As Program Director of Sirius XM’s Hip Hop Nation (channel 44) and Talent Manager for the satellite network’s Shade 45 (channel 45, produced by Eminem), Reggie Hawkins oversees one of the most important and innovative Hip-Hop platforms heard around the globe. He also runs his own venture, Hawk Media Consulting. We at Music Industry Quarterly were graced by Reggie’s presence last spring during the Music-Entertainment Conference in San Diego hosted by Urban Network Digital & MIQ, and are glad that he made time for this recent sit-down to talk about the growing popularity of Hip-Hop Nation.
Q: What’s a typical work day like for you?
Reggie: I wake up and pray. Then it’s off and running a mixture between programming the station, scheduling the music, coordinating guests appearances and getting the essentials from those guests. There’s grooming air talent which is a really time consuming aspect of my day. And then there is the element of strategizing, being creative and coming up with more creative programming. I’m also on the air overnights, Wednesday through Friday, with the “Sarg & OC Review.”
We’ve certainly been able to exploit our advantages as an uncensored platform. As the industry has shifted its focus to more reality show-like content, we’ve put more emphasis on the artists and their music. We expect for artists to come in and do more than just the typical interview. Artists may also be asked to perform. Content is allowed to be performed in its original state, the way the artist originally intended.
Are you ever concerned about offending listeners, especially during interviews?
Most artists don’t come in to shock listeners with a bunch of cuss words during interviews but artists have latitude in our environment to perform or speak freely in a way they would not on any other platform. I think that goes to our authenticity. Just look at freestyling. Do you ever hear people freestyle today and try to edit their cuss words? It sounds crazy. The idea of freestyling on regular radio is done.
Talk about grooming air talent.
Because I came from WQHT-FM, Hot 97, in New York City, I was taught to have great content in all of your dayparts. Listeners wouldn’t turn their dials because all of our dayparts were so strong. When I look at constructing content in the Hip-Hop Nation environment, we really want to have as much strong air talent and content in each of our dayparts as possible. You see the evidence of that in what we’re doing mornings with Renada Romain on Hip Hop Nation or with Sway in the Morning on Shade 45. Terrestrial radio is taking notice to what we’re doing here and coveting our air talent.
People have so many choices today. How are you establishing loyal listeners to the subscription service?
Thankfully, the service had already branded itself before the explosion of all of these other platforms. As everyone tries to over-analyze, over-think and over-research things, it’s really about hiring people that know what great radio is. Yes, one can rotate the same six songs but what type of original content or original programming are you surrounding those songs with? What type of impact are you making with that programming? All of those things are important and you have to have the right personnel in place. It’s important not to be overly-comfortable but to also push the envelope. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
Discuss your music balance of currents vs. re-currents and classics?
Research is a tool but knowing your audience is an art. Knowing what your genre and demographic wants is an art. There is a misconception that people want to hear just new music all the time. There would be no such thing as a hit or a favorite song if that were the case. Within an hour timeframe we have a pretty good balance of playing new music, to classics to re-currents. Demographically, I would say our sweet spot is between 18-44, males. So, throughout the day and in various dayparts we are programming to teenagers, young adults and their parents who all can enjoy this thing called Hip-Hop.
How much input do your air personalities have?
I pretty much program the music but they have the latitude to highlight special music, special features, etc. I think the power is given to the actual DJs more than the personalities. We have DJ Scream who represents the South and Southern Hip-Hop. We have DJ Envy from WQHT. There’s DJ Premier who’s a pioneer in our industry. We have DJ Eclipse and DJ Suss One, [the latter] who we believe to be an emerging star.
Where do you see the future of Hip-Hop?
The future is as bright as it’s ever been. When you look at an artist like Drake who is the King of Hip-Hop now and the most streamed artist in 2015 that tells you the power of this culture. And there are Pop stations that aren’t playing Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” There are Pop stations not playing the Weeknd. Hip-Hop is Pop culture but some critics are trying to box us in as one thing. That’s not cool! The future of this music is limitless, especially as other genres are dying. So often when people complain or try and pigeon-hole Hip-Hop, it’s coming from a place of bitterness. They’ve gotta stop fighting this thing and embrace it. Let’s celebrate the accomplishments of this genre.
What’s the best thing about being Reggie Hawkins?
I come from Laplace, Louisiana, and was blessed enough to come to New York City, graduate from NYU and work in an industry I love. That shows the complete glory and grace of God…and that’s the best part of being me!