By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2010; E04
All is calm in the studios of 92Q. Radio personalities Johnny "Porkchop" Doswell and Mike "Squirrel Wyde" Squirrel are click-clacking away at their computers. In the adjacent DJ booth, K.W. Griff is spinning Baltimore club records -- the city's indigenous brand of hair-trigger dance music. From behind the glass, his mix sounds like a series of syncopated highway collisions muffled beneath a giant pillow.
Eventually, Griff signals for a commercial break and Porkchop breaks the silence with a shout: "When we come back, we got more Kay-Double-Yoo Griff!"
It's a Friday night at "the Q" -- a station that has sustained the city's thriving club scene, given homegrown rappers a formidable boost and influenced Baltimore musicians across a spectrum of genres. And while the studio vibes remain mellow, Friday night's transmission is riotous. Horns squeal. Drum machines hyperventilate. Sampled handclaps are replaced with sampled gunshots while Lil Jon's roar is looped into a maniac's mantra: "Oh-Kay! Oh-Kay! Oh-Kay! Oh-Kay!"
Beneath all of this chaos is the beat -- an indefatigable kick-drum pattern that comes thumping at 130 beats per minute. "The beat plays a powerful part in club music," Porkchop says, pounding his fist against his chest. "It's a heartbeat, really."
Does that make 92Q Baltimore's heart? Might not be hyperbole. Like go-go in Washington, Baltimore club music maintains an almost religious grip over the city's youth, while continuing to gain fans along the East Coast, in Europe and across the blogosphere. Pop-polyglots M.I.A. and Diplo each glommed onto club music early in their respective careers and have since worked with Baltimore up-and-comers Rye Rye and Blaqstarr. And the genre scored its biggest hit last summer with "I'm the Ish," a club track produced by Baltimore native DJ Class. (The remix got an extra push thanks to a bonus verse from Kanye West.)
As the sound spreads, Porkchop feels responsible for keeping it alive in Baltimore. "This is the home of club music," he says. "We try to play it as much as we can."
It isn't always easy. 92Q is owned by Radio One, the Lanham-based company that operates 53 radio stations in 16 markets, including Washington's WKYS (93.9 FM) and MAJIC (WMMJ, 102.3 FM). Like many Radio One stations, 92Q is tasked with sticking to hit-friendly playlists populated by the likes of Drake, Lil Wayne and Usher. According to recent Arbitron ratings, the station ranks fourth in Baltimore and is the highest-ranking station for its format.
But within these playlist constraints, 92Q manages to maintain its local identity, offering a quick jolt of club music every evening at 7, a solid hour of club music on Thursday and Friday nights at 9, and nearly three hours of club music in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Music from local rappers MullyMan, Booman and the Get Em Mamis can often be heard when "Rap Attack" airs on Sundays at 7 p.m. Washingtonians can pick up the signal at 92.3 FM or stream it online at 92q.com.
Many credit 92Q's spike in local programming to the late Khia Edgerton, better known as K-Swift. After making her debut on 92Q in the late '90s, Edgerton quickly became the station's most beloved DJ, popularizing club music with a new generation of listeners and reinvigorating the scene in the process. But in July 2008, as her acclaim had begun to spread outside of Baltimore, Edgerton died in a pool accident. She was 29.
"This city hurt for a while when Swift passed," Porkchop says. "She was basically the one to put club on the radio. [92Q was] playing club, but she made it known. And she took it to other cities."
Many club producers and DJs are still following her lead, helping to push the sound outside Baltimore without letting it fade at home. Say Wut, a young club producer, is in the studio to promote his new CD. "The station has a big impact on the community," he says. "It also helps drive what's played in the clubs. If I know there's a song on the radio that this station plays, I know it's going to be a hit when I get to the club."
And that influence extends further than one might expect. Taxlo, a long-running weekly dance party held at Baltimore's Sonar nightclub, caters to a college crowd with a mix of indie-rock-ish dance tunes and Baltimore club staples. Cullen "Stalin" Nawalkowsky, one of the party's promoters and DJs, says Taxlo's clientele is well versed in club, thanks to 92Q and the music's crossover appeal.
"It's a hybrid genre to begin with," Nawalkowsky says. "It synthesizes hip-hop, house music, disco, electro. . . . It's a sound that lends itself to diversity. You can turn any song into a Baltimore club record."
Last year, Baltimore duo Wye Oak did the inverse, transposing a club record into a plaintive indie-rock ballad. The band's cover of DJ Rod Lee's anthemic "Dance My Pain Away" was part of a CD compilation in which Baltimore indie troupes covered their Charm City brethren. Wye Oak singer Jenn Wasner wanted to cover a song from outside of her band's circle.
"I kind of expected that it would maybe get laughed at or treated as this novelty thing," Wasner says. "But I didn't really care because I wanted it to bring attention to the original song."
Wasner says she never would have discovered the song herself were it not for 92Q. "For me, it was the entry point for a whole different sound, a whole different style of music that I was not aware of," she says. "I'm very loyal to them."
During a commercial break at the studio, Griff echoes that sentiment. "I think this station has a big influence on the community," he says. "And the community puts a whole lot of trust in the station and what we play." Then he slips his headphones back on and cues up another record. Baltimore's heartbeat comes thundering back to life.