Scroll through my playlist of old-school jazz and progressive soul and you'll see two of my favorite artists: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, brilliant yet underrated singer-songwriters whose '70's anthem, "It's Your World," reminded us that we could "be what we wanna be."
So imagine my surprise when start-up coordinator Mbali Umoja selected the Scott-Heron/Jackson classic to launch WPEB (88.1 FM), West Philly's newest community radio station.
If you live in the section of West Philly between University City and Cobbs Creek, chances are you can catch WPEB, which is currently broadcasting with a one-watt transmitter but has the capacity to go to 10.
"We're hoping this will be a crucial information source at a time when a lot of people don't have a lot of sources," Mbali told me, serving as inaugural DJ at the station's just-completed headquarters on 52d Street between Hazel and Cedar.
On second thought, maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise. After all, the 30-year-old song fittingly conveys what the station is about in 2008.
It's about you. Your community. Your music.
So says Louis Massiah, the award-winning documentary filmmaker, artist, activist - and the only renaissance man I know. With Massiah's lifelong passion for community - and commitment to community voices being heard - it isn't surprising that his Scribe Video Center took on starting a new project of the people.
When Massiah heard two years ago that the license for the station was for sale, he was understandably intrigued. After all, given the corporate monopoly on radio, here was a chance to keep the airwaves independent.
That means no vapid commercials. No syndicated hosts. And, mercifully, no force-fed corporate rap.
"My first reaction was that [Scribe] had enough on its plate," Massiah told me. "Then I started reading about issues in the media democracy movement, and I thought, 'Maybe we can birth this thing.' "
Talk about a hyper-local throwback.
In Philadelphia, black radio - particularly talk radio - has traditionally served as the information griot.
"Because of the reach of black radio, we were able to make major political gains," says Karen Warrington, a former reporter and host on WDAS-FM and the old WHAT-AM. "I don't think [former Mayor] Wilson Goode or [former School Superintendent] Connie Clayton could have gotten in if it wasn't for talk radio steering the conversation."
In these days of instant global information, getting a blow-by-blow account of what's happening in Sichuan province is only a mouse click away. But try getting ongoing news about your own neighborhood. Feels like it's a world away.
"We make huge decisions about each other living in the city, the state and the world based on the mass media," Massiah says. "But one of the problems in the community is we don't have a way to talk to each other. If the information isn't good, you're going to make a bad decision."
Which is what makes WPEB so unique. Most of its programming will be determined by its members.
For a sliding scale of $10 to $50 fee, members participate in outreach, programming, fund-raising and technology committees, and also are expected to volunteer 20 hours a week. Small-business owners can underwrite a program and get a mention on the air - an added bonus for the businesses along the 52d Street corridor that are trying to come back after prolonged El construction crippled many.
Anybody can apply to get a show on the air.
"I hope it becomes regarded as a real community asset that people turn on to learn about their community," Massiah says. "And that people see it as an opportunity to have their own show, whether they be a block captain, church group, imam or union. Any culture that may be overlooked."
That's good news to Ahmad Abdul-Aliyy, whose barbershop sits across the street from WPEB at 52d and Hazel. During the station's launch, Abdul-Aliyy walked over to fill out an application for a talk show.
He wants to call it
"This is a way we can come together on issues that affect all of us," says Abdul-Aliyy, whose father raised him on talk radio. "In the barbershop, we don't care who comes in, you can always get some real food" for thought.
Sure, WPEB is no KYW. But if you're lucky enough to hear the sounds of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, then chances are WPEB can be a part of your world.
Where you can be what you wanna be.
And for once, hear what you want to hear.
about how to get your show on the air, e-mail
For more information
about the station, go to