THE REBIRTH of MTM Records and the debut of a country music cable program are the latest projects to expand the media horizon of South Carolina-based entrepreneur Calvin Gilmore. The two ventures are the earliest results of Gilmore’s equity portion sale of Calvin Gilmore Prod. Inc. to the Family Channel and parent company Intl. Family Entertainment.

A country singer himself, Gilmore is credited with the single-handed transformation of Myrtle Beach, S.C., into “the new Branson.” His three concert theaters attract crowds, while the Candock Studios recording complex attracts country artists typically drawn to Nashville. The Ozark-born, self-made millionaire’s strategic alliance with IFE provides increased capital and the means to expand nationwide via global television exposure and the revamped MTM records.

The Family Channel’s hour-long “Country Music Spotlight” marks the first merger of Gilmore’s live venues and IFE. The program debuts with Merle Haggard and John Michael Montgomery on Jan. 5, George Jones and Joe Diffie Jan. 6, and Tracy Byrd Jan. 8. Artists will be showcased in two 30-minute performances from the stage of Gilmore’s Carolina Opry, built in 1986 to house family-oriented musical revues.

MTM Records will reappear next year as a contemporary label featuring country , gospel and rock artists nurtured, in part, on Gilmore’s three Myrtle Beach stages: The Carolina Opry, Dixie Jubilee and Southern Country Nights. Gilmore himself is expected to be one of the label’s first recording artists.

BEATING THE RUSH: To beat the annual influx of Christmas music on radio, the record companies have by-and-large released all the major project singles for the remainder of the year. Here are some that are the subject of industry scrutiny in the next few weeks:

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”: the radio-friendly new song on a greatest-hits album enjoyed a modest start on Top 40 radio, as 46 stations added it out-of-the-box. It’s been a while since Petty’s been on the airwaves; this song will see how much of his popularity has endured in his absence.

Heart, “Will You Be There”: A good start for the Wilson sisters, who also haven’t been active in the music scene for a good while; 81 stations added it in its first official week.

Kate Bush, “Rubberband Girl”: For years, this acclaimed British singer has been tabbed as too eclectic for Mainstream radio. This song, already an Alternative radio smash, could finally be her Top 40 breakthrough, as 47 stations snapped it up last week.

Cher With Beavis & Butt-Head, “I Got You Babe”: So much for any negative repercussions from their TV show. This comical update of the Sonny & Cher hit is already a huge listener favorite (it’s the sixth-most requested song on Top 40 in the nation), as 104 stations are playing it.

Snoop Doggy Dogg, “What’s My Name”: Would radio be hesitant about playing a song from the rapper who was just indicted for murder, and then pleaded innocent? Well, over 1 million records were sold in the first two weeks. It’s one of the most-popular videos on MTV. The single is the fifth-most requested song in the nation. Next question.

Pearl Jam, “Daughter”: There’s no video. There isn’t even a single release for this song. So what? Album sales are over 2.5 million and 108 Top 40 stations are playing the song anyway; half of them have it in their Top 20. The people have spoken.

HARDCORE “GANGSTA” rap is the subject of recent media criticism, especially on the issue of violence, which permeates so much of rap music.

In what might be considered an attempt to offset all the negative public opinion and media coverage of hardcore rap, Ice Cube, one of the genre’s founders, last week took his message to the streets where rap was born.

Accompanied by a small entourage that included several members of the Nation of Islam, Ice Cube spoke last Monday before a special assembly of several hundred students at South Central’s Locke High School.

Cube, who co-starred in John Singleton’s “Boyz N the Hood,” spoke much like he does in his music — by “puttin’ knowledge on top of the music to fight this beast we all gotta fight.” He is the hip-hop nation’s Malcolm X and one angry man.

Questions posed to the rapper covered a wide range of subjects:

Does he think he’s a good influence? “I think I am because I speak the truth. I tell the real deal. Everything I say is real.”

Why did he leave Compton-based gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A? “I didn’t want to get done for the money.”

How does he like being married? “Kim is my wife, and my relationship with Kim is cool.”

Cube also had the opportunity to turn the tables, asking the students about their plans. Of those considering the military, Cube told the students, “Don’t you do that! Don’t you let them use your body to fight their wars. Let Clinton start fighting with his (own) fists.”

He was asked about his affiliation with the Nation of Islam (“Yup. I’m a Muslim, but I’m also a Christian and also part of the NAACP.”) At the same time Cube cautioned the students that minorities should be careful of racial labels because whether black or Latino, Cube believes, “We’re all in the same boat.”

At one point the audience, especially the young women present, responded in vocal protest when Cube stated “I don’t speak bad on females.” He queried the women in audience rhetorically, “Are you talkin’ to the man, or are you talkin’ to (his car)?”

Cube noted that men (“fools”) do not escape his criticism saying, “I talk about men too.”

In speaking about gangs, Cube said, “I ain’t got no problem with people unifying. I’m with that.” But he does have a problem with young black men killing each other.

In his closing remarks, Cube said he was about freedom, justice and equality. “Once we have that, we’re all livin’ plush.”

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