Community feels sold out as WILD signs off
It wasn’t a good day for Jimmy Myers. For the last six months, he has labored over a microphone, trying to establish WILD-AM as Boston’s only black talk show. Folks were calling, ratings were going up, and for once, black folks had a community on air.
“I kept telling them, whatever you do, don’t cancel the show after three or four months,” Myers said. “It needs to build and grow.”
Quite naturally, the owners of WILD weren’t listening. In a deal reportedly valued at $30 million in cash and announced on Monday, Radio One Inc. sold its WILD 97.7 FM station to Entercom, the nation’s fourth largest radio broadcaster. Entercom also owns WEEI, Boston’s leading sports talk station.
By 7 p.m. Monday night, the one black-owned station that featured hip-hop and R& B music on the FM dial had vanished into the Massachusetts night, only to be replaced by WAAF and its head-banging rock-and-roll music. Also lost in the deal was Jimmy Myers.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Myers said. “But I feel horrible that the community no longer has a voice. This community needs a voice and I was pleasantly pleased at how many folks were actually calling and contributing to the dialogue.”
Instead of Myers urging listeners to “talk to me,” his oft-repeated mantra on WILD-AM, they now have Tom Joyner from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Instead of Michael Eric Dyson and Al Sharpton, listeners now have gospel music. Radio One still owns WILD 1090 AM but rumors are circulating that it is on the selling block as well.
The programming had become a part of Boston’s radio landscape, especially 97.7 FM where WILD had operated for the last six years. All of that changed on Monday, where even the deejays were caught unaware of the corporate business decisions.
During the last hour of Monday night’s broadcast, DJ Reggie Beas was still unaccustomed to the pending change but he tried to remain upbeat.
“This is the new Hot 97.7, the home of the Tom Joyner Morning...,” Beas said before abruptly stopping himself on-air, reminding listeners that WILD-FM would no longer exist.
“You know when you get used to saying something every day?” Reggie asked. “…You know how long we have tried to get an FM hip hop and R&B station in Boston? After only six years, it’s sad to see it go away. This is not a good bye. This is a definite we’ll see you later.”
If soon-to-be-former employees were keeping a stiff upper lip, many in the community were not.
“This is outrageous,” said Boston schoolteacher Steven Castle. “This isn’t the way you’re supposed to do business. It’s unacceptable for them to sell our community out for a quarter. Everybody needs to make money but this shows no respect for the community here in Boston.”
“They sold us out,” echoed Karen Seymore, a community activist. “All for the sake of a dollar. I’m just angry and upset that they could disregard our community.”
The “they” in this case are the owners of Radio One, Inc. — Cathy Hughes and her son Alfred Liggins. Started 25 years ago, the company owns and operates 69 radio stations in 22 American cities, and programs a channel on XM Satellite Radio. The publicly traded company also owns a 40 percent stake in TV One, a cable and television network started in 2004.
Like many other large radio station owners, radio analysts say, Radio One has a strategy of buying stations in a given market and making sudden format changes they believe will make money.
Such was the case in 1999 when Radio One bought a country radio station near Boston, and turned it into “Hot 97.7” with an urban format. A year later, in November 2000, Radio One spent about $5 million in cash and stocks to purchase WILD-AM from longtime owner Bernadine Nash.
That was the beginning of the end — at least for Boston’s black community. As one radio insider put it, “Radio One is a cold-blooded company that is only concerned with the bottom-line.”
Just last year, instead of spending money to renovate their leased space in Roxbury, Radio One moved the location of the radio station from Warren Street in Dudley Square to swank new offices near the Quincy waterfront.
Mattapan resident Haris Hardaway grew up on WILD. “This was our heritage station,” said Hardaway. “It was more than favorite songs. It was for [people of color] and brought up the issues that concerned our community.”
Hardaway was also upset. “I grew up with my parents listening to Motown, gospel and jazz,” said Hardaway. “When the new format came we had a little of everything and on two different stations. It’s gone now. What do we have?”
Dorchester resident Rachael Jones works with Hardaway at the Central Boston Elder Services. She too bemoaned the lack of a community voice.
“I grew up on WILD,” she said. “That’s all we knew. Everyone knew of WILD.”
“It’s a landmark of Boston,” Jones said. “It’s one of the first stations that catered to people of color. “We didn’t have other outlets that played our music or understood our causes. Now we’re being disenfranchised from the whole medium of communication in the city.”
For his part, Myers is taking the high road. He said he wanted to thank all the callers and guests, folks like Mayor Thomas Menino and gubernatorial candidates Deval Patrick and Chris Gabrieli, for appearing on his show. “We were going to have Sinbad on later this week,” Myers said.
It’s a good thing Myers doesn’t have his show right about now. Lord knows what the community would say when asked to talk with him – out loud and on-air.