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Music on AM: The untold story of Tucson’s Power 1490

The late 1980s were a turning point for AM radio in the US, as music gave way to the rise of talk. By the 1990s most of the music on the AM dial was limited to old time country and easy listening; essentially music favored by truckers, in the case of the former, and senior citizens, in the case of the latter. But the exodus of most music programming to the FM dial also meant that AM stations became a lot cheaper to program or buy time on. Thus the AM dial also became home to music and formats that you wouldn’t find on FM.

In 1991 Tucson, Arizona’s AM dial became home to the city’s first hip-hop station, Power 1490. The station was significant because hip-hop and rap music still were a few years away from wide mainstream pop acceptance. While there had been some crossover pop hits in the 80s, stations specializing in hip-hop were still hard to find outside the country’s largest markets.

A new documentary about Power 1490, A.M. Mayhem, debuts this weekend in Tucson. According to the film’s website,

From its inception and debut year on the air, to the height of its success, to the station’s demise and format flip–that until now had gone unexplained–A.M. Mayhem addresses all the unanswered questions and dives into the juicy details of one special A.M. radio station that brought Hip-Hop to the desert-town of Tucson, Arizona, when no one else would.

Tickets are free and require making an RSVP at the website. Apparently, this will the only public screening of the film. Afterwards the film will only be available on DVD.

Here’s the trailer for the film, followed by an aircheck of a drive-time show recorded in 1992.


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