WILD-AM Now Serves A Very Different Audience

BOSTON — 1090 WILD-AM was the scrappy little engine that could. A small-budget radio station with big ideas with over 40 years on air, it earned a trusted place in the heart and soul of Boston’s inner city community. But now that’s all gone. The station serves a very different audience.

In the 1980s, WILD-AM was the hot spot. If you wanted to find out what was happening in the city, you’d tune in. If you needed to get information to the African-American inner city community, the red brick building on Warren Street across from Roxbury District Court is where you’d go, whether you were a concert promoter, community activist or politician.

“The Coach” Willie Maye was sports director and morning co-host at WILD for 22 years. He recalls the good old days.

“We made some great strides, everyone wanted to be part of it,” Maye said. “Here you had this little radio station that was a daytime radio station. And [we] really made some great things happen. I remember back in ’85, we won best morning show in Boston Magazine, which was huge.”

In the 1980s, 1090 WILD-AM was the hot spot. If you wanted to find out what was happening in the city, you’d tune in.

And just about everybody came through.

“Luther Vandross, I remember, came one of the coldest Veterans’ Days back in the ’80s,” Maye said. “The line went out the door, around the corner, up the hill, because everyone one to see the late, great Luther Vandross. And he was great.”

But that’s all changed now.

“Shows hardly come to town anymore because promoters don’t feel as though they have a way to get the word out to people to come to their shows. So you don’t see as many African-American concerts here in Boston anymore. And it’s been like that in a big, big way in the last five years or so,” Maye said.

Maye echoes what many in the city are saying — that the voice of the community is gone.

What’s lost, said “Coach,” is more than a brick and mortar building, more than a radio station with a great playlist. The loss of WILD is especially felt when it comes to news, entertainment and cultural events now that the station has been reprogrammed.

As of June 1, China Radio International is the new sound of WILD. The station is targeting “new Americans.”

One of the reasons WILD is no longer on the air is that the marketplace has changed — the competition is greater. What’s happened to WILD is not surprising to media observers like WBUR media analyst John Carroll.

“I think it’s a reflection of what’s happening in the radio market overall, a movement toward consolidation, a movement toward nationalization or internationalization, a movement away from local community presence on radio stations and more toward major conglomerates, which are much less expensive to operate,” Carroll said. “One of the issues is can anyone make the FCC care about this?”

The Federal Communications Commission said it is not aware of the change in programming at WILD.

Radio One, which holds the WILD license, has a local marketing agreement, or LMA, with Douglas Broadcasting, which is airing China Radio International. Radio One is not required to report that LMA to the FCC.

Douglas Broadcasting says the new programming at WILD is an experiment. The company president, Greg Douglas, said he has no plans to sell commercial time. He would not say whether his company is being paid by the Chinese government to broadcast the programming.

“I can’t believe that this is going under the radar,” said media historian Donna Halper, who has written a book about Boston radio.

“I get the sense that it kind of violates the spirit of the law and I’d be very curious as to whether someone ought not to look into it, because I can’t believe that this is what needs to be going on in the minority community in Boston,” she said.

Longtime Boston civic activist and former Boston NAACP President Louis Elisa is doing just that.

“It’s a whisper campaign unless someone gives it a voice,” Elisa said.

Elisa said there is a movement to take back what for years was a drum for Boston inner city community.

“I know that a number of people will be petitioning,” Elisa said. “Our local Congressman Capuano, as well as Congressman Markey to get some some support to say to the FCC, ‘We need the opportunity to acquire this station, and acquire its assets, in order to keep our community in the know.’ ”

It’s important, said Elisa, because communication is the key to survival of any society.

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  • http://roxlog.blogspot.com Michelle

    Great question from John Carroll.  And painfully ironic. How can we make the FCC care about the public interest?  The loss of ‘ILD is unfortunate but it’s gone away and been revived before.  In the meantime http://touchfm.org/ is still going strong.

  • The Voice

    The black community of Boston deserves more than what WILD offered and Touch can deliver; a full power 24 hour station.

    • Paul

      Perhaps, but the reality that it is cost prohibitive in a market like Boston where the A-A% is simply not high enough to sustain such an operation. WJMN is probably as close as you’re going to see from here out. Much higher likelyhood of seeing a Hispanic FT FM in Boston before any A-A station

      • The Voice

        True, but not accurate.  From a business standpoint it can be reasonably done and profitable.  A situation, not a problem.

  • http://twitter.com/DevorahLeah Donna Halper

    The irony is that Touch 106, a pirate station and thus not legal, wants a license to serve the black community and evidently cannot get one.  WILD, which had a license and was supposed to serve the black community (and had been doing so since the 1960s) gave it away to a group that has no local ties to Boston whatsoever.  And yes, it is one of life’s mysteries that the FCC seems totally uninterested in preserving local broadcasting.  While the FCC has remained on the sidelines, a handful of corporations are free do whatever they want, whether they  care about the local communities or not.  Allegedly, the rule about radio licensees being expected to serve the public interest is still on the books, but nobody seems to enforce it.  How sad.

    • Star

      While the FCC holds a fair amount on the macro level, the problem in Boston is people didn’t speak up and support the station when they had it.  WILD is not the only house on the block. 

    • Andrew

      I have been listening to WILD since the 80′s. The station was dying a slow death. There was *nothing* local about it. Programming was automated.  The parent company made no investment in the station.The clincher is that it was a black owned media company that destroyed it.

      Now that WILD is gone, here’s a chance for a new broadcaster to pick up the format. Hopefully it won’t be on a daytime only AM station that signs off at 445PM in the dead of winter.

  • Mnp

    Looks like another station in the US who’s time will be taken over by China Radio International. Do you Americans, not have a problem with that. I know exactly how much CRI is paying for the time and what is involved in the contract.

  • Mnp

    Looks like another station in the US who’s time will be taken over by China Radio International. Do you Americans, not have a problem with that. I know exactly how much CRI is paying for the time and what is involved in the contract.

  • Bernard

     “I can’t believe that this is what needs to be going on in the minority community in Boston,” she said.”
    Isn’t it wonderful that Ms. Halper knows what’s best for us.

    • Paul

      REALLY? You’re going after Ms. Halper when she’s on your side on this issue? REALLY?

  • Laurence Glavin

    AM radio is on its way out.  Wait…couldn’t that sentence have been written thirty years ago? I remember a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal that made that point a quarter-of-a-century ago.  As more and more formerly local outlets were gobbled up by conglomerates, one such owner purchased a 50,000-watt AM station at a desirable frequency in the growing market of Jacksonville, Florider.  Then it turned out that no matter how much they tried to program and promote the station, FMs in the market got better ratings and booked higher revenues.  Then along came Rush Limbaugh, Larry King, and then it was recognized that satellite-delivered talk (not necessarily extreme right-wing, but in time that’s  the direction it took) would more than pay the bills.  But nowadays, AM’s demise may be around the corner after all;  giant AMs with co-owned FMs are either now simulcasting news/talk formats or porting them to FM entirely.  Almost every week, a media-centered blog like w9wi.com reports yet another AM turning in its license and trading its copper transmission lines for cash before vandals take it (not kidding!).   A few stations in New England have disappeared entirely (750 in Portsmouth, NH; 1050 in Peterborough, NH; 1400 in Berlin, NH; 930 in Holyoke, MA) others have shut down for a while to return under new owners and niche formats (1060 in Natick, MA; 990 in a suburb of Providence, RI and 1370 near Newport, RI).  If this arrangement with the Chinese Government propaganda machine doesn’t work out, WILD-AM could easily go silent, and it’s unlikely there’ll be an “angel” to take up the slack.

  • http://peopleofwalmart.com Fed-Up Grrl

    Ummm just 40 years?  WILD was a “soul” station from at least the 1960s… which would make the station about 50 years old today.

  • http://peopleofwalmart.com Fed-Up Grrl

    I believe it’s more the message than the media. If an AM station delivered compelling content, then FM vs AM would not be much of an issue.  I recall when WILD truly *was* the voice of the “Negro” community…  the Wild Child rapped  during AM Drive …. I can’t think of h is name, but a super deep-voiced newsman from WILD ended up on the now-defunct Mutual Black Network (I spoke with him when he was at Mutual).

    There was a lot of talent there that hopefully will somehow be documented at some point before the players and memories will have been lost forever.

    It should be noted that those call letters alone would be worth a fortune today if sold, and that it was the only station of the Bartel chain that, I believe, did not go Top 40.  Probably the most infamous of the Bartel chain was KCBQ, back in the sixties and seventies. (It was originally KCBS, but the calls were given to CBS for KCBS, and the Q in KCBQ stood for “Quality,”  when the station was a standard MoR outlet.)

  • Rclifford5778

    I can’t believe that Radio-One sold out to the Chinese Communist Party!  They ought to be ashamed of themselves turning their back on their urban audience and shove Commie propaganda down our throats!  

  • Dotman

    I know of a great FM station on the dial in Boston that is not serving the community which it broadcasts from. Look no further than 91.9 FM WUMB. It would be a great station to use as a student/community station. It could serve as a training facility and outlet for the very diverse student body and surrounding neighborhoods of Boston. Who is being served by the FOLK music that is being played 24/7 on that station? What a disgrace.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/NYH7CKQPWBXJCZHFV4ZHZUZYRY Stephen

    WILD was also one of the first AM STEREO stations in the country. 

  • Raylynne123

    I CAN’T BELEIVE THAT WE ARE JUST LETTING THIS HAPPEN . WE  SHOULD BE GIVE SOME KIND SUPPORT TO GET IN BACK IN THE COMMUNITY  . I appreaciate that we have 106.1 but  it’s still not Wild  1090 if you grew up or even  been here a long time you know what i am talking come on let’s not let things go down like this this staton is need . Even it was regular early time slot .But in daylight saving time it stay on later  I hope people are reading and listening to  what we are l9sing  this is july 4, weekend  suppose  let tis be heard and step up  thank to  people that miss this and want to do something this amercia

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