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Tessil Collins launches new radio station called Sun Music

Kenneth J. Cooper | 6/19/2013, 2:08 p.m.
Former Boston school teacher Tessil Collins launched Sun Music last January.

Music lovers have a new option for listening to mellow sounds. Since January, Sun Music has been streaming online 24-7 from Dorchester.

The Internet radio station is the brainchild of Tessil Collins, who retired last year after 27 years as a teacher and administrator in Boston public schools. He brings to the enterprise experience on both the production and business sides of broadcast radio.

“I’m going to play pretty much everything under the sun,” Collins said to explain his station’s name. “There is this wide swath of music — world, urban, R & B, jazz — that’s not played on traditional commercial radio.”

Sun Music harks back to the time when serious music listeners took in whole albums and tracked the development of recording artists, instead of buying single tracks online. The Internet station has the mellowness of the sounds of the seventies although the tunes played are mostly new. Collins selects them all after scouring music trade magazines and favors independently produced songs.

The station’s technology is definitely new.

“You can get it on your computer, tablet, phone, Android,” Collins said. “You can get it on everything but a 20th century radio.”

Radio is an efficient way for black people to communicate with each other. But black radio in Boston has seldom reached its potential as a unifying and informative medium.

WILD-AM signed off at sunset and now has Chinese programming under new management. The best years of black radio in the city were between 1999 and 2006, when WILD-FM broadcast around the clock. Since Radio One sold the station, its new owner has aired rock music.

The city is served by several low-power stations, most notably WTCH 106.1. Its FM signal is so limited that Mattapan residents complain they cannot pick up the station. Mattapan has the highest concentration of black residents of any neighborhood in the city.

Other low power stations cater to Caribbean or specifically Haitian audiences. Some college radio stations also offer limited black music and public affairs programming.

“Right now, there’s a need for the music to be heard in the marketplace because you can’t hear all these styles in one place in Boston,” Collins said.

Collins became involved with radio in high school at Boston Latin, as a weekend deejay on WILD. In the 1970s, he was a deejay on WBZ-FM. He had other stints at WILD as production director and advertising sales executive. He also sold airtime for WBCN-FM.

In the Boston schools, he taught communications arts, radio and television production, technology literacy and English.

His professional experience made Collins initially inclined to seek an old-fashioned solution to the city’s black radio problem.

“For the last four or five years, I’ve been looking to buy a radio station. I tried to buy WILD twice,” Collins said. “The deal could not be done. The financing wasn’t available.”

Collins recently received a microloan of $10,000 from Accion USA to increase the interactivity of Sun Music. Listeners can already request songs. He plans to add “music discovery” — reviews and interviews about the songs played.

“Very soon it’s going to be more than music. It’s going to be news,” he said.

That would be a major advance for black radio in Boston, one that has been a long time coming.

WTCH 106.1 airs interviews on public affairs and has on occasion covered community news. In its last years as a black station, nearly all of WILD-AM’s programming was automated music in a prerecorded format.

For now, Sun Music airs only music, at www.sun-music.net. The names of the programs reflect a mix of styles: That Jazz, HipUrbanHouse, The Inspiration (gospel), The Sound of the Sun and, of course, Sun Music.