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Ministering the Masses: DJ Joey Slick Finds Tokyo's Groove
By Brad Frischkorn

As a man, Joey Slick may not be a recognizable household name everywhere in Japan, but he probably comes as close as it gets. As a top-rated DJ for the past 16 years on JODW 89.7 InterFM Tokyo, he commands a following that includes much of the 42 million-strong population of the Kanto Area surrounding the nation's capital.

Known to his fans only by his radio handle, the suburban Los Angeles native has achieved quasi-guru status as the host of Joint One Radio, a special show highlighting popular current and past major and independent R&B, Hip-Hop, Rap, Dance, and Reggae music genres. His program is streamed over the internet, making it accessible both in Japan and worldwide.

Joey's story is unique. He's ethnically Japanese, but had never seen Japan until invited by Tokyo pop station J-Wave for a guest assignment in 1999. By then he had already made a name for himself in Southern California as a local DJ, first playing gigs at grade schools and high schools, and then at local colleges while still in his teens. A steadily building reputation landed him opportunities with the well-known Baka Boyz crew at L.A.'s KPRW “Power 106" FM where he gained access to pre-released material from artists, and where he began to develop an expansive DJ music pool to review and select songs to make the monthly rotation cut.

Further introductions led to a call from InterFM where he's been ever since. After 16 years, Joint One Radio has been folded into Rakuten FM's platform, where it is on the air every day, 24 hours a day. He records his shows at the new Red Bull Studios Tokyo facility in Shibuya.

“The size and density of the listener base here (in Tokyo) is 30 times the L.A. area," he says in a cool, practiced baritone voice. “Combined with modern streaming broadcast technology, it was easy to see that reaching at truly global audience was possible. That's exciting."

Joey produced his first ‘urban belt' program on Japan's prime time ‘drive time' listening segment, quickly garnering a No. 1 rating. He likens the listener loyalty level to his Southern California roots where rival stations KLOS and KMET staged a years-long ratings battle in the 70s and 80s with competing rock'n'roll music formats.

“Japanese music fans are passionate; I wanted to create the same feeling of station loyalty as we saw in L.A. during the height of the ratings war," he says. “If the programming is hot, it will get a strong listenership. But it has to stay hot and engaging in order to keep people on your station. Merely spinning records doesn't cut it."

These days, Joey's mission hasn't changed: to expose the freshest and coolest sounds to listeners of all ages. The philosophy fuels a regular rotation that includes requested tunes, previously unheard material, and personal choices that span over four decades.

Promotional arrangements with artists some-times help to distribute complementary show tickets, prizes, and other perks to the listening audience.

Some of the largest markets in the United States borrow material and suggestions from Joey's J1 Music Pool, a batch of titles that he personally selects to form a monthly rotation. Artists submit material for inclusion to the list, which he then compiles into promotional packages.

Rakuten FM is moving towards becoming increasingly involved in promotional campaigns with Red Bull, and plans to partner with other media, including Japan Press Network (JPN) to spread the news on upcoming events in which the public can participate.

At the same time, Joey puts considerable effort into introducing lesser-known local talent to a broader audience. Such names have included Reggae artist Butcher and Hip-Hop act Nitro Microphone Underground (NMU). He also invites college and high school students to get a taste of the radio broadcasting industry. Recording labels sometimes send their up-and-coming stars to co-host shows.

Such a work schedule does not lend itself to long rest periods. Joey himself claims to have eschewed taking a regular vacation since 2000. That does not seem to bother him, however.

"I love the work to the point that it doesn't really feel like a burden,” he says. "I also don't want to leave my fans in the cold. If you made the best hamburger in the world and then suddenly stopped, loyal customers would be very disappointed.”

Looking forward, Joey doesn't anticipate any major changes to the frenetic pace, especially as the new 24/7 broadcasting format still needs to fill a slew of open programming slots. His studio's mini fridge -- conveniently stocked with dozens of cans of Red Bull energy drink -- may help to alleviate some of the fatigue.

But overall, the hard work has clearly paid off. Joey has been inducted into the West Coast Hip Hop Hall of Fame by founder Alonzo "The Grandmaster” Williams for his efforts in presenting quality hip hop to the Japanese market. Ratings-wise, Joint One Radio has remained in the number one spot consistently for the last twelve years.

"Honestly, I never thought my career in radio would come this far from my start in L.A.,” he says. "But I'm nowhere near the point where I want to stop being a DJ.”

Read/listen:

http://rakuten.fm/station/j1radio?l-id http://j1japan.com/


Joey Slick on the Cover of Japan Press Magazine

"If the programming is hot, it will get a strong listenership. But it has to stay hot and engaging in order to keep people on your station. Merely spinning records doesn’t cut it." -- Joey Slick

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