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.”
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.