One of KXSU’s shows that I’m most proud to give voice to for this month’s On the Air is Loungin’ With Lulu M., hosted by Lulu Miles. Loungin’ is structured like a standard music show, but it stands out in Lulu’s choice of genres, which includes mostly jazz fusion, R&B fusion, and house. These styles, Lulu says, may seem dissimilar at first, but are really united by their beats and rhythm, as well as their roots in black culture. What could be more fitting for Black History Month’s installment of On the Air? You can hear Loungin’ With Lulu every Thursday from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on KXSU 102.1FM, or online at kxsu.org. With that, sit back and plug into some groovy Mtume (one of Lulu’s favorite groups) as you read on.
Lulu made her way to KXSU somewhat serendipitously, originally pursuing a degree in radio communications before working in public defense, where she loved most the idea of providing folks with hope and second chances. After 10 years in that field, she came to work at Seattle University’s Center for Community Engagement (where students go to organize service learning). Her initial interest in KXSU came as a desire to volunteer, so she contacted the station manager, Randy Scott, about recording some public service announcements (those in-between bits that tell you what station you’re tuned into). When he replied with an offer to host a show, Lulu accepted, but was uncertain at first. Soon, however, she grew into the position of radio host, and found herself loving it.
Though Lulu self-describes as an old soul, even going by the nickname “Nana” in the past, her music on Loungin’ is as fresh as can be. The tracks she plays are on the older side (mainly 1980s), but they capture a fond part of her growing years; you’ll hear artists such as The S.O.S. Band, George Benson, and Technotronic (you know them). Believe it or not, though, the styles on Loungin’ fill a niche in Seattle’s airwaves. Despite the city’s rich history and contributions to jazz, soul, and funk, there are very few dedicated radio stations in the area for these genres. KWJZ 98.9 was the most notable one for almost 20 years before ratings plunged and it became an adult contemporary station in 2011 (Click 98.9), and then converted to hard rock. The best option for Seattle jazz nowadays is the freshly-independent KNKX 88.5, which also broadcasts NPR news.
The scarcity of related programming in Seattle is part of what makes Lulu’s show so special, but I also credit the music itself. With her selection of fusion and house, Lulu captures a special period in the 80s during which many artists slowed down their sound and got downright soulful—or even sensual—as was the case with the popular Mtume song above. The groovy, smooth styles from this period are still influential today, and can be heard in many synth-pop groups and songs from major pop artists, including Carly Rae Jepsen. Lulu does us all a service by taking us back to those roots, and she makes it her goal to remind people to slow down for a few beats.
“The hardest part about hosting has been learning the technology in the studio, as well as on-air procedures,” Lulu mentions. She also reports some nerves before each show, but welcomes them because they “keep [her] on edge.” They had dissipated somewhat by the time I sat in on her show (which was her third or fourth by the end of January), and her confidence has grown each week. For Lulu, though, her show and music are a sort of catharsis, and a chance to relieve the pressures of daily life. “Hopefully my listeners find a similar escape,” she says.
One of Lulu’s greatest accomplishments has been attracting the attention and explicit praise of Dean Powers of Seattle University’s College of Arts and Sciences. After tuning into the show one afternoon, the dean sent Lulu an email saying that he loved the show and was looking forward to more, which is precisely the type of audience engagement that Lulu seeks from her audience. Lulu would prefer to fly under the radar herself, instead letting her music do the talking, but recognition is always nice, too. She will have succeeded, she says, “when [she reaches] people in that way, allowing them to engage with [her] styles and explore new tastes.” Overall, Loungin’ With Lulu is an engaging foray into the oft-overlooked, yet dramatically influential, world of groove and funk, brought to you by Lulu’s masterful curation.
Be sure to tune into KXSU 102.1FM every Thursday from 3:00-4:00 p.m. to hear Loungin’ With Lulu M. with Lulu Miles. Until next time!
JOSH GEST | Just rockin’ with it | KXSU Radio Reporter