By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
By Kelsey McClure
By Lindsay Toler
Stations play the same songs over and over because, they say, that's what their listeners want.
"I never turn on my radio and hear a song that I've never heard before. Never," says Chuck Atkins, operations manager for the Beat and Clear Channel's two other urban-formatted stations in the St. Louis market, Magic 105 and Gospel 1600 AM. If that were to occur, says Atkins, the DJ would "get popped right out of a job, like that. This is big-time radio, man. You don't want to do that."
"People don't want to hear a new record," agrees DJ Kaos. He sees it when he spins records out in the clubs. "You could be playing the hottest jam out right now, and you follow the hottest jam with the song that you think is going to be the next hottest jam. But they still don't know it, and they clear the floor. They clear the floor. In radio, they switch the dial."
Kaos is having a ball tonight on the radio. It's 8:30, and for the past two hours he has been stumping his listeners with a word problem. He's trying to give away some cash -- both stations are always bribing their listeners to keep their fingers in the holster -- and he's funneled through dozens of callers, none of whom has cracked the code. The overhead fluorescents are turned down low so most of the light emanates from computer screens, the glowing buttons on the control board and the phones, and a TV set broadcasting the World Series. His face, reflecting the light sources, beams red, white and bronze.
Kaos loves the phone, and when he's not barking into the mic or singing along with the music, he's on the phones live. He could tape the calls -- Nicks does, for the most part -- and air them later, to prevent random cussing, but he prefers the immediacy of live radio. His headphones perched on his head like a low-flying halo, he flirts with the ladies and barks at the men, who he calls, each and every one, his Dawgs. He'd half-hug them all if he could.
"How old are you?" he asks one female listener.
"You seventeen!? Girl, you sound every bit of 27."
Kaos's voice turns sweet: "Yes you do, yes you do. You're strong in the voice -- hold on, beautiful....."
With that, Kaos opens the mic and gets to romancing the lot of his ladies over the airwaves.
Kaos, a.k.a. Your Cousin, doesn't consider J-Nicks to be the competition, even though they run neck-and-neck in the ratings. Sitting in the 100.3 studio, he can see his competition through the glass partition at the station's sister station, Z107.7, which features the city's top-rated evening show among the coveted 18-to-34 demographic: the Sid Radio Network. "The [other] radio station can say it's competition," he says in reference to Q-95.5, "but to me, I look at the top dog. Doing radio 18 to 24, which is our demo, it's them guys," he says, gesturing across the partition. "They're in the same building, they're right across the hall, I can see him; he can see me. Everybody's like, 'Q this, Q that.' I'm like, 'Dude, you're stooping to their level.'"
The most recent Arbitron ratings book, which covers the summer, shows Kaos trailing Nicks by a slim margin: From 7 p.m. until midnight, when the two are going mano a mano, 12.5 percent of local radio listeners were tuned to the Q and J-Nicks; 12.2 percent had locked in the Beat and Big Sexy. (The Beat, however, has come out on top in the overall ratings battle for the past year and a half.)
Like Nicks, Kaos is after the teenagers. Right now he's hosting the "Hottest High School Conference Call," a variation on a theme that's been a mainstay on the radio since the 1950s: teens calling in to represent their schools. The same institutions they despise when they're in class are the ones that they adore in the evenings.
"What's the high school?!" Kaos screams to yet another caller.
"Who's this on the line?!"
"Representing the class of...?!"
"What station you listen to?!"
"You know I keep it locked on 100.3 the Beat, Cuz!"
(J-Nicks has a similar nightly segment, the "High School Check In": "City schools, county schools, country schools, private schools! Gimme a call! Represent your funky little booty-ass school!")
"Television, Internet, CD players, XBox, you name it," Kaos observes during an off-air moment. "I'm going against everything. It's extremely hard. You're going to lose people. The thing is to try and keep them for as long as you can. It's not that you're doing a bad job; it's that people have options. It's not like it used to be, when radio was the dominant thing. What you have to do is to get out here and work your magic."
St. Louis is in the midst of a record-label boom the likes of which it has never seen. Cheap recording technology, coupled with the buzz of hit records and the deep pockets of major labels looking to find the next Nelly or Chingy in a heretofore-overlooked market, has resulted in a gold rush.