Columbia University and its WKCR 89.9FM radio station have removed Sucio Smash as host and DJ of Squeeze Radio, a long running hip hop music program airing Friday mornings from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., to the dismay of many artists, fans and listeners of the program. In a public plea on Thursday, Oct. 14, Sucio Smash declared, “I’ve been informed by Columbia University that after 20 years, our beloved radio show will come to an end.” And in the early Friday morning hours, with visits from legendary hip hop ambassadors such as Large Professor and Jay Smooth, and artists who help personify underground New York City hip hop such as Tanya Morgan, Mazzi, Fresh Daily and El-P serving as impromptu eulogists, Squeeze Radio as it has been known, bid farewell to the New York City airwaves that have broadcast the various incarnations of the program for the past two decades.
Squeeze Radio is rich in New York City radio tradition, particularly in regards to hip hop music. Originated in 1990 by DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia as The Stretch and Bobbito Show, the program became an on-air breeding ground for some of New York hip hop’s most influential up-and-coming artists. In an ironically timed testament to this, a recently discovered extended version of a February 1995 segment from the show is currently making internet rounds, featuring a then-largely-unknown Jay-Z, freestyling alongside a then-more-known Big L, the revered Harlem MC who was killed in 1999, a session that famed DJ and producer DJ Premier calls, “the best moment ever recorded on radio.” Many in hip hop might agree.
After Armstrong left the show in 1998, Garcia continued with the addition of Lord Sear, as the show transformed in name to The CM Radio Famalam Program, continuing in the tradition of highlighting New York area artists and maintaining programming more centered on a “purist” form of hip hop, shunning the type of rap that would come to be known as “commercial,” a sub-genre growing explosively in the early 2000s. Sucio Smash joined the program soon after, and upon Garcia and Sear’s retirement in 2003, took over as the sole host of the renamed Squeeze Radio, holding fast to an unofficial “true” hip hop programming charter.
Click here for our coverage of the Stretch and Bobbito 20th Anniversary Reunion Show held on WKCR Oct. 22, 2010
This year, Sucio Smash began planning a tribute to the show’s origins and familial continuance throughout the years. “I requested a meeting for a 24 hour hip hop music special,” Sucio Smash told Birthplace Magazine. “They have 24 hour specials for African music and Latin music, but never one for hip hop. I thought, ‘What better time than the 20th anniversary’? Instead, I was told they were canceling the show.”
Decisions regarding programming on WKCR are made by a five-member student board of directors, in conjunction with faculty advisor Benjamin Young. Murmuring over the fact that the program was not actually being run by students began growing, as it had occasionally done so in the past. Switching the show to complete student control was something that had been “talked about off and on for five or six years,” a representative of WKCR told us by phone the day before the final show, when we asked about the planned transition. After all, she stated, the programs are supposed to be “student run.”
But that is not always the case. Jay Smooth, a pillar of New York radio as the longtime host of the Underground Railroad radio show on WBAI tells us, “There are other WKCR DJs that are still on the air after many years of not being a student, including their most famous on-air host, Phil Schaap, who has been doing multiple jazz shows on WKCR for four decades.” Indeed, Schapp celebrated the 40 year anniversary of his broadcasting on WKCR in February, 2010.
According to Sucio Smash, if there was extensive conversation regarding a leadership change at the radio show, it was largely done behind closed doors. “There was never a conversation with me about plans to cancel the show,” he insists. “We’ve always been open to students being involved with the show.” Yet, the board chose not to seek to incorporate students into the existing show, but opted instead to oust the current occupants entirely. “The board will be gone next year,” Sucio Smash says, with frustration in his tone. “This is a monumental show with monumental history. Jay-Z’s first radio appearance, early Nas, Wu-Tang… I could go on and on.”
Jay Smooth agrees, telling us, “The idea that one of our most vital, historic hip hop institutions is being destroyed, because of a thoughtless, snap decision from the five undergrads that make up WKCR’s station board, is just mind-boggling.”
WKCR, who did not directly respond to our inquires, did send out a general statement to listeners who voiced concern over the decision, attempting to explain their side of the matter. The letter, reads as follows:
Thank you for voicing your concern about Squeeze Radio.
After many months of deliberation, the undergraduate Board of Directors of WKCR has decided to hand Squeeze Radio over to the leadership of a group of undergraduate student DJs. Please allow us to explain our reasoning for this decision.
To begin, we would like to emphasize that we appreciate the years of work that DJ Sucio Smash has put into the show. He is a talented and devoted DJ who is well known in New York City and around the world. We are confident that he will continue to contribute to the hip-hop community.
However, WKCR has always been dedicated to student leadership. (Please remember that Squeeze radio began as a student show, run by Stretch and Bobbito, two undergraduates.) We work to maintain a radio station where undergraduates can become not only contributors, but also artistic directors. This, we believe, makes WKCR an extraordinary place. While, at other radio stations, student interns may assist with a few basic tasks, at WKCR, students learn to produce high-quality programs of their own. Unfortunately, Sucio Smash is not a student, he a well-established professional DJ. We feel that we must uphold the WKCR constitution and give students the opportunity to create a hip-hop radio show.
We would also like to stress that hours from1:00 am to 5:00 am on Thursdays will remain devoted to hip-hop. In each of our music departments, we strive to present a full spectrum of the best music from all eras of music history. Without hip-hop, one of the most significant and exciting developments in music would be missing from our airwaves. In time, we hope that our DJs will be able to serve in the preservation and proliferation of this vital, still-evolving genre.
In keeping with the mission of WKCR, we will remain committed to alternative programming.We aim to present hip-hop artists who cannot be heard on other radio stations. You will not hear the “Top 40” artists of mainstream radio, but you will hear the greatest artists of underground hip-hop.
The next few months will be a period of experimentation and learning for our student DJs. They are an enthusiastic group, eager to find the best tracks and to share them with you. Please feel free to offer constructive feedback, and please support these DJs as they perfect their craft.
Squeeze Radio has not ended. We hope that the legacy that began twenty years ago will continue for many years to come.
WKCR Board of Directors 2010
Jay Smooth goes on to raise issues with this statement. “Bobbito was not a Columbia undergrad,” he asserts, directly disputing statements in the WKCR email. ”He was never a Columbia student.” (Editor’s Note: Initially, both men were mistakingly identified as non-students. Stretch Armstrong commented to clarify, as he was a Columbia student at the time. He then brought Bobbito on board, who was “not affiliated with Columbia in any way”. Bobbito did continue on once Stretch Armstrong left the show, and in any event, the statement claims both were students, which is still not the case.) In addition, Jay Smooth contends, the WKCR constitution does not specifically stipulate any such restriction requiring shows to be helmed by students, a fact further evidenced by the aforementioned Phil Schaap.
What is clear, however, is that regardless of any real or perceived inconsistencies in the explanation provided, the university, station and the board of directors surely have the right to decide the fate of the time slot, and to who the reins of control should go. The larger issue here may be that the university and the board are naively unaware of the program’s historic and ongoing significance, and how turning it over to those who are not intimately familiar with its long-standing heritage, could be considered tantamount to the destruction of a cultural landmark. A decision, proponents say, that should not be taken lightly. “There would be no history, no consistency,” Sucio Smash says, about any future incarnation of the show that would be directed by radio greenhorns.
As such, it remains unclear to those deeply vested in the independent and underground hip hop music universe how WKCR can possibly honor the pledge to continue “the legacy that began twenty years ago,” when any representation from that reign has been effectively dismissed. Show advocates insist that “preservation and proliferation” of such a carefully cultivated conduit of hip hop music and culture, cannot be accomplished without a seasoned connection to the community that no rookie broadcasters could hope to achieve. “Telling listeners that ‘Squeeze Radio is continuing, just with different hosts,’” says Jay Smooth, “only adds insult to injury.”
Though the tone of Friday’s finale varied from nostagia, to frustration, to hints of anger, Sucio Smash expressed appreciation for the opportunity he has been given, as well as humbled support for a fan-driven online petition feverishly circulating through the internet. Frazzled by the course of events, speaking in the exasperated, soft tone of a weary soldier, rage seemed the farthest emotion from his mind.
“We’re just trying to save the show,” he sighed.
Jay Smooth is diplomatic in his assessment as well, after himself speaking with Mr. Young and members of the board. “They mean well,” he surmises, “but it was obvious that they’re just not conversant in the culture they are dealing with, and have no clue how big a mistake they are making.”
A big enough mistake, he feels, to warrant action, as he implores those who care about hip hop, “to send these folks a friendly email, and help them understand the degree to which they’re playing themselves.”
The “final” Squeeze Radio program can be downloaded here
UPDATE: According to Stretch Armstrong, he, Bobbito Garcia and Lord Sear will be collectively filling the time slot this week, for a “one off” reunion show.