By Mariama Leblanc
When DJ X got into hip-hop in the mid-1980s, there were only two places to hear it on the radio: The Fantastic Voyage on CKLN and The Jam Factor on CHRY.
No matter, he was down.
“I just loved the culture of hip-hop,” X, 29, said. “I loved the music. I loved the DJing. I just wanted to be a part of it.”
By 1988, X was the DJ on The Fantastic Voyage, cutting up classics by Big daddy Kane and MC Lyte, alongside host Ron Nelson.
And hip-hop fans such as Jemini were listening even beyond CKLN’s broadcast range in St. Catharines. Growing up as one of the only black kids in her area, all of her friends in junior high school were white — CKLN was Jemini’s connection to her identity.
CKLN’s signal went static west of Mississauga but Jemini and her brother acted as an in-house CRTC, rigging up the radio so they could get CKLN. For her part, Jemini sat holding a knife and fork up to the radio every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., until her arms got tired.
“That was my link to who I was,” she said. “All the questions I had about being a young black woman in North America were answered there.”
When Jemini came to Ryerson to study radio and television arts, she went straight to CKLN to meet X — who was now doing The Power Move, the show that replaced The Fantastic Voyage.
The Power Move was just as Jemini had imagined it — smoky, dark and full of guys. Soon she was co-hosting the show with X and in 1997, she started her own women-centred, hip-hop show, Droppin’ Dimes.
Seven years later Jemini, now 26, started co-hosting The Power Move and 13 years after X walked into The Fantastic Voyage, Jemini and X are going live-to-air as paid DJs on The Flow 93.5, Toronto’s first commercial urban format station.
Milestone Communications, The Flow’s owner, has been bidding for an urban radio station for 12 years — it lost its 1990 bid for an FM station to Rawlco Communications, Kiss 92’s original owner, and lost its 1997 bid to the CBC.
But community DJs such as X and Jemini have been instrumental in getting The Flow on the air, interviewing Milestone representatives on their shows. Jemini even went to Ottawa to make depositions to the CRTC about why she thought Toronto should have an urban radio station.
So when Jemini and X go to air this Thursday, they won’t just be commercial radio DJs — they’ll bring their experience supporting Milestone and black music at CKLN.
Added up, that’s 20 years of hip-hop sweat and history.
A typical Saturday at The Power Move was crazy with people. As soon as the show went to air, the phones started ringing off the hook with callers who wanted to freestyle on Eat The Beat, The Power Move’s emcee battle segment. There were even emcees hanging around, waiting to hand X demos of their songs.
The Power Move was popular because of its enduring reputation. But X had his own ways of keeping listeners.
“He knew that listeners always loved controversy,” Jemini said. “People came in and started fights on the air but X always left the mic on.
“He wanted listeners … to have an idea of what was really happening, not just our radio-softened version.”
And it worked for Toronto’s hip-hop scene.
When three of Toronto’s major hip-hop stars — Saukretes, Choclair and Kardinal Offishall — released their first songs in 1995, The Power Move was one of the shows that gave them their initial push. And just before The Power Move ended, Papa Smurf, reigning Eat The Beat champ, held down his spot against all comers for 10 weeks until 16-year-old emcee Mass Addict knocked him off the airwaves.
Jemini’s show Droppin’ Dimes was different. It was a hip-hop show with poetry, jazz and reggae thrown into the mix.
And women ran it.
“It allowed me to rep for the females who love hip-hop and that was really important,” Jemini said.
That meant she did everything from dealing with male callers who didn’t believe co-host Stash was female to adjusting the microphone to fixing the soundboard.
When Jemini goes to air this Thursday on The Flow, she thinks the biggest difference will be that she can’t control how she runs her show or the music she plays. She’s going to miss Droppin’ Dimes.
“That’s my heart,” she says. “That’s my baby. I put a lot of time and love into that show.”
But she says going to The Flow is the next step.
Tim May, CKLN’s music director , says its going to be hard for CKLN to find replacements for X and Jemini.
“You’re not just losing a host, you’re losing a rounded personality,” he says. “We’re losing two very long-term, very strong programmers who have definitely created a following for their work … someone must have been listening.”
That someone was Michelle Price, The Flow’s program director. She says she hired X and Jemini because they’re “intelligent, hip, trendsetters who could fit anywhere.”
She hired community radio DJs because there was no commercial urban radio station in Toronto to recruit from. She listened to X and Jemini’s shows but not to CKLN, CIUT or CHRY. She doesn’t like college radio.
“It seems that people can get on and say anything but there’s no sense of format,” she says.
But it was CKLN and its lack of format that allowed DJ X and Jemini to lay the groundwork for Toronto’s hip-hop scene and a commercial urban radio station such as The Flow.