the investors behind Three Point Media bought the ailing dance music station Party 92.7 and reformatted it as Power 92.7, hoping to seize a chunk of KMEL's audience. Its edge, Simpson later explained, would be authenticity. Power would style itself as the true voice of local hip-hop, the one that keeps it real. "Hip-hop is pop music now, and there's a big need for a local station in the Bay Area, because both Wild and KMEL haven't given any love or respect to the Bay Area for years in terms of local acts," Simpson said. "Hip-hop is not just a music style, it's a lifestyle. And we're working with people trying to get it recognized as a movement."

Power 92.7's debut was welcome news for local artists. Suddenly, KMEL also started programming more local rap tunes, putting songs by Frontline and Ea-Ski, the Federation, Keak da Sneak, E-40, and Turf Talk in regular rotation right next to the Jay-Zs, Chingys, and Lil' Jons of the world. "Radio stations are starting to get behind Bay Area rap," E-40 said of KMEL a few months ago -- just before debuting E-Feezy Radio, his own weekly two-hour show. "It's all gravy," the local rap kingpin said. "KMEL has gotten better -- 75 percent better. ... If you're the 'People's Station,' play people's music. That's what they've been doing. They stepped it up. I ain't even gonna lie."

Power station manager Skip Dillard was happy to take credit for forcing KMEL to rediscover local acts. "Many have told me that they received virtually no attention ... prior to the rumors that this company was going to do an urban format," said Dillard, who left his New York job as Top 40 and R&B editor for Billboard Monitor to build Power from scratch. "I'd been here for about four months prior to our launch, and there was local music played more and more on both Wild and KMEL. So I think the attention started before we even signed on."

"Big Von" Johnson, KMEL's music director, acknowledged the change in his programming priorities, but said his station started spinning more local acts simply because the music improved. "When I first got on, those records weren't even big," he said. "There was no big local records. ... It's a little bit better now. I seen what they're doing, I seen what they're working on." As for Power's impact on KMEL, Johnson deadpanned: "To be completely honest, I pay no attention to them."


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