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Detroit's Real Talk: Radio Show Has a Mission to Create a Movement

Spin through the radio dial in the D on a Sunday evening and you are likely to come across what seems like a community public access broadcast on 107.5 FM WGPR. But it is not. It's RealTalk FM, a program that airs weekly from 6-8 p.m., and while there is much talk and local guests, it is turning into more than the run-of-the-mill radio show fare.

Just ask Ken "Blanks" Harrell, founder and executive producer of RealTalk FM, and he'll tell you that while ratings success is a good thing, what he and his team are trying to do is create a movement to both empower and mobilize Detroiters to really drive change across the city.

"It started out of the calling to utilize the resources surrounding me to do something positive and meaningful for the city of Detroit and in the city of Detroit," says Harrell, 30. He was working at WGPR as an account executive selling advertising for the station's shows two years ago when he decided he wanted to do something bigger. He says he began pitching idea after idea, until he came up with one the station's management eventually liked.

"He came to me with an idea for a show about the community, with a number of different topics, and it was different than what some others were doing," says Fernando Green, longtime operations manager at WGPR.

Green has been at the station for about 20 years, and says he liked Harrell's enthusiasm and encouraged him to follow his passion.

Harrell was initially trying to help the station boost ratings, create a hot new product and diversify its audience. But then he began to think about what he could do to truly be innovative.

Rethinking radio

Can a radio show become a community service vehicle that motivates people to help clean up neighborhoods, help small business owners grow their operations, and at the same time promote all that is good about Detroit? That is the big idea Harrell came up with in early 2008, and Green gave him the go ahead to bring it to fruition.

Harrell and a group of investors bought the block of time it airs, then recoup their dollars by selling airtime. Slots are sold or bartered. Green declined to give specifics on the financial arrangement, nor did Harrell offer details on his current investment groups' financial outlay. He did say the operation has a six-figure budget.

"The concept came out of (the) frustration of hearing the same old, irrelevant gossipy type of talk radio out there polluting our airways," Harrell says. "Our people in the city of Detroit are losing everything -- their jobs, homes, families, and more. And, worst of all they are starting to lose hope in the current state of things economically, and they are starting to lose hope for the future."

He says the challenge he wanted to take on was about ensuring the future of his generation by building a foundation, by giving it a voice, and in the process creating that movement he talks so frequently about. His plan hinges on a strategy that keys in on the 25-45 year-old market -- specifically those upwardly mobile, urban professionals, parents and entrepreneurs in Detroit engaged in improving their community.

Harrell got some advice from Green, as well as popular radio personality John Mason, as he crafted the show. He recruited Delshaun "Mr." Wolf as a host.

Mr. Wolf, as he is known, doesn't pull punches and is a witty interviewer. Wolf's co-host goes by the name of Lola Simone, and she provides a strong feminist perspective, which fits in with the show's strategy of trying to reach both the male and female members of its demographic target.

The show struggled early on. After all, Harrell wasn't a veteran of radio. The interviews seemed a bit awkward and clumsy, and it was exactly what one would expect from some type of community radio program. But over time the wrinkles slowly were smoothed out.

Wolf and Simone work well together to both inform and entertain listeners. They interview business owners, community leaders, and others active in Detroit. So far the show's ratings indicate the formula is a promising one.

According to Harrell, the show's numbers have grown from approximately 6,000 listeners last year to about 50,000, making it the second most popular show on the station's airwaves -- behind the Mason Radio Show. "It has been a good asset to the station," Green says.

Onward movement

The future of the show, and Harrell's ambition, hinges largely on a collective ability to broaden the scope of its reach. That includes tapping into other media, including the Internet, through social networks and video channels. Harrell says the show's Web site receives over 10,000 page views monthly. Additionally, the RealTalk crew has recently launched an online video station, TV313.com, in an effort to supplement the radio show's work with a television style presentation.

The show also encourages community service. The show regularly calls for volunteers to get involved in community service projects in the city. A team of listeners and employees showed up at Detroit's annual spring cleanup wearing their RealTalk FM t-shirts, for example.

"This project can help bring 'Motown' back to the city of Detroit.  It can revitalize opportunity, hope, jobs, and more," says Harrell. "This show can be live on the radio everyday at least five days a week.  I can see 24/7 Internet streaming.  I see Real Talk TV, I also see Real Talk FM Chicago, New York, Houston, Cleveland. I can see expanding the brand franchise-style in a national syndication situation.  I'm looking to grow the fan base well beyond 10 million within the next 3-5 years".



Rodd Monts is a contributor to Model D and blogs about community issues and social justice at 3-mile.blogspot.com. Send feedback here.





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