Quiet Storm: Lowering The Signal On Black Radio In Boston

June 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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A Guest Editorial By Kelley C. Chunn

As an African American who specializes in multicultural marketing and whose last name is Chunn, how can I be upset that Boston’s only noted black AM station, WILD 1090, now carries Chinese programming?

Yet I am upset because Boston is a top 10 media market. So it is unacceptable that black people here have lost a local voice and a major cultural connection to the rest of the country.

A trio of popular national talk meisters are now off the local airwaves. Tom Joyner’s popular and influential morning show is gone. Warren Ballentine, “The Truth Fighter,” is gone, as is the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network.
We are left with the very local Touch 106.1 FM, the Fabric of the Black Community, a small station with a big heart and good intentions — but unfortunately, a limited reach. To his credit, Charles Clemons, station co-founder, owner and general manager, has lobbied Congress to allocate more power to community owned and operated radio stations in the United States. Stay tuned to see what happens with that ongoing struggle.

I admit that after Radio One, the media company that claims it’s the “Urban Media Specialist,” sold WILD FM a few years ago, I listened less and less to the AM side of the station. The music sounded like computerized “plug and play.” Only the talk shows stood out in the daily programming.

Joyner, Ballentine and Sharpton always had something provocative to say about issues of the day and connected with listeners. The few local programs on WILD AM, such as the Sunday family talk show hosted by Larry Higgenbotham of the Osiris Group, gave the station some local flavor and showed a commitment to the black community.

That commitment dates back to Sheridan Broadcasting, which bought WILD in the 1970s and extended to local black entrepreneur Kendell Nash who bought the station in the early 1980s. Until his death in the late 1990s, Nash ran WILD as Boston’s premier urban station. It was based in studios on Warren Street in Roxbury.

That era ended in 2000 when Radio One purchased WILD from Nash’s widow, Bernadine. Radio One moved the station from Roxbury to Quincy and in the following years changed the format, branded the station as WILD AM and FM, hired and then downsized local staff when it sold WILD FM in 2006.

In this latest chapter, it’s out with African American voices and in with the voices of the world’s biggest developing country: China. This is not a bad thing. When you listen to the new WILD AM broadcasted in English, you will learn about some of the key challenges facing China in health and human services, business and foreign affairs. There are talk shows and entertainment news. You will hear an eclectic mix of music from Chinese opera to country to pop. You might even learn a few words of Mandarin because one of the segments teaches you phrases to practice. Beyond China, there are station promos promising global news including the latest from Kenya and Ethiopia. If WILD AM delivers on that, we might learn more about some African countries from the Chinese than we did from Radio One programming.

The backstory is that Radio One still owns the WILD AM call letters and the frequency but has apparently sold or leased the rights to the programming. Ever the savvy businesswoman, Cathy Hughes, founder of the media powerhouse Radio One, which expanded into TV One, was recently tapped by the Obama administration to chair the U.S. Small Business Administration’s newly Created Council on Underserved Communities. The mission is to help emerging minority entrepreneurs.

Here’s hoping that the Council’s mandate, under Hughes’ leadership, includes teaching African American entrepreneurs how to purchase and produce programming for radio and TV stations that reflect the particular concerns of African American audiences.

A footnote: One thing hasn’t changed, though. WILD AM 1090 still comes on air at sunrise and signs off at sundown.

This editorial was originally published in The Bay State Banner.

Kelley C. Chunn is a social entrepreneur specializing in multicultural and cause related marketing for the past 20 years. She is based in Roxbury’s historic Hibernian Hall.

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