Last month, Power 106 quietly sold for the loud sum of $82.75 million. Pending FCC approval, its new owner will be the Meruelo Group, the largest minority-owned media company in California, whose holdings include L.A.'s best radio station, KDAY.
It's a victory for anyone hoping that the Burbank "home of hip-hop" might regain its regional identity and again champion local artists — concepts largely abandoned since iHeartMedia introduced Real 92.3 FM, which halved Power's audience and caused it to tighten its playlists to soulless monotony.
With the new owners inevitably devising plans for the station's future, they'd be well-served to study the template of one of Power's longest-tenured employees, DJ Reflex, who hosts The Message every weeknight from midnight to 1 a.m.
For years, The Message has been one of few terrestrial radio programs to consistently spin new music from L.A. rappers. While Reflex includes the usual suspects (Drake, G-Eazy), he's artfully balanced that with artists rarely heard outside the left side of the dial (Vince Staples, Warm Brew, Anderson .Paak).
"L.A. radio needs to have its own identity," says the Barstow-raised DJ born Anthony Jaramillo. "You can still pay attention to what's happening nationally and globally, but you have be in touch with what's happening locally. Viral clips are wonderful, but this is home and you have to be comfortable walking to any part of this town, seeing different artists, [hearing] different sounds and understanding what to do with them."
We're eating tacos at a Mexican restaurant in Venice, right next to his day job as head of music at TuneIn, a radio app that boasts more than 120,000 radio stations and 60 million users worldwide. At TuneIn, he oversees roughly 50 channels of music, helping produce original content including his latest show, Fireside Chats, alongside KCRW DJ and beat composer Anthony Valadez.
Reflex is introspective, thoughtful and empathetic — qualities that aren't usually associated with brash, garrulous on-air personalities. But his panoramic sense of perspective has allowed him to become one of the most universally respected figures in L.A. radio. He's a connector, beloved by many of the biggest names in music, not just because he plays their songs but also for his temperament and talent.
Common called him a "blessing to the music culture." Jay Z frequently books him to play his and Beyoncé's private parties. Reflex was among the first in local hip-hop radio to break Kendrick Lamar, King Cudi and, most notably, Kanye West.
One of The Message's on-air drops finds Yeezus crowing about how Reflex was the first to believe in him and play his music. But their relationship extended to the creative side, too. Reflex has DJed for West on tour and helped excavate samples that found their way to Late Registration and Graduation — most notably on "We Major" and "Homecoming."
The celebrity connections somewhat obscure the years of tedious grind. Reflex started as an unpaid intern at Power 106 in the summer of 1999. He graduated to work the street team for minimum wage, taught himself to work the station's control boards and eventually earned a slot on the graveyard shift.
From there, Reflex advanced to mix show slots and drive time rotation, eventually settling into his midnight digs because it allows him to be "as raw as you can be on terrestrial radio."
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"There's so much diversity and talent here. So many dope DJs, producers and shows," Reflex says. "My whole goal is to be able to use whatever power I have to help drive that and make sure that radio reflects what's happening outside in L.A., and not just the hallways of a radio station."
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Bizarre Ride show on RBMA Radio. Follow him on Twitter @passionweiss.