Teenage girls spin the dial toward positive lyrics

High on a hill overlooking triple-decker houses and hairpin streets, a handful of girls from the predominantly African-American and immigrant-rich Dorchester neighborhood of Boston are giving their own spin to radio. These are the young women of Radio LOG 540 AM, a low-power station that sends out a high-decibel message of respect and empowerment for girls.

These are young women on a mission. Conceived by three teenage girls fed up with the bad-mouthing of women and girls in rap and hip-hop songs, the station has expanded to include 12 girls and a 12-week course in media literacy through the Log School. It was launched in February with much fanfare.

It's late afternoon on a Monday, and the girls - ages 13 to 18 - come straight from school to spend the next 3-1/2 hours in this small room. After grabbing sandwiches from atop a file cabinet, they divide up the day's tasks under the proud eye of Pat Younger and Steve Drayton, two of the station's adult advisers. Radio LOG is on the air from 4 to 7 p.m., and the girls write public-service announcements, conduct interviews and chat sessions, and play music that sends a positive message to girls.

Today, Melissa Martin sits at the board and spins Cape Verdean music, while her teammates quickly settle into a rhythm. Jandira Cardosa takes on the job of producer, and Azia Carle, the youngest team member at 13, will read local news of interest to teens. Dalida Rocha, who at 19 has already graduated from high school, comes in frequently to lend a hand. Today, she's going over an already vetted pile of CDs to help figure out the play list. Atop the stack is Alicia Keyes.

Rap music is everywhere, says Stephanie Alves, one of the founders, who's now a freshman at Boston College. "Kids as young as 5 are going around singing these [sexually explicit] lyrics, and they don't know what they're saying."

Ms. Alves, along with Ms. Rocha and Mary Lewis, decided it was time for a change. They wanted an alternative to radio stations that played endless rap and hip-hop songs that depicted women as sex objects and fashion accessories.

So two years ago, they took their idea to Larry Mayes, director of the Log School in Dorchester. The timing couldn't have been better, as Mr. Mayes was looking for a way to add a radio station to the school's programs. An all-girl radio station was born.

The station, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Boston Mayor Tom Menino, has plans to take its broadcasts to the Web, possibly in the summer. Expanding its current 1-square-mile range would be a boon, but the girls say they're already reaching peers in the neighborhood.

"We want them to trust themselves," says Rocha. "If the girls change, if they stop listening to rappers [who] disrespect them, then [eventually] the industry might pay attention."

The young women insist that they're not out to tell people what to listen to or to preach against rap, but to offer alternatives.

Mayor Menino says Radio LOG is successful because "it's teenagers speaking to teenagers, not just a program handed down by adults."

Rocha and others say they still listen to rap, such as 50 Cent and Li'l Kim, but they're much more aware of the lyrics and of what message they take in. And they find few rap or hip-hop artists whose songs meet the standards for Radio LOG's format. "I like the beat, but these singers still put girls down," Rocha says.

The tools for analyzing these images are taught in Ms. Younger's Media Minds course, which she says walks a line between the practical aspects of running a station and the academic work of dissecting media messages. From the start, she has seen an immediate rise in her students' self-esteem. They begin to see how the media, especially advertising, can set the tone for music and images that degrade women, she says.

"We all understand the power of words," says Danene Washington of Youth Entertainment Studios in Chesapeake, Va., which designed the radio-training curriculum used by R-LOG. "Words seep into your spirit."

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