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Playing the China card

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO

WILD-AM abruptly changes programming from African American news and culture to improving relations with China

Check out the Facebook page for WILD-AM and the images of talk show hosts Al Sharpton and Tom Joyner as well as Radio One President Cathy Hughes appear with text about the station’s African American talk format.

Tune into the station and you’re likely to be greeted with in-depth discussions about aspects of modern Chinese life interspersed with musical selections by contemporary Chinese and U.S. pop stars.

In the words of Dr. Funkenstein, aka George Clinton, “Do not attempt to adjust your dial.”

Radio One, the Washington, D.C.-based corporate owner of WILD, has leased 1090 AM to China Radio International, a Beijing-based Chinese government-sponsored media aimed at fostering better understanding between the people of China and the rest of the world.

Radio One’s Washington, D.C. office did not return phone calls for this story.

If community reaction to the format change is any indication, Roxbury-Beijing relations may have just taken a hit.

“It’s a sad day in the city of Boston,” says lifelong Roxbury resident Kim Janey. “Ever since I can remember, it’s been a staple in our lives in the black community. A way to get information, news and music.”

WILD was a local, black-owned station from 1973, when it was acquired by the late Kendall Nash, until 1999, when his widow Bernadine Nash sold the station to Radio One. Ask any Roxbury native who grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s, and you’ll get an ear-ful about what for many was the prime source for RandB.

The station’s sale to Radio One was the beginning of an 11-year decline in programming that has culminated with the end of the station’s identity as an outlet for African American listeners. That it comes at the hands of a black-owned corporation that brands itself as “The urban media specialist” is particularly troubling to Boston-based media critic Ty Depass.

“My people, my people,” he comments. “Black TV and radio are more interested in making a buck than helping the community.”

The decline of WILD is a logical extension of wider media trends of consolidation and de-regulation, according to Depass.

“What we’ve seen is the increasing concentration of media in fewer and fewer hands,” he says. “The model is: get as much media as you can control and figure out how to leverage that into bigger bucks.”

China Radio International’s foray into the Boston market is part of a $6.6 billion initiative undertaken by the Beijing government to burnish China’s image in the international community.

Arguably, the mix of Chinese government-approved news, mindless banter and pop tunes by the likes of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga does not replicate the urban format of Radio One or the Boston-focused content provided by Nash Communications in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

“The people who are now determining what’s news for us ain’t necessarily us,” Depass says. “In fact, they’re not even in this country. We now have robot stations where there’s no one in the studio.”

The building at 90 Warren St., which long served as the offices for WILD, is now owned by the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. On the sidewalk across from the building, health outreach worker Mary White waxes nostalgic for the station that for years was Boston’s connection to the world of RandB.

“I’ll miss it,” she says. “It goes back as long as I remember. WILD was the station we could call to announce events. It was a part of our community network.”