Kiss FM (98.7 WRKS) — the radio station previously tasked with delivering “Classic Soul and today’s R&B” to New York City listeners — dissolved three years ago, but a new podcast has rekindled the rhythm & blues flame.
For the past two months, hosts Rob Markman, 35, and Kristin Coral, 24, have recorded the Red Light Special podcast inside of the lower Manhattan Engine Room studio. The idea, sparked by Markman, a veteran hip-hop journalist and the recently appointed manager of artist relations for Genius, has become a digital platform for a genre desperately yearning for a resurgence.
Markman, a Staten Island resident, and Coral, who is from Valley Stream, Long Island, met on Twitter over a year ago, after one of Markman’s retweets helped Coral land a job as a model in Mac Miller’s music video for “The Star Room.” Having mutual contacts and similar musical interests ultimately led to a friendship, and their off-line conversations would soon become the foundation for Red Light Special.
“We used to just talk about music and R&B in particular, so when the idea came up to do this podcast I thought Kristin would be perfect for it,” Markman explained to the Voice, moments before the duo began taping their twelfth episode at the Engine Room. “I’m an R&B head, but you know, I’m a hip-hop journalist… I’ve always had this joke [that] when I retire from hip-hop, I want one of those R&B late night shows where I talk real deep. I don’t know if you ever saw Faith Evans’ ‘Used to Love Me’ video and B.I.G. is taking calls and he’s giving love advice and stuff. I always wanted to be like B.I.G. in that video. The idea was to have an R&B radio show, and that’s not really the format anymore — who knows if that’s realistic? Why wait ‘til I retire? It just morphed into an idea for a podcast.”
“I would always tell Rob, ‘I don’t care what you talk about, I’m going to be there,” Coral said. “I loved that idea, like a late night talk show, what he says Kiss FM used to feel like.”
A candid meeting with Reggie Ossé (better known as Combat Jack) and Loud Speakers Network founder Chris Morrow provided an opportunity for Markman and Coral to launch their project under a brand already proven in the podcast space.
“It just made a lot of sense, given the fact that no one has really been talking about R&B on a podcast,” Morrow said. “So, just in terms of Rob’s background and Kristin’s as well, I thought they did a good job of identifying a lane that hadn’t been filled yet but it was also passion. When you have those two things we think it’s going to have a lot of success.”
Initially, Ossé and Morrow approved of the name “Rob and B,” a clever play off of Markman’s first name and the music the show would highlight — but the “B” left Coral out, and the pair went with a title that represented the both of them.
“I’m not sure exactly how I got into the groove of it, but I just started thinking TLC, and that song [‘Red Light Special’] just has that whole vibe to it, and a special is kind of like what a podcast is,” Coral said. “It just sounded right, ‘Red Light Special.’ I wrote it down and we kind of kept saying it and we were like, ‘I think we’re going to go with that one.’”
“There were a whole bunch of other bad names but once we came up with Red Light Special and Kristin suggested it, it was like ‘Alright, that’s it,” Markman added.
After solidifying their catchy moniker on Google and Twitter and finalizing a logo, Markman and Coral, sought out their first guest for the program: actor-singer and Staten Island native Tristan “Mack” Wilds. Their first topic, drawn directly from text messages between Markman, Mack, and Coral consisted of a debate over which R&B group from the Nineties was better, Jodeci or Boyz II Men. Markman, a lifelong Jodeci fan, argued fervently that the foursome (comprised of two sets of brothers Cedric “K-Ci” and Joel “JoJo” Hailey, Donald “Devante Swing” and Dalvin Degrate) brought an unprecedented edge to their music. Coral and Mack agreed but disputed that Boyz II Men (Michael McCary, Wanya Morris, Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman) had more mainstream appeal and the better catalogue.
“The funny thing about that is I don’t think people really debate R&B like they do hip-hop,” Markman said. “There’s no R&B GOAT list. We kind of bring that swag into it. People really love Boyz II Men and people really love Jodeci. People feel a way if you go one way or another.”
Spirited debates like the one exhibited in the inaugural episode combined with relationship advice and insight from artists and industry insiders has proven to be a solid format for Red Light Special. Ryan Leslie, Bridget Kelly, Melanie Fiona, producer Salaam Remi and Coral’s favorite guest thus far Rico Love have all sat on the same maroon sofa Mack Wild broke in for the duo on day one.
Still, none of the aforementioned names are as heralded in the genre as R. Kelly. RLS’s esteemed guest for the eighth episode couldn’t chat for long, but his gratitude towards Markman and Coral for creating such a platform has injected energy into their efforts.
“When you look up R&B in the dictionary, he’s there,” Markman said, with a grin. “He put out the album, The R., in R&B, right? Kellz thanked us for doing this. He looked me in my face, and was like, ‘Thank you for doing this podcast and creating an outlet for R&B because there are not a lot of people doing that and we need that.’ Kellz felt like the genre was being left to die. I’m sitting here thinking ‘Bro, what are you thanking me for? You’re R. Kelly.’”
“He sees the value in what we’re doing and that fuels us to keep us going,” Coral interjected.
Last month, Markman and Coral received an opportunity to meet their fans face-to-face at the Apple store in SoHo. Nearly one hundred attendees formed a line wrapped around the corner of the brick and mortar location to witness the Red Light Special hosts discuss their program as the subject of Apple’s “Meet the Podcasters.” The event, which was moderated by MTV reporter-producer Sway Calloway, was the pair’s first taste of admiration beyond the Internet and a milestone moment.
In the future, Markman and Coral hope to incorporate more music, and allow listeners to interact with them live during their podcasts. They’d also like to begin hosting R&B-oriented events, such as showcases and parties with new and established artists.
While Coral says she awaits the day Brandy will join them on the show, Markman’s dream guest, R. Kelly, has already visited. Now, he says he’d “love for Beyoncé and Alicia Keys to come through.” “I’d love to have Jodeci up here, too,” he added.