That Rhode Island’s 95.5 WBRU has, for around 50 years, served as Rhode Island’s alternative radio station and our state’s lifeline to the national music scene is only half of its significance. WBRU is also one of the community’s most direct communicative links into the Adult Correctional Institution. Listen to WBRU on Sundays and you’ll hear the station’s transformed programming of genuine hip-hop, R&B and, importantly, personal “shout outs.” Throughout Sunday afternoons, WBRU becomes a singularly powerful method of contact for families reaching loved ones in prison: passing on-air messages of support, words of forgiveness, assurances of loyalty and simple love messages.
In virtually all conversations around media innovation, one hears constant calls heralding the shift to streaming services. Netflix crushes DVDs, Amazon dominates print media, Spotify destroys CDs. Who reads paper magazines anyway? Who even listens to the radio anymore?
I can think of about 2.3 million Americans who do.
People in prisons across the country watch broadcast TV, listen to terrestrial radio, read paperback books. The impact of ignoring the incarcerated- a disproportionately poor, Black and Brown population from the conversation around media innovation means that creative media becomes an increasingly segregated product of our culture.
With the sale of WBRU and its transformation into the “K-Love” Christian rock station, (owned by the California-based Educational Media Foundation), I urge the management to maintain this powerful connection between inmates and community members. The WBRU content will shift to its online platform, leaving an entire marginalized population with one less way to connect with their loved ones.
The EMF mission states that it seeks to “create compelling media that inspires and encourages you to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.” If this is true, then we must, as it says in Hebrews 13:3, “remember those that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”