AFTER the Rodney King verdict and Los Angeles riots began, Boston's WILD radio station suspended its regular programming and opened up the telephone lines so listeners could phone in their views.
"We're very proud of the way we took part in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. The conditions that exist in L.A., exist in Boston," says Stephen Hill, program director for the 1090 AM radio station. He says that since it's the only black-owned station in the city, they "heard people's ideas and reactions. This is WILD at its best; responding to listeners."
Many black residents say the popular station is crucial in keeping them informed of issues and events that directly affect their lives. The station has an unusually strong commitment to serving its community.
Not long after the L.A. riots, WILD broadcast live from Franklin Park, site of the city's annual kite festival in the Dorchester section of Boston. A table with voter registration materials was on hand along with Commissioner Jovita Fontanez from the Boston Election Department. She says they are working with WILD to "get voter registration out to where the community people are so their voices are heard in the November elections."
WILD's entire crew was on hand, mingling with the crowd. In addition to their "Jam the boxes - register-to-vote campaign," they gave away kites and helped youngsters navigate them. They sponsored a karaoke booth, where members of the audience crooned their favorite tunes into mikes backed up by piped-in music.
Sylvester Bell from Dorchester was one of the first to register to vote. He says that he heard WILD DJ Stephen Hill advertise the kite festival and the voter registration campaign on the airwaves.
WILD has been emphasizing positive issues in the community since Kendall Nash, a Columbia MBA from Brooklyn, New York, who had aided minority businesses - purchased the station in 1980, says Neal Perlstein, general sales manager. He says Mr. Nash began a "Stop the Madness" campaign 12 years ago in which he focused on the advantages of staying in school, not using drugs, and not becoming a parent while still a teenager.
Bernadine Foster Nash, a former social-services agency head, joined her husband at the station two years ago. "We began developing financial plans and clear policies in terms of what we are doing with the community and charitable work. Our challenge is to meet the needs of the community and stay fiscally solvent," she says.
They met with the people who work at the station, community leaders, and residents to identify three priorities for this next year: Education, voter registration, and violence in the community.
* WILD is launching a scholarship fund in June and will offer a $3,000 scholarship to a student pursuing communications. "Education is always going to be a focus for us," says Nash.
* The station is also collecting the signatures required to make their station a voter-registration site. They've created on-air spots telling the listeners about their "Jam the boxes voter-registration campaign."
* The third priority of the station is the issue of violence in the community.
"We have an adopt-a-school program where the on-air people identify a school where they will provide support to individual students," says Nash. "I think you can have more impact when it's one-on-one; you can identify a kid on the edge and your input and involvement can make a difference."
Nash recalls hearing a popping noise outside her window recently. She describes looking down the city's Dudley Square and seeing a group of kids shooting at each other in the middle of the day. A lady had come out of the church, and was crouching in the corner. What struck Nash, she says, is that "people continued what they were doing, business as usual."
She says she is still not sure how WILD can address this problem, but insists it is the most vital issue to resolve for this community.