Hear it on the Radio: XPN’s new Culture Cypher Radio hosted by South Philly resident John Morrison

Before his inaugural show, Morrison talked to SPR about how the show came about, what people can expect to hear and the future of his podcast.

John Morrison

South Philly resident John Morrison wears many hats in the world of music. But Morrison, who’s known around Philly as an event DJ, music journalist and co-host of the Serious Rap S*** podcast along with his childhood friend Josh Leidy, is starting a new venture. Starting this past Friday, Morrison began his new side gig as host of Culture Cypher Radio, a new monthly radio show broadcast over the publicly owned airwaves of 88.5 WXPN. Before the inaugural show, Morrison talked to SPR about how the show came about, what people can expect to hear and the future of his podcast.

So, Culture Cypher Radio. When did you find out that was happening?

I have been talking with the folks over at XPN for a few months about doing this. It’s funny how it happened. I had the idea that I wanted to do this type of radio show on WXPN just bubbling in my mind and before I had the chance to send the email to Bruce [Warren], who’s the station manager, he actually emailed me and pitched the idea. I was definitely going to pitch a similar idea for a show for XPN, so it’s been in the works for a few months now. 

I grew up in Philly and I grew up listening to XPN, among other stations. So this is an interesting full circle kind of thing for me because I used to listen to this station and wish that they had a show like this.

What’s the format of the show going to be?

It’s going to be a mostly music-based show centered on hip hop, but hip hop could mean – when you factor in sampling culture – hip hop is really broad musically. Or what is considered within hip hop’s purview is really broad so I plan on playing a wide range of music that somehow in my mind is at least aligned with hip hop. So I’m going to play a lot of specifically rap music, but also maybe a jazz record that somebody used as a sample. Maybe we’re doing themed episodes. Some rock records or psychedelic records that is primarily going to be stuff that I like and want to play on the radio. But just acknowledging that hip hop is really broad and appropriates and absorbs a lot of other music through sampling. It’s going to cover a wide base of music. 

Can you give some examples of artists you might play who people maybe wouldn’t expect to hear on a hip hop radio show?

Definitely stuff like Kraftwerk I would play because, obviously, through the song “Planet Rock” by the Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force – they sample Kraftwerk. So I would definitely play Kraftwerk, afro-beat stuff like Fela Kuti, maybe James Brown, the Meters, funky ‘70s stuff. Even in a contemporary sense, modern jazz stuff like Kamasi Washington. That kind of stuff. I plan on being – I don’t want to say all over the map, but broad is the term that is popping up when talking about this show. So it’s going to be really broad musically.

I know you have the Serious Rap S*** podcast on your resume. Did you always plan for that to be a stepping stone to a radio gig?

No, not necessarily. I grew up on radio. If you come to my apartment, you’ll see I have dozens and dozens of radio tapes from the ‘90s, early 2000s, and things I would just record from the radio when I was a kid. So I always loved radio as a medium. But it wasn’t like. ‘OK, we’re going to do SRS and then I’ll be able to be on the radio at one point.’ Culture Cypher Radio is more something that grew out of my life as a DJ, my life as a music journalist. It’s more reflective of that taste than something specifically that was related to SRS. 

How long have you been doing the podcast?

This November will be our third year.

Is that going to continue?

Absolutely. We actually just started working with IHeartMedia and we just signed a deal with them two weeks ago. So the show’s going to be on a much broader platform. Probably in December, SRS 2.0 will probably premiere. So yeah, SRS will definitely continue. It’s going to be exciting to see how the show translates to a much wider audience. 

Congratulations, man. That’s a big accomplishment. 

Thank you, man. That’s been in the works for a long time as well. 

Back to the radio show, is Cypher going to be live or recorded?

I’m definitely doing it live. Part of the magic of radio to me growing up was knowing that there was somebody in the studio somewhere doing it as I was listening. I used to call Power 99 and WPRB and request songs and talk to the DJs about music. So yeah, part of the magic for me is being there live and doing it.

Do you think there will be a learning curve doing things live?

Absolutely. It’s definitely going to be a new thing. I’ve DJ’d on the radio, I’ve been interviewed on the radio before but I have zero experience hosting and producing a monthly show. I’ve done things with XPN a while ago – it’s like a three-part radio show series on the history of psychedelic rock in Philadelphia. So John Vettese [editor of XPN’s blog, The Key] and I collaborated on that. I wrote the articles and did the research and he and I did a radio show where we talked about psychedelic rock in Philly from the ‘60s to the revival in the ‘80s and ‘90s to some contemporary bands that are around now. So we played music and talked, and I went through some of the history and all that. So I’ve done radio shows before, but my own series – this is brand new territory for me. So there’s definitely going to be a learning curve.

What do you think makes XPN such a good fit for the show?

I think that XPN is committed to local music, which is something that you don’t really get [with commercial radio stations.] It’s public radio, so it’s kind of baked into the mission statement that public radio supports local music, independent music – all of that. So you look at some of the other corporate-owned stations – there’s not really space for local music specifically. So you can have that at XPN so I can – in addition to playing Kamasi Washington and Kraftwerk and all this music from around the world, some of the really good local hip hop that’s being made – this show will be a space where I can play that stuff on the air. Whereas you won’t really get that in other places. When I was a kid, I would listen to commercial radio and they would play whatever was the popular top 40 hip hop and R&B during the day, but then you have mix shows like Hip Hop Review on Q102 or Radioactive on Power 99 and these mix shows would come on on the weekends, at night they might start at like 8 o’clock at night or something like that and they would play local and independent music from around the world. There’s so much independent hip hop or underground hip hop that I got exposed to from listening to mix shows. There’s not really the space for that since radio has become monopolized by larger corporations, there’s just been less space for DJs to champion local music. But XPN doesn’t have that problem so we can do that there.

Right. As somebody who’s passionate about music, it’s a chance for you to play what’s good, not necessarily what’s profitable.

Yeah, absolutely. At XPN, I’m sure they don’t want me to get super esoteric and just start playing, like, The Boredoms or some kind of noise music that very little people want to here. They want people to listen to the show. But they also don’t want me to do top 40.