One of WWOZ 90.7 FM's charms has always been the eccentricities of its disc jockeys. Since the station started broadcasting in 1980, WWOZ has been a haven for broadcasters who sounded as if they'd landed from another era or planet: "personalities" like Ernie K-Doe, Ready Teddy, Brown Sugar, DJ Tootie, John Sinclair, Barbara Hoover and others. From K-Doe's now-immortal boasts ("I'm cocky but I'm good!") to Hoover's darkly drawled "dahlings," WWOZ has always sounded like radio that could only come from New Orleans.
All of those names are no longer on the WWOZ airwaves, and now you can add another 'OZ icon to the list of the departed: DJ Davis Rogan. Rogan was recently fired from the station, for what WWOZ program director Dwayne Breashears referred to in Davis' dismissal letter as "tardiness, erratic and sometimes disruptive behavior and non-adherence to the music that should be played on the New Orleans Music Show. ..."
Rogan is no choirboy, but hasn't erratic behavior always been part of the 'OZ experience? What would 'OZ be without the occasional blown segue, mics left on during songs, or diatribes from the likes of Bob French? Rogan's stream-of-consciousness musings, hyper delivery and comedic turns during fund drives have been a staple at the station for a decade, but it appears that Rogan has worn out his welcome with station management. He's received numerous past warnings for various offenses (including an alcohol-related incident), so the 'OZ brass has every right to silence Rogan.
But there's one troubling undercurrent -- Rogan's dismissal letter came a week after he played a song by local rap crew UNLV on the Thursday New Orleans Music Show. That wasn't the first time Rogan has played rap on his broadcasts; on June 19, he played a track from local rapper Joe Blakk, and Breashears allegedly berated Davis in the WWOZ studio -- while Blakk was in the room.
Rogan had invited Blakk to be a guest in advance of the Saturday, June 21, "Old School Bounce Extravaganza" show at Tipitina's that also featured local rappers Mia-X, Ghetto Twinnz and Black Menace. One of the hallmarks of WWOZ's New Orleans Music Show is its open-door policy, where musicians can drop by the studio to plug their events on the air.
When Blakk came to the studio, Rogan played Blakk's "It Ain't Where Ya From" before their interview. While the song was playing, Davis says, the control-room phone rang, and Breashears was on the line.
"He said, 'Turn that rap junk off -- WWOZ does not play rap,'" says Davis. But Breashears didn't realize that he was on speakerphone and that Blakk was hearing the conversation.
Blakk recalls, "Davis said that I was in the studio, and I was promoting a show, and the program director was like, 'I'll talk to you later.' I guess he realized that he was on speakerphone. It wasn't a friendly call."
Breashears denies the conversation ever took place. But, in a phone interview, he did describe WWOZ's policy on playing local rap: "Rap is not part of the format. We try to stay away from anything that is mainstream or is going to be played on other stations, and rap is played on other stations."
But what if Blakk, Ballzack, Bionik Brown or any other talented local MC that isn't mainstream wanted to drop off a CD and appear on the New Orleans Music Show? "They have other avenues here in the city of New Orleans," says Breashears. "We're heedful to what our listeners want. You have WQUE and some of the other stations that are heavily into rap. That's not 'OZ. The door isn't closed, though. We've had Kelly Love Jones on, and we've played her music. But there are some avid listeners, and whenever we've played rap, they call and say, 'That's not why we're tuning into 'OZ, and that's not why we support WWOZ.'"
If Breashears was the program director for a commercial station focusing on a particular listener demographic and music genre, his stance would make perfect sense. But WWOZ is a nonprofit station that constantly touts itself as your "community radio station." The membership section of the WWOZ Web site takes it even further, stating, "WWOZ is more than just a radio station, it's a community."
By excluding local rappers from its airwaves, WWOZ is choosing to ignore a large segment of its community. (New Orleans rock and electronica are also invisible on WWOZ.) According to Breashears, many of the station's supporters -- read: financial supporters -- don't want to hear such sounds. But when it comes to supporting and promoting New Orleans music, it's time for WWOZ to open its ears and arms to different segments of the local music scene and live up to its own description on its Web site: "WWOZ broadcasts all of the forms of music that have developed, and are developing in the confluence of African, Latin, European, and American culture that makes New Orleans one of the most unique cities in the United States."