Third Coast Radio Is Proving That Mississippi Music Is Everywhere

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Photo credit: Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

There’s no rest for its DJs as it plays across all of Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s stations throughout the state, with a yearly festival, regular events, and a weekly show.

I can be your guide or your coach
Deep down in the bottom of that 3rd Coast
Big K.R.I.T. – “3rd Coast”

American culture is often represented through “east coast” and “west coast” sensibilities. The two sides of the country are stand-ins for the full spectrum, from sea to shining sea, of all things the country offers. There’s another coast though, running across the Gulf of Mexico in the south. It’s one that has developed its own impact on the music we hear today yet is often overlooked by other dominating regions of the country: the third coast.

On September 29, 2019, Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin and Donyalle Walls hosted the first episode of Third Coast Radio, broadcasting across the eight stations on Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB), a public media organization covering the entire state. Franklin and Walls were the founding and creative forces behind Jackson Indie Music Week, the music and arts festival held in the state capital every year since 2015 that, like its name suggests, highlights up-and-coming and underrepresented artists from the area. “Donyalle came up with the idea actually, and went to Java and presented the idea of having an accompanying radio show to go along with the festival so that we could continue our mission throughout the year,” remembers Franklin.

“Java” in this story is Java Chatman, executive producer at MPB. “I saw it as a two-fold type of thing. Let’s attract a different audience and highlight some of this great music Kamikaze and everybody with Jackson Indie Music Week were already pushing to the forefront,” Chatman concurs when asked if that’s how he remembered it. “Let’s give them another megaphone and blast it out.” And from that first show, Third Coast Radio found themselves having to prove something to this new audience.

“You have a lot of people who just sit back to wait to see if this is going to be a thing. ‘Is this gonna stick around? Is this some flash in the pan? I’m gonna see if they’re serious,’” Franklin remembers what he understood about those early episodes, but it only kept growing for the show. “After they saw that Third Coast was going to be a staple and that we were going to continue to do it, then [local musicians] started sending their music in.”

With an influx of music beginning to flood their inbox, Franklin was determined to make sure the show didn’t limit itself by representing too narrow a scope of genres. “Our ‘sound’ is music. That’s what our sound is. That’s what Mississippi is.” The fabled crossroads of Mississippi where Robert Johnson cemented delta blues as one of, if not the, foundational sound of modern American music are just a part of long musical history in the state. “Mississippi’s strongest attribute is the fact that we are eclectic and a melting pot of musical styles. When you are the birthplace of America’s music, when most of the [other] genres of music that we listen to come from within the boundaries of Mississippi, you’re going to have artists that are going to be really good at a lot of different things,” remarks Franklin, highlighting the wide variety of music that is now sent to the DJs for airplay.

While you’ll most commonly hear hip hop, R&B, and soul on the show, Third Coast Radio prides itself mostly on lending an expansive ear to local talent, regardless of genre. After Walls’ departure to pursue a job in Atlanta, Franklin was joined by three new co-hosts, Driune Santana, Robert Morris, and Kala Reneé, each offering their own musical passions and ideas for what the show could represent, which helped as it grew in scope and vision.

“We even have a segment on the show, the Industry Insider,” Chatman highlights. “Cause it’s not only a music discovery show […] We’re trying to build up this next crop of artists.” For many, getting their song featured on Third Coast Radio is the first time they’ve ever had airplay, which is a point of pride for Franklin and the other hosts. “I want our artists to be some of the most prepared, smartest and well-trained artists in the world. When people see Mississippi artists on stage or doing interviews or see them submitting in any professional setting, I want them to say ‘Those Mississippi artists, they’re serious about what they’re doing,” points out Franklin.

Offering up radio spins isn’t the only way Third Coast Radio is hoping to give back and prepare new artists. With the show’s roots coming from live music, it was a natural progression for it to also have its own events. Coming out of the pandemic lockdown in October 2021, Franklin and the team behind the show began a monthly party and event called The Kickback, held in Jackson at Fondren Guitars.

“You’re coming to The Kickback for the event and the ability to network, and hang out with other creatives and people doing music. So we sell the event more so than we even sell the lineup,” Franklin says when explaining the secret behind the event’s success.

It’s certainly also the chance to highlight the musicians that bring in fans and find new ones. Offering another new opportunity for young talent, an artist’s set at The Kickback might be their first time on the stage, which is an exciting experience for Chatman. “It’s something to see the first song out, they may be a little timid and even the crowd is like, ‘Okay, let me see what’s going on.’ But then that second or third song, it has a nice little catchy hook on it, and you’ll see the crowd singing along, bobbing their heads. This is what it’s all about, embracing the artist.”

“Discovering the Sound of Local Communities” is the motto for this year’s Public Radio Music Day and Third Coast Radio is one of its many exemplary examples. A sense of community support is a driving force behind the show and all it does. It was the impetus that started Jackson Indie Music Week, the aim for the shows’ playlists, and the core mission of The Kickback. Coming from and being about Mississippi, there’s pride in representing the third coast, something that doesn’t always get its proper due respect. But it’s being built by the show and team that supports it. Chatman is clear eyed when asked what Mississippi Public Radio does best. “It’s Mississippians making radio for Mississippians. That’s what it is. We are not trying to be anything but ourselves.”