I’m happy to announce the launch of the Hip-Hop Radio Archive.
The Hip-Hop Radio Archive’s goal is to preserve and share hip-hop radio from the 1980s and 1990s. Whether the show was legendary or from a small college with few listeners, whether it was broadcasting the first sounds of hip-hop from New York City or introducing Eastern European audiences to the music, it’s all important and should be preserved.
Pre-internet, radio was one of the most powerful methods of spreading hip-hop culture to the heads that wanted to hear it. Tapes were made of legendary New York City shows like Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack and Marley Marl’s In Control and then traded around the city and the country, introducing hip-hop fans to artists and songs they’d never heard before. Even as hip-hop’s popularity grew exponentially in the late 1980s and national video shows like Yo! MTV Raps hit the airwaves, regional radio shows popped up around the country gave voice to artists that would never make a video for mainstream audiences. In the 1990s, radio became the proving ground for lyricists looking to show themselves worthy of respect. If you had a wack on-air appearance, it was going to be tough to recover.
My own introduction to hip-hop radio came first through Lady B on Power 99 in Philadelphia one night in 1986 when I heard them playing Eric B. & Rakim’s “My Melody.” I recorded the occasional song off of the radio, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s when Club Krush (later known as Raw Deal) on Princeton University’s WPRB that I started to record entire episodes obsessively. If it wasn’t for these shows, I may never have been introduced to the Poor Righteous Teachers, the Funk Family, Tony D, and Almighty & KD Ranks.
Despite radio’s ephemeral nature, thankfully a lot of tapes of shows have survived. Collectors have dug them out of closets and posted them to forums, music blogs, YouTube, and Mixcloud. They’ve tagged them, traded them, and unearthed more. Unfortunately, the storage of these gems is, at best, tenuous. File sharing sites like Megaupload have disappeared without any notice, taking terabytes of music history down with them. Soundcloud came very close to shutting down a few months back. In truth, any commercial storage site is risky to count on for long-term preservation of files. Additionally, with all this great content, there’s no single place to easily browse, learn, and explore.
The Hip-Hop Radio Archive doesn't aim to compete with any existing sites, but to supplement them. The HHRA exists to help tape collectors get their collection onto the Internet Archive for safer long-term storage. It exists to help former college radio DJs share their unknown hip-hop show with a new audience, right alongside classic shows. And it exists to help bring attention to existing sites and collections already housing deep hip-hop history.
A Brief Intro to the HHRA
Right from the front page, you can explore by show, location, college, or station with the option to filter by date.
Let’s say you want to see the episodes from June 1991 of Raw Deal. You get a brief history of the show as well as set of three random albums that were released that month.
Once you click through a show, you get a nice view of the episode with a stream right at the top (in most cases):
The sidebar provides context for what was happening in hip-hop at the time and let’s you explore other shows from around the same period:
The site is straightforward, so it’s best to just jump in. Explore, listen, and immerse yourself in the world of early hip-hop radio.
Yes, the Hip-Hop Radio Archive has just launched, but thoughts have already started to drift to the future. Things like a podcast of audio interviews with former hosts, collaboration with official archives, and things of that nature are on my mind, but first and foremost is the content.
The big challenge with an effort like this is, of course, getting the shows. If you’ve got a collection or used to host a show, let’s talk! Did you have a show on the radio that you’ve been looking to save and share? Have a web site where you’ve been posting links to your digitized audio on file sharing sites for years? Are you an existing archive that includes hip-hop radio? Hit me up.
Even if you don’t have tapes to contribute, you can still help out by submitting extra information about a given episode such as featured guests, names of the DJs, or track listings. The bottom of each episode has an e-mail link where you can submit updates.
In the meantime, time travel by firing up some classic episode and getting geeked for the world premiere of a song that came out 25 years ago.