Some of my earliest memories include hearing Mary J. Blige and SWV crooning from KMJQ 102.1 FM. The station itself has been broadcasting its so-called “Majic” for the last 40 years, infiltrating sound systems and car radios to become an unmistakable part of Houston’s soundtrack; the station even made a cameo in the 1994 film Jason's Lryic, set here in the Bayou City.
What's the secret to the Majic? Two-decade KMJQ veteran Kandi Eastman says musical variety. Though it is considered an “urban adult contemporary” music station, KMJQ is more than just R&B and soul. "Some may say that it's like a gumbo, because we've got gospel, we've got R&B, we've got a little reggae, a little zydeco, blues—we have everything," she says.
Eastman came to Houston after success in the Norfolk, Raleigh and Boston markets, making her local airwave debut October 31, 1994. “I think I was supposed to be in Houston,” she says, “because who else has a name like Kandi and debuts on Halloween?" Even today, her tagline states that she’s "the only Kandi mom wants you to have."
But as a pillar of Houston’s black community, KMJQ goes beyond entertainment. Eastman in particular remembers the 1997 mayoral election when the station helped rally voters to elect Lee P. Brown, the city’s first black mayor, with an initiative called Roll to the Polls. “We got the word out, along with SHAPE Community Center, which is a staple in the community,” she says. “They got rides together, people who offered to take the elderly out to the polls. It was an initiative." Before Diddy even conceived the idea of “Vote or Die” in 2004, there was Roll to the Polls—and it worked. As press coverage noted at the time, of the voters in that election “about a third or more were black and 55 percent were non-Hispanic white.”
A single mother of two young sons at the time, Eastman brought them to the station on weekends, and even got to take them to Disney World when Majic broadcast from the amusement park. KMJQ even made special accommodations when they fell ill, bringing the station to Eastman. "When they had chicken pox in elementary school, I was actually able to broadcast from home,” she says. “They set up an antennae on my patio and a microphone, and basically somebody back at the station would be playing the music. They would bring my music playlist and things that I needed to promote on a daily basis."
When Eastman was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2013, she used the station as a platform to raise awareness, particularly during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The outpouring of love from listeners and co-workers alike was overwhelming, including hearing from fellow cancer survivor Robin Roberts. "I had so much love and so much support,” she says, “but I've talked to other people who don't have all that support."
In 2017, technology has changed, and streaming services create individual, curated radios. But Majic stays relevant. Eastman says a lot of their listeners come from Facebook, using giveaways and tickets to draw folks back to traditional radio, which is where you’ll find Eastman five days a week, five hours per day, delivering the Majic as always.