|Making waves: Junior Payne -- known on-air as NSX -- is a radio pirate broadcasting beyond the boundaries of federal licensing (photo: tracie charvat)|
As radio skits go, the Feb. 6 interview on 95Live was over the top even for a medium where most of us think we've heard it all. On-air DJ NSX and a group of his buddies had surrounded a young man who had wandered into the pirate-radio station's downtown studio. The visitor, as NSX pointed out, was unwanted. "Right now, you broke into my office when I didn't give you permission," NSX said. "I'm really uncomfortable right now. I'm really nervous."
The tension was palpable and made for compelling radio. What would NSX do next to humiliate the guy? He made him sit and talk into the microphone. He confiscated the guy's wallet and made him remove his socks and shoes. Callers were egging NSX on. One of them suggested that he'd come down to the station and beat up the guy.
Orlando police weren't laughing, though.
They showed up and arrested NSX -- real name: Rayon "Junior" Payne -- and another man, charging them with battery, robbery and three counts of false imprisonment. They also confiscated all of Payne's equipment -- his transmitter, microphones, computers and T-1 lines -- leaving the station's FM frequency, 95.9, nothing but a noisy hiss in the middle of the radio dial.
Maybe a less ambitious person would have waited to regain his equipment from the cops. Or found a new line of work. Especially since Payne already had 12 felonies pending for buying radio equipment with stolen credit-card numbers. Yet Payne persisted. He began broadcasting again from a Winter Park office in May with thousands of dollars of equipment he'd purchased in the name of his company, Urbane Media.
Not only has Payne managed to bring back Orlando's only pirate station -- a station every serious hip-hop head has preset on his car radio -- he also has relaunched his radio Internet site (www.95live.com) and expanded his business operation to include web hosting, web design, computer graphics and commercial printing. This fall, Urbane Media has tentative plans to launch a magazine, "Live Avenue," that will focus on issues affecting the national underground hip-hop community. Payne also wants to start a second pirate-radio station and hopes to begin selling subscriptions to a service providing DVD-quality films over the web.
"We're worth $350,000 right now," Payne boasts.
Not bad for a guy worth maybe $500 in February, who still drives around in a beat-up red Nissan hatchback (Payne says he's car shopping). "Junior is smart as hell," says Amaze, 95Live's music and programming director and a late-night DJ. "When he does his show, there's people who call up and say he's ignorant. He's not ignorant. Businesswise, he knows how to get things done."
Payne, 25, attributes his business sense to his background in theater at the University of Central Florida. He feels he can play the part of a CEO, especially over the phone. It helps that Payne has a commanding voice, a front-of-the-mouth Brooklyn accent that is arguably the most recognizable on Orlando radio.
His attitude is also radio-ready. NSX isn't quite Payne's alter-ego, but it's close. Payne can be considerate, low-key, introspective and, like Tito Jackson, maybe even a little sensitive. He doesn't drink or smoke and is known around 95Live as the guy who spends his own money to bail friends out of jail or help them pay rent. Most of his daytime hours are spent troubleshooting problems that afflict Urbane Media. "This is a side of me people never see," he says in between business calls.
NSX, on the other hand, is brash, cocksure, opinionated, loud and misogynistic. He's the guy callers threaten to beat up or who, conversely, will tell adoring callers to "get off my dick." He is not the guy who, after the cops shut down his station, went into a deep depression.
"Life was really grim at that point," Payne remembers. "It's not like a parking ticket, you know? My parents were stressing, I was stressing. Channel 6 had something on. The Sentinel ran a story. I didn't know what I was going to do. There was no future. It was like, where do I go from here? It sounds stupid, but I was thinking about killing myself and it being all over with. Then this 16-year-old kid who works for me said, 'Only a coward kills himself.'"
Since then, Payne has been working the phones, coordinating, planning, scheming. A self-described numbers guy, Payne began calculating how to return to the air -- both on the Internet and on the FM dial. In May, he succeeded. But Payne hung back. He stayed off the air, wanting to keep a low profile. He let a DJ named Crews do NSX's "Afternoon Crash" show, which airs weekdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. "Then I said, 'Fuck it,'" Payne says. "You're not living till you're living on the edge."
He's hoping for a return to the station's glory days, when -- according to Payne -- the Internet site took 983 million hits in one month. Yet the radio station isn't the focus of Urbane Media. The only reason 95Live exists is to be the marketing arm of Payne's company. "The FM dial is not what we're after," says Payne's business partner, who goes by the name Malik Abdul, and is known on-air as Copafeel. (Abdul and other DJs asked Orlando Weekly not to use their real names.) "The FM dial is not going to make us rich."
Abdul, 28, often plays the good guy to Payne's bad-ass image. Abdul, though, understands what it's like to hate Payne. In fact, Abdul disliked him when they started hanging out several years ago, even though they shared common origins. Both were born on Caribbean islands. The two were introduced by a friend who later died in a car wreck on the way home from a New York City concert, bringing the two closer together. "When I first met Junior, I didn't like him," Abdul says. "Junior is a take-over guy. He wants to be in charge. Then I realized he and I had the same traits. Two people who are alike of course aren't going to get along at first."
As a testament to Payne and Abdul's newfound success, Urbane Media's modest office in west Winter Park is filled with new computers, three new state-of-the-art copying machines, fax equipment and a television and Nintendo for people chilling in the green room. Amaze, a 24-year-old former graffiti artist from Brooklyn, took care of the station's decor. On one wall Amaze spray-painted the domino-like buildings of a city as seen through a crack in a brick wall. In the hall he scrawled Payne's slogan of the moment, "When shit gets live, real friends stick together. You know who you are." The DJ booth is covered in movie and rap posters; DeNiro and the Wu Tang Clan are heavily represented. On the floor, in orange paint, another slogan: "Shit's real and it only gets realer."
The offices sometimes become the hangout for young people with nothing to do. Women wearing tight blouses and jeans will wait around to talk to DJs. Yet most of the sexual tension can be found on-air. Several weeks ago, DJ Dakoowan hung up on a female caller who claimed to be 16 and extremely horny. Within minutes, a man alleging to be 21 was on the phone begging for a date. "You can give her my number," the guy said. "I don't give a fuck." The following Sunday, a group of girls from California called in looking for a place to spend the night. Special Ed, the DJ who answered the call, is married. So he told the girls to call back in 10 minutes when the next DJ would be available -- especially if the women were attractive.
Most of the sexual chatter occurs on Payne's show, mainly because he is more talk-show host than DJ. The first question he often asks of hip-hop celebrities is how many white chicks are they banging. He asks women to sleep with him. If he becomes angry at them, he calls them bitches, whores or sluts, and has threatened to beat them with a baseball bat. (Guys are called "shorties." ) Then he wonders why women think he's intimidating.
Several weeks ago Payne, as NSX, took a call from a woman who said she'd pulled over in a rainstorm to cheer him up. At the time, Payne was bummed out because he'd received news that a buddy was in jail. The woman, who had a sexy-as-hell voice, seemed receptive to NSX's come-ons. But wouldn't you know he blew it. He began crooning a love song about the romance he wanted to give her -- Vaseline and anal sex. He asked a visitor in the DJ booth to supply the "da-da-dum" background vocals. Several listeners, anxious to help, called in singing, too. The woman laughed but told NSX anal sex was out. "I don't go that route," she concluded.
About the only thing you can't say on 95Live is "the F word." DJs routinely tell callers not to use it, though the rule is often ignored. It can be sung, however. A cannabis song making the rounds right now has a female voice singing the refrain, "fuck you," over and over.
"This is a radio station pioneered by two young black men," Abdul says. "We came up with the idea. But instead of giving us our props, what do people talk about? 'There's cursing in the music, there's cursing in the music.'"
Mainstream broadcasters hate pirate radio because the upstarts get to break all the rules, including not having to pay the Federal Communications Commission for licensing. Yet 95Live does have the occasional listener among corporate Orlando radio. "They're like an unlicensed college radio station," says Phil Michaels Trueba, programming director of WPYO (95.3-FM). "They talk about what they want to talk about. It's some crazy, crazy stuff. Some of us corporate people wish we could do that stuff, but we can't. We don't want to get those [FCC] fines. ... There's a lot of profanity; that's why kids love it. That's what it is, freedom. There's no handcuffs. They are the WWF of radio."
Like a pro wrestler, a rap star or a "Jerry Springer" guest, Payne is willing to take on nearly everyone. Even successful recording artists get little respect, especially when they fail on their promise to make in-station appearances, as De La Soul and Common did on July 28. Payne warned them several times. "You can come down here or I can rip you on the air," he said. "You're embarrassing me." After some back and forth on the phone with a local promoter, Payne told his audience to boycott the hip-hop show that night at House of Blues. Then he played a bit by comedian George Carlin: "I think that if white people are going to burn down black churches, then black people should burn down the House of Blues. What a fucking disgrace that place is."
Eventually Posdnuos of De La Soul called in, apologizing, "We're big fans of you. You're the only station blazing the music."
In some ways, respect is more important to Payne than money. Respect is what drove him into radio in the first place. Several years ago he was shopping around his self-produced single, "Cherish the Day." When Orlando's top black station, WJHM (101.9-FM), wouldn't play it, Payne checked the Internet to learn how to start his own station. He set up in his apartment in a gated community near Orlando International Airport. Payne's 100-watt transmitter barely reached across the city, the antenna having been placed up a pine tree outside his window.
When neighbors eventually complained, he moved the station to a Rosemont apartment complex where Abdul lived. The two kept jacking up the antenna on top of Abdul's apartment building until their signal reached Altamonte Springs. By then residents of that complex also were complaining. It seems 95Live was blasting through the television cable lines. "We were bleeding in over stuff," says Abdul.
95Live had no more settled into a $250-a-month Winter Park office when police arrested Payne at his residence on multiple charges of possessing and using a stolen credit card and scheming to defraud three companies out of $10,000 worth of radio equipment. According to Orlando police detective William Moore's report, Payne received stolen credit-card numbers from a former girlfriend and used them to purchase antenna equipment and power supplies. Moore's report says Payne ordered the equipment under such aliases as Ivan Lefserson, George Sheldon, Richard Payne and Richard (Junior) Payne.
Moore wrote that while he waited, Payne called a friend, who returned the equipment from the radio station to Payne's apartment. In March, Payne pleaded no contest to two third-degree felonies: possession of a stolen credit card and scheming to defraud a business. He received five years probation and was ordered to pay restitution of $10,659.
Says Payne: "I'm not going to cry over it." His take on the credit-card scheme is that it was blown out of proportion. He wasn't some petty thug, just somebody trying to start a business. "Don't come at me like a stick-up man with a public defender," he says, sounding more like NSX than a CEO. "Don't come at me like a Pasulo bandit. Come at me correct." Yet in a lighter moment, he concedes he made a mistake, one that he says won't happen again. "All the bad has brought the good out of me," he says.
While his case was being worked out, Payne traveled to Miami with Abdul to begin a pirate station there. In Miami, the two blended in well. Miami has a history of radio pirates, with the FCC shutting down more than 20 low-watt stations over the last several years.
It wasn't long, however, before homesickness drove them back north. Orlando, with all of its small-time ambitions, started to look better and better. But instead of returning to the outskirts of Orlando, they wanted to relaunch 95Live in the heart of downtown, where everything was happening. They found a $1,500-a-month office on West Pine Street less than a block from Orange Avenue. They could look out of their second-floor window and comment on the passersby walking below.
For six months, the pirate station was running smoothly. 95Live quickly gained a reputation as the voice of Orlando's hip-hop culture. Lazy K, Tracy Lee, Cap 1 and other rap, jungle and techno artists dropped by for in-station appearances.
As 95Live DJs like to boast, the station doesn't just play records, it breaks them, meaning listeners hear artists on 95Live before they appear on other stations. They play artists like 50 Cents, Track Masters, Nature and Major Figures -- people unknown to many in the hip-hop community until they were heard on 95Live.
Until February, 95Live was on the air 24 hours a day. It seemed incredible that a group of young people could so flagrantly break the law for so long. It was like having a house party on the steps of City Hall. Every night. With Glenda Hood sleeping in her office.
On Feb. 6, though, the good times halted. It was early in the morning, the bars just closing. A 95Live staff member named Brad stood on Pine Street, catching young women on their way home and diverting them to the station's second-floor studio. At about 2 a.m. he caught the attention of three people: Ashley Andel, a Naples high-school student who was 18 at the time; and Kelley Mattox, 21, and Patrick Petrick, 26, both of Orlando. For whatever reason, Andel and Mattox entered "the locker room" without Petrick. Payne immediately remembered seeing them walking on Pine Street earlier. His impression wasn't favorable. "We have some anorexic females up in here right now," he told 95Live listeners. "Brad, you brought us two malnourished chicks." To the women he said, "I'm going to have you eat a whole box of doughnuts."
Andel and Mattox sounded a little tipsy on the air. "Hi, Orlando," one of them said. At first they weren't convinced that 95Live was a real radio station. One of them asked Payne for a business card. Sexual banter ensued. Payne asked to squeeze their asses and wanted one of the women to rub his penis. Then he said, "Either sit on my lap and buff my nuts or get out." He asked Andel if she shaved her bikini area. When he asked to see, she responded, "No, no, no, no."
After a caller reported to Payne that some braless, pantyless women were on their way to the studio, the DJ tried several times to kick Mattox and Andel out of the booth. "You gotta bounce," he said. A minute later, Petrick walked in. His entrance was not a good one. When Payne asked his name, Petrick responded, "I just told you. Are you fucking deaf?"
Payne's first instinct was to put Petrick on the air. "Yo, grab the mike," he said, though he was hardly polite during the five minutes he grilled Petrick, a House of Blues employee, who wasn't allowed to leave. He threatened to beat Petrick's ass, to put a slug in his back and throw him out of the window. "Right now, you're my whore," he told Petrick. The group took Petrick's wallet to learn his identity. Then Payne asked to use Petrick's Texaco gas card and confiscated $3 for the 95Live fund. At one point, Petrick said afterward, "I was mad because three black guys almost kicked my ass." The interview ended suddenly when the DJs saw something out the window.
Payne should have realized that Petrick was troubled over the incident. On his way out, Petrick asked, "Are y'all going to be here a while?" A DJ responded, "We'll be here forever and ever and ever." Minutes later, the 95Live crew saw Petrick, Andel and Mattox on the street talking to a cop.
Police charged Payne and another man in the studio -- Jumoke Gamble, then an Orlando Sentinel sports reporter known on-air as Los -- with six felonies, including battery, robbery and false imprisonment. According to the police report, three black males had slammed Petrick into a wall during the incident; Gamble allegedly punched Petrick in the chest using "tremendous force."
Payne apparently was more intent on scaring Petrick than taking his money. He made sure Petrick had all his belongings before he left. He asked Petrick several times to count his money and check to see that his gas card was in his wallet. As for false imprisonment, Payne is heard several times during a recording of the incident telling Andel and Mattox to leave the studio while he talked to Petrick. They weren't being detained. They were being kicked out.
On Aug. 22, Payne accepted a plea bargain on a charge of first-degree misdemeanor battery. Judge Bob Wattles sentenced Payne to 30 hours community service, $450 in fines, and ordered that 95Live not play its tape of the Feb. 6 incident. Gamble, who was later charged with a July 29 rape in Seminole County, was scheduled to go to trial this week on charges stemming from the radio show. Mattox has accused him of "forcefully" placing his arms around her and trying to kiss her in a small room adjacent to the DJ booth.
Under the circumstances -- and the possibility of facing two white women and six felony counts in an Orange County courthouse -- Payne feels he escaped again. "I've got grease underneath my feet," he says. "I had good attorneys. Freedom comes at a price."
Payne is getting more freedom than he bargained for. As part of the plea agreement, Judge Wattles ordered OPD to return 95Live's radio equipment. Payne says he will use it to broadcast his second pirate station on the 93.9 frequency. He plans to call the station 95Dance.
Even so, Payne says the incident, like his credit-card arrest, was blown out of proportion. There's no way, he says, that 95Live should have been taken off the air. He alleges that police used the minor incident with Petrick to close him down, pointing out that a small army of officers arrived to make arrests and seize the equipment. "I'm 145 pounds," he says. "Is it necessary to send 50 cops to arrest me?"
Payne believes the raid was orchestrated by Mayor Hood's administration. He says 95Live was too radical for her conservative social stands. "It's amazing what City Hall will do. We were taken off the air right before an election. Why was that?"
But police Sgt. Orlando Rolon says the city holds no grudge. "We didn't even know the station existed until a victim told us that he came to the station and was held against a wall," says Rolon. "That's the only way we learned about this guy. That's the only way [Payne] became involved."
The hassles with OPD were the reason Abdul and Payne decided to relocate to Winter Park, where they can't broadcast during the day because it screws up the phones in the rest of the building.
Downtown probably held too many distractions anyway. "Pine Street was more of a free-for-all," says Amaze, the graffiti artist and station hanger-on. "Everything was paid for. Now we have bills to pay."
How long 95Live can survive on Orlando's airwaves is anyone's guess. The FCC is always lurking, though for the record Payne remains coy about the transmission of 95Live's broadcast. "I'm an Internet radio station, 95live.com. I don't know what goes on on FM radio. Whoever is doing the transmitter rebroadcasts my feed. I have nothing to do with that."
However the station is broadcast, Orlando should listen while it has the chance. Raw, cutting-edge, uncensored radio is hard to come by in Central Florida. And, like it or not, 95Live is anything but boring. "I hope Orlando appreciates what we bring to them," Amaze says. "I hope they realize what they have. We have people calling in all the time saying, /When y'all went off the air, we missed you.' I hope they meant that. Junior is really risking his ass. I hope they appreciate that."