Fresh airwaves: Local radio station provides a new home for hip-hop

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Damani Harrison (left) and Elijah Campos in the studio of Charlottesville’s new hip-hop radio station, 101.3 Jamz. Photo: Staff photo Damani Harrison (left) and Elijah Campos in the studio of Charlottesville’s new hip-hop radio station, 101.3 Jamz. Photo: Staff photo

It’s time to update your car radio presets, Charlottesville. The long-anticipated launch of a new hip-hop radio station happened on October 5 at midnight when WVAI 101.3 Jamz took to the airwaves. The launch came as the result of more than a year of work by Damani Harrison, Elijah Campos, Jaquan Middleton, Cle Logan and Travis Dyer. The five collaborators are deeply invested in the local music community and joined forces to create the new station.

Barely two weeks into 101.3 Jamz’s existence, approximately 15 DJs are involved—they hail from Charlottesville and Richmond, but also further afield. Some will record mixes and send them in to be played on-air; others will host live shows in the station’s Seminole Square studio. Through this network, the 101.3 Jamz team hopes to cover the entire spectrum of hip-hop, with reggae, go-go and R&B mixed in.

“We’re representing a whole lot of regions and styles,” says Harrison. “Hip-hop has so many sub-genres and we’re really trying to represent the art form in its totality.” Plans for original programming also include hosted shows during the morning and afternoon commute.

Local musicians are encouraged to get involved by submitting recordings to be considered for airplay. Harrison, who is also the artistic director at the Music Resource Center, sees potential in the area. “I’ve seen a lot of amazing artists come through there and then continue their careers locally,” he says. “I’ve always felt as if all these people that I’ve worked with get to this point where they have no outlet for what they’re doing. Now, they’re going to have an outlet. If we see an artist really making a push for themselves, then we want to help them.”

In addition to the genre format, 101.3 Jamz’s coordinators hope to set the station apart by embracing an around-the-clock policy for clean lyrics. “We made a decision to not play explicit songs at any time,” says Campos. Though Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit obscene broadcasts anytime, indecent and profane content is actually allowed from 10pm to 6am, but 101.3 Jamz’s programming will remain clean at all hours as a way to support what Harrison calls “the positive energy that’s around the scene.”

For now, the team is working on the larger issue of getting new music into rotation and keeping the nascent station running smoothly. “It’s a 24/7 job,” says Campos. “We all have our own careers aside from this, but this is something that we’re going to put the time in to make it work.”

As C-VILLE reported earlier this month, 101.3 Jamz is an addition to a radio landscape that was recently altered by WUVA’s format change to country. “By being a centralized hub for hip-hop in Charlottesville, we’re providing a service for a lot of people,” says Harrison.

Though the new station wasn’t conceived as a competitor to WUVA, it wasn’t originally meant to replace it, either. The timing just worked out that way, as minor delays pushed back the launch date. “We all wanted this to happen so much, so we were willing to put as much time into it as we need to,” says Campos. “It’s mainly been an issue of getting enough money to actually make it happen.”

With significant support from individual investors, start-up funding finally came together in time for a test run in September, after which equipment needed to be tweaked and other work accomplished before the station could go on-air.

The 101.3 Jamz team wasn’t alone in these efforts, though. The station is a member of the Virginia Radio Coop along with three others, including Rock Hits 92.3 and WPVC 94.7, a progressive talk radio station. The cooperative model allows the four stations to split monthly facilities costs. Each operates as a Low Power FM station, a broadcasting option created by the FCC in 2000. Stations within this designation are required to function as nonprofits and produce non-commercial radio at a lower wattage than commercial radio stations. At present, the FCC reports there are five LPFM stations in Charlottesville, with the inclusion of WXTJ 100.1, an outgrowth of the University of Virginia’s WTJU 91.1.

Over the past few months, the co-op station coordinators have been busy building fan bases on social media while constructing shared studio space. What was once a large, open retail store has now been divided into four on-air studios with recording and common areas. It’s still a little rough around the edges, but three of the four stations are broadcasting, and online streaming will launch soon.

Harrison is hopeful that underwriters will be attracted by the opportunity to reach the co-op’s diverse audience through group packages rather than underwriting an individual station. This can help ease the fundraising burden on any one station. The 101.3 Jamz team plans to support the station’s ongoing operations with DJ appearances and branded merchandise.

“We got [the station] started, but it’s going to take the community to keep it going,” Harrison says.

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