How Radio is Paying Tribute to Prince

Prince
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Prince performs live at the Fabulous Forum on Feb. 19, 1985 in Inglewood, Calif.

"He was a pretty impressive guy and I would certainly not feel shy about calling him a genius," said SiriusXM host Mark Goodman

Rock icon Prince’s sudden death on Thursday (April 21) was a crushing blow to music fans, one to which radio stations responded with immediate tributes to celebrate his legacy and help listeners grieve.

SiriusXM host Mark Goodman hit the national airwaves quickly after the news broke with a live tribute to the musician with '80s on 8. Goodman took calls from listeners across the country all day.

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Although '80s on 8 isn't playing wall-to-wall Prince, Goodman told Billboard, the channel is playing "everything we are legally permitted to do," due to Digital Millenium Copyright Act restrictions "unless we have a waiver" from Warner Brothers Records. Nevertheless, Goodman said there is plenty to work with for a proper farewell.

"He was so prolific not only on his own, but with all these different bands and all the other artists he influenced and worked with, as well as artists that covered his music," he said. "We have a lot of stuff to draw from."

As an original VJ at MTV, Goodman scored a brief interview with Prince at the Purple Rain Los Angeles premiere in 1984. His Prince fandom started long before that, he said.

"My interaction with Prince as a fan began long before MTV. I'm from Philadelphia and I was in Philadelphia rock radio at the time. We didn't play Prince, but I saw him live in the Bijou Café on the first record," he said. "With MTV, Purple Rain was a big one as we all know, and as it happened I was the host for the Purple Rain premiere in Hollywood and did the red carpet and wound up dancing with Apollonia at the party afterwards.”

SiriusXM host and former MTV VJ Alan Hunter said Prince was an "enigma, even to those of us in the industry."

"I think Mark was the only VJ that ever bumped into him," he said. "He got to meet him and had a very brief interview. It was over in a flash and was done."

Hunter had covered a Prince show for MTV in Los Angeles at the Greek Theatre, and didn't score an interview, but "somehow that was OK."

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"He did have a certain humility about him throughout his entire career," he says. "People behind the scenes -- crew people -- had said even though he was shy, he always thanked the crew and the technical people after every concert," he says. "He was always very sweet to them and people who lived around him living in Minneapolis said he created a vibe and was a real sweetheart."

Hunter said that Prince was an artist that broke through color lines, even in the early days of MTV.

"I think it was a moot point. I think as evidenced by the people who loved his music," he says. "The callers that called in today have been from all over the spectrum. We had Gary "U.S." Bonds and others that were there before Michael Jackson came along, but somehow Prince transcended all of that.”

And while other artists were known for the images in their videos, Hunter said Prince's songs always stood out beyond the small screen.

"MTV certainly ushered in the notion that artists were packages. There was a full brand and certainly the audiences today are used to full brand packages, like the Katy Perrys and Miley Cyruses and Lady Gagas of the world. Prince came to the table fully formed," he said. "I remember Prince's songs more than I remember the videos, which is odd. I remember David Bowie's videos early on because I was in one ("Fashion"). But for Prince, it was usually him with his guitar in the live setting doing his thing."

His favorite video, he said, was one that MTV didn’t play that much: "Darling Nikki."

"It was one of my favorites because that was the one that inspired Tipper Gore to start the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center)," he said. “As I remember, Sheena Easton’s "Sugar Walls" -- which Prince wrote -- was also on that list of dirty songs that kids shouldn’t be listening to. Prince was responsible in a way because I think Tipper’s daughter heard "Darling Nikki" and was appalled and started that movement."

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"Darling Nikki" and the equally salacious "Erotic City" both hit the airwaves in New York City on Z100 and executive vice president of programming for iHeartRadio's Northeast region Thea Mitchem said she wouldn't have it any other way. 

Mitchem said all four iHeartradio properties -- Z100, WKTU, WLTW and Power 105 -- took calls from listeners all day. 

"We are playing everything we could possibly play,"  Mitchem told Billboard. "'Darling Nikki' made Power, yes it did. Listeners called in for that. What can you say? Look, Prince always got you talking. He was an amazing artist and it’s such a loss for the music industry and music fans all over the world."

"Not very often in radio do we do this and honor an artist like this," she continues."We all have regular formats we keep to, and this is one of those rare occasions where he is more than deserving for us to have this musical tribute to him."

Miguel even called in to Power 105 to honor Prince's passing.

"When we got the news, the first thing we thought is to make sure that our listeners know immediately. So for Z100, Mo' Bounce went on the air and we immediately informed the audience what we knew. All we knew is we had gotten reports and weren't 100 percent sure and then obviously we went into straight Prince music," she says. "Angie Martinez broke the news on Power 105 and it's been non-stop Prince until 8 pm tonight. WKTU is all Prince 24/7 and the same with LTW, with Prince tributes throughout the day. These moments don't happen often and it's so sad because he was such a trend setter and he broke so many boundaries and he was also captivating and a little mysterious. His music was so significant that for this type of artist when you use the word icon, you have to say it with him. You don’t have many of those. It’s such a loss."

Rick Gillette, WPLJ program director, says the station rushed to the airwaves to play a Prince song even when the reports were sketchy about a death being reported at the singer’s Minnesota estate.

"As soon as the news broke, we put on a Prince record anyway, just because we play Prince. Not a lot of it but we still play songs from the '80s and the '90s," said Gillette. "We played some Prince waiting for confirmation."

WPLJ-FM celebrated the musician with "1999" seconds of "nothing but Prince music" with DJ John Foxx at 4:45 p.m. After that, the station will play two Prince songs an hour, with live tributes throughout the night. 

"It’s not pre-produced. People can request songs if they want to," he said.?

The great thing about Prince's records from a radio perspective, Gillette said, was the diverse sound of each individual song. 

"You could always tell it was a Prince song, but they didn’t always sound the same," he says. "Some of his B-sides were amazing pieces of music. 'Let’s Go Crazy' -- how many times do you get screaming guitars like that in a pop song?"

To call Prince groundbreaking "almost does not do him the justice he deserves," said Goodman.

"Prince was an artist. He was a guy who crossed genre lines. He was a guy who crossed color lines. He was a guy who was brave enough to say the Internet is dead," Goodman continued. "He had his own perspective on things at a time when so many other artists were flocking to the Internet even though they had problems with it. He was not shy about staying away. He didn't believe in it. I think that he stayed true to whatever it was that he lived, whether it was musically or spiritually. He was pretty much the nasty guy early on in his career but as things progressed and he got older he got quite a bit more spiritual and walked that line. I think he was a pretty impressive guy and I would certainly not feel shy about calling him a genius."

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