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You will hear plenty of Maroon 5, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Pink on the CBS-owned radio station 94.7 Fresh FM, but don’t expect anything resembling hip-hop music on the station. As Fresh’s slogan proudly advertises, 94.7 FM is all about “Today’s Best Hits, Without the Rap.”
Steve Davis, operations manager for CBS Radio Washington and program director at Fresh FM, says rap music just doesn’t appeal to its demographic. The people listening to Fresh FM, he says, are mostly women ages 18 to 49. “Typically, rap music appeals to a large male audience,” Davis writes via email. “For example, a very popular song today is ‘Thriftshop’ from Macklemore [and Ryan Lewis]. And while I do love that song, it is not something we would feature on Fresh.”
Davis says a lot of thought goes into the type of programming Fresh chooses. “We make our music decisions locally with help from a number of research sources that are specific to D.C. and our target audience,” he writes. He says he follows “national trends” and other similarly programmed stations to keep an ear open to what listeners want. Fresh FM’s listeners, he says, have a pretty good idea of what they don’t want to hear, too. “Rap to our listeners are true rap songs from Macklemore, Eminem, 2 Chains [sic], Li’l Wayne [sic], etc.,” he writes.
But Fresh’s dedication to rap-free airwaves goes pretty deep. In order to make sure that the station doesn’t even momentarily expose its listeners to hip-hop, 94.7 plays rap-free versions of pop songs that were recorded with rap verses. So, on Fresh FM, only, say, a Jay-Z-free version of Justin Timberlake‘s “Suit & Tie” would be acceptable. “We play the ‘no rap’ versions of hit songs that are provided by the labels and OK’ed by the artists,” Davis writes.
Don’t stations like Fresh 94.7 worry about alienating a large segment of listeners with such an obviously negative stance on hip-hop? “[The slogan] just sounds like something your grandparents would say,” The Root D.C. columnist and Washington Post Express Local News Editor Clinton Yates writes via email. “I’m sure there [are] people that might take offense to the obvious implication that rap music is somehow ‘less than,’ but more importantly it’s just kind of a stupid slogan. In a market like this, there are far more people who might be turned off by that, than attracted to it, I would think, even if just on a matter of principle.”
Yet, clearly, 94.7 FM—-which, in past lives, played light rock and classic rock—-sees an advantage to touting its hip-hop-free policy. “We decided to use the slogan,” he writes, “so obviously we saw a benefit.”
Fresh isn’t the first station to openly shun rap music: Sacramento CBS station Now 100.5 FM and Hits 102.7 FM in Rapid City, S.D., are among the stations that use the same slogan. When Tampa Bay, Fla., radio station Play 98.7 launched in 2010—-using the same tagline—-Tampa Bay Times writer Jay Cridlin criticized the station’s openly exclusionary motto. “You don’t want to play Young Jeezy or Rick Ross? Fine. There are other stations that will, and they don’t resort to promising ‘today’s best hip-hop, without all those noisy guitars.'”
Because this isn’t a policy isolated to Fresh FM, some see it as a broader problem within commercial radio. The main issue, says Atlanta-based writer Carlton Hargro, is that commercial radio in general peddles tired ideas about what music, especially hip-hop, means. “There is so much great music being made these days that doesn’t promote such heinous stereotypes—-but radio actively avoids these artists, opting instead to put songs about gold grills, molly, date rape and more in heavy rotation,” he says. “I guess program directors think people want to hear this style of hip-hop, but is anyone happy with commercial radio?”