Recent programming changes on Clark Atlanta University’s WCLK-FM have longtime listeners worried that the place where hot sounds of traditional-meets-experimental soul and jazz is being cooled to tepid blandness. The station has shifted to a pre-programmed, smooth jazz format in an attempt to attract new membership.
At the center of the issue is the beloved 20-year veteran DJ, Jamal Ahmad. Long before Pandora, he opened ears to new music that local and international listeners were unlikely to hear on other local stations.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, activism is at our fingertips. As a Creative Loafing Atlanta freelancer, I have to shout out my colleagues who were on this from the jump. CL contributor and publisher of Slo*Mo Magazine, Carlton Hargro, set off the protests on Facebook with “WCLK: Save our S.O.U.L.” and a Change.org campaign to make sure WCLK supporters’ demands are heard. Hargro is proposing that WCLK allow Ahmad to direct programming for the entire station.
Staff culture writer, Rodney Carmichael, said this in his August 28 Crib Notes post:
“Between Ahmad’s original WCLK-FM show “S.O.U.L.” (Sounds of Universal Love) – which pumped a weekly diet of UK soul, drum ‘n’ bass and acid jazz from 1995 to 2005 – to his involvement as co-founder of defunct indie label Groovement Collective (which introduced listeners to India.Arie, Donnie, and others), Ahmad is a large part of the reason why Atlanta’s soul scene took over the world stage in the 2000s.”
Clearly, WCLK’s neutered background sound is a serious step in the wrong direction for a number of reasons. First of all, in the past decade, digital stations have made radio an increasingly democratic space free of marketing boxes. Also, in Atlanta and other major cities, the smooth jazz format is a proven fail – with experts declaring the subgenre itself dead.
Unlike any programmed playlist on or offline, Ahmad combines his repertoire with in-depth cultural context, musical facts, live interviews and all-around broadcasting savvy. He knows what we need and want before we do and makes sure we get it right on time.
Like that Indeep disco jam, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” S.O.U.L. fans can attest to how Jamal Ahmad has saved the day from the weeping and gnashing of teeth known as Atlanta rush hour. His shows make us feel, think and jam no matter where we are. With every form of liberation, though, we know freedom ain’t free, so if the good folks at WCLK leave well enough alone, we’ll have to back it with increased membership dollars. Period. If we had to lose our S.O.U.L. to find it again we can say it was all worth it.
Image: Shellton Trimble So True Art