Philadelphia City Paper – We’ll Do It Live [West Philly hip-hop entrepreneurs aim to rewrite the web-radio blueprint.]

We’ll Do It Live

West Philly hip-hop entrepreneurs aim to rewrite the web-radio blueprint.

Brion Shreffler
City Paper

[ HIP-HOP/RADIO/WEB ]

In a quiet section of Powelton Village, behind a shuttered storefront and across the street from an empty lot, a small group of tech-savvy entrepreneurs and music fans is plotting a paradigm shift in the world of music radio.

“As a producer, I was going to DJs and stations so often to break my artists, I decided to start my own,” says Derrick Pratt during a break in PC Radio Live’s morning show, which has since adopted the moniker Crush & Roll.

He and three others, all with mics in front them, sit on stools around a long table. The small room is papered with hip-hop posters. Pratt, with two monitors in front of him, mans the social media and a mixing board. His PC Radio Live partner, Antwan Carr, scans social media on another laptop at an adjacent table, while providing on-the-fly technical assistance.

Pratt puts on his headphones, calls for quiet. “Still Not a Player” by Big Punisher cuts out. They go live with this week’s guest host, local comedian Brent “Raul” Johnstone carrying the conversation. Also chiming in are sports reporter Tara “Sporty” Sampson and co-host/news reporter Cydney Foye.

The chemistry’s there, the exchanges are quick, witty, entertaining. You’d never guess just how new this crew is to all this. The morning show is just over four months old. Sampson, Foye and Johnstone came to the station with the same amount of experience in radio as Pratt and Carr: zero.

Their goal is to bring the feel of terrestrial radio to the web, where any unattended loop of music can get away with calling itself a station. With PC Radio Live, it’s about balancing the music with engaging commentary, and focusing on fresh talent. Local artists get a chance to be heard; rookie radio personalities get their first break.

PC Radio Live launched in January 2010, but didn’t make its most ambitious moves until February of the next year. That’s when Carr joined up full-time, and he and Pratt started working on franchising.

“Pratt had the vision. I brought to the table what could make that happen,” says Carr, who got into music as a producer, and launched his music social-networking site 10 years ago. So far, the SongMovers Radio Network, with PC Radio Live as its flagship station, has expanded into New York and Boston. They plan to move into Detroit this summer, then Nashville, then who knows?

“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years. Forging numbers is always better,” Pratt says.

New stations pay a fee for licensing and startup. Once they’re established, they can choose whether they want to exchange content with other SongMovers stations scattered across the country. Right now, PC Radio Live’s daily morning show is followed by a two-hour set by Jermaine Bowden, aka DJ Spazo, at the Harlem-based Lean Brothers Radio. With Carr and Pratt’s help, Bowden will build a 24-hour station with his own people and programming by late May or early June.

The idea of mutual growth is what Bowden latches onto. “Branding with them brings me to a whole new world,” he says. “I let them know what’s hot in NYC, they do the same for me in Philly, and Chubby Chub keeps an eye on Boston.”

“We’re doing the footwork radio executives don’t want to do,” says Willie Sanchez, aka DJ Chubby Chub. After 10 years at Hot 97 in Boston, Sanchez says he jumped at the chance to shed the weight of the creativity-stifling terrestrial radio format. His site, Street Fix Radio, likewise utilizes content from the other stations on the network.

“[Terrestial radio] program directors are not letting DJs be DJs,” Sanchez says. On his daily show, 3-7 p.m., he’s able to showcase his song-selection skills — and live mixing abilities. This has already become a hallmark of PC Radio Live, as well. Philly mix masters like DJ Truuf provide 15 minutes of live mixing during a break in the morning show.

While Sanchez usually focuses on contemporary hip-hop, he revels in the freedom to dip into the back catalog for lost gems, or switch it up with some R&B, reggae, reggaeton, dance and so forth. He also considers it part of his mission to boost Boston’s up-and-comers, like Young Dapper, Masspike Miles and Foosh and Cash Out Quis. “A great variety of music, without those same 10 tracks every day — that’s what we give them,” he says.

“There are plenty of people with résumés,” Pratt says, before rattling off his own list of lesser-known Philly artists who’ve gotten airplay on the network: Chic Raw, Tone Trump, E. Neff, Soul Rock, and on and on. DJ Ace McClowd helms two of the station’s programs that do the most for new artists, AnR 2 Da Streetz and Gunline Battlegrounds, which showcases rap battles.

Quality programming should lead to increased listenership. But Pratt adds that they’re more willing to help out artists with smaller followings if they see — via Facebook, Twitter and such — they’re willing to promote the station while promoting themselves.

Carr credits the launch of a mobile app, along with the start of the morning show on Feb. 6, as the main factors for PC Radio Live jumping from 3,000 to 25,000 weekly listeners (from 183 countries). “The smartphone is the new Walkman, and we’re the next wave,” Carr says.

The station is set to launch a community-outreach program for kids this summer because, Carr says, they want to “change the whole way entry into radio and the music business works,” while “returning positivity and thought-provoking commentary to urban radio, along with music, through DJs freed of constraints, adequately presented as an art form.”

(editorial@citypaper.net)