My local radio dream has come true.
iHeart media launched a Throwback 94.5 (St. Petersburg) and 105.9 (Tampa) station this week, bringing to our local airwaves a blend of hip-hop and R&B from the late 1980s to the early 2000s.
It's not quite the adult R&B mix that I long for, a format featuring Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton and Chaka Khan — to name a few — but delivering Puff Daddy, Arrested Development, old JayZ and DMX adds to the diversity of our airwaves.
For that I'm grateful and a bit amazed it took this long. Frankly, local radio was about to make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here.
For so long, most of the area broadcasters eschewed true adult R&B on the FM side. When WTMP, the city's longtime, black-owned station, went through an ownership and format change, the void grew even greater. But even in WTMP's best days, its signal didn't reach the entire area.
To me, it appeared to be a no-brainer that one of the corporately owned media groups would fill the void, especially when the smooth jazz station changed programming.
But for so many years, the market went without adult R&B. Yes, stations offering hip-hop emerged, but that mix of old soul and neo soul, sans hip-hop's most coarse songs, remains missing, even today.
Surprisingly, the same format enjoys success in almost every other market in Florida and many across the nation.
Here, we continue to have stations that mirror each other. At any given minute, I can find a station playing Bon Jovi or Journey or the Eagles. Nothing wrong with those groups, but we deserve a better music mosaic.
Some who have heard me make this lament before point to WMNF-FM 88.5, and while its diverse programming brings some of my favorites to the airwaves, I want a more consistent stream of Alicia Keys and Marsha Ambosious, Prince and Earth, Wind and Fire.
Others wonder why I haven't converted to satellite. Sirius Radio offers the Groove, which fully carries the artists I crave. I know because I once subscribed.
But I long for over-the-air, local radio because it can bring a sense of community that can't be created with satellite and syndication. WMNF's popularity is built on the concept, but other corporate broadcasters have moved away from it. A good station, however, can serve as a clarion call on issues.
I happened to be in Orlando the night George Zimmerman received a not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. That market's adult R&B station, WCFB-94.5 FM (Star 94.5), turned off the music and gave its listeners a chance to call in and offer opinions on the decision. Seldom is radio's immediacy more valuable than in such moments.
But just the music alone deserves a place in our market. I know I'm not alone in craving adult R&B. I've seen the audiences at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday sway to the O'Jays and Kool and the Gang, among others.
And don't call it a black thing.
You can't assume only African-Americans like Lionel Richie and Charlie Wilson no more than you can assume only whites like the Rolling Stones and Guns 'n Roses.
It's just great music — like classic rock and alt-rock and hip-hop — and it needs a platform in Tampa Bay. For now, the best place to get my fix is on WRBQ-FM 104.7 (Q105). It occasionally comes through with a classic from the Emotions or K.C. and the Sunshine Band, delivers club hits with the Saturday Night Dance Party and a Quiet Storm of R&B ballads on Sunday night.
Yep, Mason Dixon has got soul.
But every time my wife and I drive east on Interstate 4, we flip to Star 94.5 the minute we cross over into Polk County and can pick up even a faint signal.
I'll never understand how that format thrives in Orlando, but can't even get a chance to succeed in Tampa Bay.
That's all I'm saying.