On the overcrowded radio dial, there aren’t too many stations that have kept their integrity over the years, but fortunately one has - 89.5 KPOO.
Back when the so-called “People’s Station” 106.1 KMEL only played rock, and people dismissed hip-hop as a passing trend, KPOO was there to break artists that literally walked off Divisadero Street, demo tape in hand.
Three decades later, the listener-sponsored radio station is still the most accessible outlet for young hip-hop and R&B artists waiting for their big break.
“The station started in 1973 by Terry Collins and Joe Rudolph and was basically inherited,” said Damien Minor, 20, an employee of the station.
“At one time, the city signal was better because there were not too many stations. By the way of stations coming up, the station’s signal got smaller and smaller, and less people had a chance to listen.”
The coverage, which reaches some parts of San Francisco, Sausalito, and Berkeley, often fades in-and-out of focus on the peninsula, frustrating avid listeners who want to tune-in to hear the newest artists.
"The Nob Hill area is hard to reach because of all the trees," said Minor, with a laugh.
With diverse programs featuring everything from conscious talk to reggae in all forms except rock and country, the station was the first to embrace R&B and hip-hop.
Hanging on the wall in the station are platinum plaques bearing Too Shorts albums “Life is Too Short” and “Short Dog’s In The House” and the original “Humpty Dance” 12-inch by Humpty, also known as Shock G of Digital Underground, along with countless autographed pictures of celebrities and one-hit wonders.
“Mc Hammer, Tony Toni Tone, Digital Underground, Tupac, The Newtrons, all the artists that were big at the time, they started here,” explained Minor.
Tupac, one of the biggest musical legends of rap, used to hang up posters for Digital Underground, and visited the station regularly until he was sent to jail in 1994.
The youngest member of The Newtrons, now dubbed Neyo, wrote “How Could You” for R&B sensation Mario, and now is getting major spins for his new song “Sick.”
As has been the case for years, staff at the station are working hard to give airplay to as many artists as possible despite struggles.
"We know we can’t go up against the other stations, who have crazy watts, so it’s hard to get our message out,” said Minor.
Over the past 30 years, the only thing that really changed about the station is the technology - demo cassette tapes turned into MP3 files. Back in the day, if you really wanted to get your song played, you had to go to the radio station itself and hope the DJ liked it.
Now, most won’t even play songs unless they are on Billboard.
"KPOO had really kept the old school way, where you can walk off the streets and give it to us,” said Jerome Parson, general manager and affiliate almost since the establishment of the station.
“We usually give everyone a shot, because you never know what’s going to happen to a song.”
“It’s not a corporate kind of thing where there’s a guy in New York who says ‘Hey, lets get the guy in San Francisco to play this at 3 o’clock,’” said Parson. “By the grace of God and the listeners we’ve been able to keep the integrity of this station.”