Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mac Miller

Mac Miller from jheiv (Creative Commons)

Pittsburgh's newest addition to the hip-hop scene, 19 year old Mac Miller, comes from the gritty urban streets of...Point Breeze. And he's a white Jewish rapper, ala the Beastie Boys.

But hey, don't hold that against Miller (given name: Malcomb McCormick).  Like Wiz and Slimmie, he came out of the City's top incubator of rap, Taylor Allderdice High in Squirrel Hill, and can lay down a thumpin' beat with a good time lyric; no ganstas are being bred on Tilbury Avenue.

He had his hip-hop epiphany as a 15 year old freshman. Once a neighborhood jock, Mac dedicated himself to his music full time. Before launching his solo career, he was part of the crew The Ill Spoken with rapper Beedie and is a self taught musician, playing guitar, drums and the piano.

Mac developed a local following by selling homemade mix tapes during shows and over the internet. His 2009 release, "The High Life," hit the big time with about 30,000 downloads, and that jump-started his career.

When he reached 18, Miller signed with Rostrum Records, run by Squirrel Hill's Benji Goldberg (it's also Wiz's label), and released his mixtape debut, "K.I.D.S." in 2010. The vids captured over 2.5 million YouTube hits in the first month they were posted. Miller passes a lot a credit onto his long-time producer, Rex Arrow, who makes low-budget vids look like Hollywood noir.

Miller is extraordinarily adept at using social media. His vid "Donald Trump" has more than 12 million hits and he tweets to 467,000+ Twitter followers, second among Pittsburghers. He trails just Wiz, who has a couple of million tweet-mates. And Wiz isn't just a school-mate, label-mate, and brother rapper; the pair are buds (OK, homeys) from way back.

That fall, he went on his first Rostrum tour with label mate Boaz and opened for Wiz Khalifa at the Stage AE in December. Since then, he's been busy selling out dates on the Smoker's Club Tour with Curren$y and Big K.R.I.T., with Wiz on the Campus Consciousness Tour and his own Incredibly Dope Tour.

Like label mate Wiz last year, Miller is part of XXL Magazine's Freshman Class for 2011, scoring a cover shot sporting his Bucco cap. He released his new mixtape, "Best Day Ever" in May. It was pre-released in March as a free download on Upstream, and crashed the site for awhile, drawing over 200,000 downloads over the first weekend.

Most of the tracks were recorded at Lawrenceville's ID Labs, and show off cuts like "Nikes On My Feet" and "Keep Floating," performed with Wiz and celebrating the high life. Miller raps behind bass lines and a synth, and his lyrics range from mind worm hooks to lighthearted lines, definitely back-to-roots old school hip-hop. Don't expect that high-energy, fun-loving mood to change.

Miller told Rolling Stone's Blaine McEvoy that "Whether I’m discussing important topics in the world or not, people tell me that my music is something they use to cheer themselves up if they’re having a bad day, and that’s something positive I can bring to the world. If I can keep helping people like that, then I’m going to continue doing that."

His plan now is to have an album ready for late summer, before he embarks on his first international tour in September. It's time to rep the town to the world, and what better ambassador than Mac Miller?


Friday, June 10, 2011

WDUQ-ing It Out


OK, before we get into the WDUQ story, let's develop a little timeline:

1949 - The station begins as a Duquesne student-run classical music outlet.
1952 - Hourly newscasts begin.
1969 - First jazz show broadcast, a live local set.
1971 - The station becomes a charter member of NPR.
1972 - Power increases from 2,750 watts to 25,000.
1972 - WDUQ broadcasts first "All Things Considered" show.
1989 - In addition to several NPR shows, daytime jazz debuts.
1997 - JazzWorks begins.
2005 - New transmitter built on Mt. Washington; four "translator" stations added to network.
2006 - Multiple HD channels offered for jazz, news, blues.
2007 - WQED carries Planned Parenthood ads, which does not sit well with the good fathers of Duquesne, who ordered them removed.  Independent station, hey?
2009 - Duquesne starts looking for a buyer for the station, citing WDUQ's independence from the university.

And that started the ball rolling.  Led by WDUQ GM Scott Hanley, WDUQ employees and supporters, under the banner of Pittsburgh Public Media (PPM), threw their hat into the ownership ring. Public Radio Capital, a Colorado non-profit, came aboard as consultants to help broker the deal.  PPM offered $6.5M for the station during negotiations.

Then the foundations (The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation in the lead) bought a 60-day delaying option on the sale process to evaluate what was going on with the ol' public radio station.  They weren't fans of the status quo, and hired Charlie Humphrey, a local non-profit fiscal and organizational go-to guy, to explore creating a next-generation public media news service, something that Pittsburgh lacked.

It took 30 days to figure out that none of the local players were willing to take on supporting an all-news public station and an outside entity would have to be found or created. WYEP and Public Radio Capital, the former partners of PPM, joined forces. They offered $6M to make WDUQ a full-time NPR outlet; Duquesne took it, to the jeers and tears of Pittsburgh's jazz fans.

As you can see from the timeline, NPR and jazz coexisted for decades at WDUQ; that doesn't mean that the alliance was easy. The station is a nice news source locally; its website hosts one of the better daily news capsules around here, and it was a charter member of the NPR network. It's also the last holdout in a City that is synonymous with great jazz, and hosts programming that is syndicated through 60 other stations. Its jazz impresario, Tony Mowod, is also the founder of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society.

But jazz is a niche musical market. Just look at how many local clubs have folded and much infighting there is even among the fans; be-bop and fusion cats are unquestionably from different planets. People love their oldies, too, but how often do the classic rock stations change formats, and who airs doo-wop anymore except mom-and-pop shops?

The truth is that Duquesne has subsidized WDUQ throughout its existence. The amount they've pumped into the station is confidential but thought to be in the neighborhood of $200,000 -$500,000 in recent years. Both sides realized that the foundation community would be the key to WDUQ's eventual format, and rest assured that the grant-makers are pretty steely-eyed when it comes to the bottom line.

WDUQ is the fourteenth rated Arbitron station in the region, and so is a fairly valuable asset. It's also funded by underwriters and membership, and the foundations saw the NPR model as the better blueprint to cut into that revenue gap that Duquesne filled. So it's easy enough to see why they selected a NPR format; just follow the money, and a full-time NPR service is the superior cash cow.

They left six hours per week out of an original 100 for jazz. They'll also have a 24/7 dedicated HD channel and online stream of jazz programming as a sop for the fans, who are taking their chagrin to the FCC. That's just a delaying tactic; the FCC doesn't involve itself in format spats.

So here's the end result: Duquesne has rid itself of a deficit operation and will get a financial infusion sufficient to endow a couple of chairs. Pittsburgh will join the major markets with a full-time NPR news and information station, and that changeover has resulted in increased, not declining, membership in other regions. Jazz followers get the short end of the stick, and can be expected to vote with their radio dials.

Goodbye WDUQ, hello NPR.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WAMO Back on the Air

Starting this week, WAMO 100 (101.1 FM and 660 AM) picked up the torch of those famous call letters, absent from the city scene for the past two years after the original WAMO was sold to St. Joseph's Missions, a Catholic talk-radio outfit.

Tim Martz of San-Franciso based Martz Communications purchased stations WPYT AM- FM in Wilkinsburg, and got control of the legacy WAMO call letters from an inactive eastern Pennsylvania station.  The new WAMO started airing taped stuff in late May, and is now unrolling live.

They have some big shoes to fill. They know it, and plan on being more than Pittsburgh's urban station. WAMO had a resume of 50 years on the air in this town, and most of them were spent as audio voice and fabric of the black community.

Early WAMO DJ Mary Dee has been credited by many with coming up with the black radio formula of serving up urban music mixed with a strong component of community involvement, and WAMO became its epitome. The new ownership promises to return the station to its roots; they're already reaching out for people to join the "WAMO Street Team," which hopefully will serve as more than a PR vehicle.

We'll see how that community rep thing works out. One thing that's certain, though, is that the hip-hop, rap and urban scene needes a jolt, and WAMO can provide it. Hey, just filling the urban void in Pittsburgh will be welcome; it's hard to fathom how a region as large as ours was left without a full-time urban station.

Another aspect of city living that may have fallen below the radar is Pittsburgh's ability to draw urban acts. They were a tough enough sell when WAMO was in its heyday, but without a station to promote the show and push songs over the long haul, many national acts just bypassed the area.

Now, WAMO 100 is joining with Live Nation to bring acts such as Bootsy Collins to Stage AE on June 24th, and rapper Lil' Wayne to First Niagara Pavilion on July 23rd. With locals like Whiz and Mac blowing up and other area acts right behind them, Pittsburgh may become a destination spot for urban shows.

Hey, they're having their on-air shakedown problems. Pittsburgh is an old-school town, and they'll have to weigh that when coming up with a playlist. Even when WAMO was all that, the mix among the latest hip-hop, adult contemporary, gospel, older sounds, local flavor and talk was hotly debated. Brittany Spears and Ke$ha seem to be a stretch for an urban format, too.

But that's all stuff the station manager, Laura Varner Norman, will sort out. And she has the local cred; a Pitt grad, she was a long-time sales exec for Sheridan Broadcasting and was hired away from Philly's Radio One.

People are waiting for jocks, too. WAMO always had a stable full of personalities in the past, but haven't announced a regular schedule of hosts yet (heck, they haven't even tweeted on their Twitter account or posted anything on their Facebook page) so it would seem they're still feeling their way around in the market.

We're hoping it all works out. The market needed an urban station, and the black community was looking for a nexus to reconnect with both musically and socially. WAMO has always been that presence.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

TL Back on the Air

Terry Lee from WIXZ 1360 Memories (Photo provided by Jim Metzer)

George Blake Balicky, host of the Jazz Cafe and long-time music biz pro, dropped us a line about the Mon Valley's favorite son, Terry Lee. He told us:

"Terry has moved back (to the area from Ohio) and will be on the air four nights per week on WLSW, Music Power 104 (103.9 FM). He will have a show on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights from 8 PM until midnight. You can reach Terry at "

Rejoice, young lovers, especially those of you with gray hair - TL is spinning again. Think you can find your way back to China Wall?