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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KMEL representatives strenuously denied all of these accusations. "I don't know of anything like that happening," said Tony "Tone Def" Ng, who runs KMEL's street team. "There is no reason to do something like that. It's a job. If there's an event, we do our job and they do theirs. There's nothing personal. ... We're an established station; we've been here for twenty years. There's no reason for us to do something like that."

Martin, who also serves as Clear Channel's regional vice president for programming, was even more adamant. Power, he said, was just peddling lies about harassment in a frantic bid for attention. "I've seen it in market after market," Martin said. "A new competitor will come in and talk about how squeaky-clean they are, how they don't do anything wrong. And behind the scenes, they'll try to pick and gnaw at the big station, and then they'll come to you and complain."

Power should take a good, long look in the mirror, Martin said: "If we want to do tit for tat, I have a video of the promotion director of that radio station sitting there with a baseball bat in his hand, talking about if he sees members of our staff on the street, he's going to pound their heads in." When Simpson heard Martin's accusation about him, he laughed and said he had no clue what Martin was talking about.

Martin also claimed to have photographs of Power staff sneaking onto his parking lot and slapping stickers on KMEL vans, but refused to provide this evidence, claiming that his legal department is holding onto it in case things get serious. He reiterated one point over and over: KMEL has thumped Power 92.7 so thoroughly in the ratings that his station doesn't have to resort to such tactics. "Power 92 means nothing to me," he said. "Their ratings actually went down after they became a rap station. I don't turn my two big ships to go after them."

Still, Power station manager Skip Dillard insisted that KMEL's stunts convinced him the big station was nervous about facing real competition for the first time in years. "If anything, they've made me excited, and more determined," he said. "I'm a very laid-back person. But I'm always thinking, always thinking about the next thing that we have to do to solidify our relationships and our base. And these things have made us more determined, and it's helped us know that there's a job to be done."

Dillard began collaborating with Paris, the hip-hop impresario who said he nearly came to blows with KMEL's Martin. Together, they planned a new public-service announcement campaign focusing on voter-registration efforts. Dillard insisted this was just the tip of the iceberg as far as the new station's community-based commitment, while Paris waxed poetic over the fact that the station manager was willing to meet with him. "The folks at Power 92 were easy to approach and were cool out the gate," Paris said. "And they expressed an interest in community outreach and local artist support. I haven't gotten that from KMEL since the Clear Channel takeover."

But while hopes remained high in the hip-hop community that Power intended to focus primarily on local music, that hadn't yet panned out. "A lot of people were saying 92.7 was going to play everything from the Bay, which is really not true," noted Saeed Crumpler, a local rap artist who is the hip-hop buyer for Rasputin Music in Berkeley. "They still play a lot of what KMEL plays or 94.9 plays, or any other station plays," he said recently. Even so, he added, "A lotta people wanna see what 92.7 is gonna do. Are they gonna stretch out their signal? There's people that wanna see what kinda DJs they're gonna have up. When are they gonna have the DJs up?"

Sure enough, Power soon made plans to move its transmitter to Sutro Tower, which would have increased its broadcast range enough to reach roughly one million more people across the southern Bay Area. But even with its existing signal, Power's ratings were slowly climbing. Dillard spent his weekdays building market share and his weekends judging hip-hop talent shows at street fairs in cities like San Pablo. His station was gradually capturing the hearts and minds of the East Bay's urban youth. Finally, Simpson and Dillard thought, their dream of returning authentic hip-hop to the Bay Area was coming true.

On July 17, KMEL and Power went head to head at a street party at West Oakland's Gateway Plaza. The WOMAC Foundation hosted a street fair to celebrate the opening of the Gateway mall, and asked Tony Toni Toné frontman D'Wayne Wiggins to organize it. Wiggins put together a mix of arts and crafts displays, food booths, and a main stage sponsored by KMEL, where his band performed along with rock acts and taiko drummers. But the real party centered on a small stage to the side, where Power's street team and DJ Danyah thrilled a crowd of hundreds. "It wasn't the main stage as far as the live band stuff, but as far as the crowd was concerned, it was the main stage," Wiggins recalled. "He had at least four or five hundred youngsters, all over there dancing, goin' dumb."

The show on Power's stage kicked KMEL right in the ass, as Danyah spun a mix of crunk Southern rappers, top forty hits, and '80s R&B. Rival step dancers broke out their moves under the afternoon sun. "All the kids were enjoying it, the dancers were enjoying it, and KMEL didn't have anyone over at their booth," said Danyah, who has no connection to Power and merely shared the stage with the station. "So they pulled up to our stage."

Suddenly, a black KMEL van rolled up to the back of the crowd, and loudspeakers blasted a new groove as street teams from the "People's Station" tried to remind everyone who really brings the funk in the Bay Area. But according to Danyah, the crowd just got annoyed and tried to ignore the KMEL squad, even as they pimped a chance to win free Usher tickets. "I was like, 'Dang, they gotta do that to get people to notice them?'" he said. "It was kind of embarrassing."


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