ST. LOUIS – The phone calls started Saturday and have yet to slow down.
Following the death of 18-year-old Mike Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, HOT 104.1 FM, a St. Louis-area hip-hop and R&B radio station, has turned into a platform for Ferguson residents to air their frustrations, grievances, and emotions amidst the national media feeding frenzy that has consumed their community.
For the personalities manning the phones and speaking into the microphone, it’s about giving a voice to a community that they feel is quickly losing that opportunity as images of tear gas, SWAT teams, and unrest are broadcast around the world. To them, those images and the events behind them are not telling the whole story of what is going on in St. Louis these days, and are distracting from the real issues at hand.
“Ferguson, call and tell us what we can do to get your neighborhood back,” DJ Boogie D said on the radio Thursday morning. “We are turning this radio station over to the people of Ferguson. The calls are flooding in.”
And they haven’t stopped.
“We stopped playing music on Saturday [when Mike Brown was killed,]” Boogie D, also the station’s operations manager, said in between segments. “This is not the first time we’ve allowed the radio station to stop, but this is an unprecedented stoppage.”
He rubbed his temples and wiped his eyes. Every few minutes he took another call, talked to the person on the other end, then turned to the computer screen to edit it down to a time he can broadcast. He started his show an hour earlier than normal on Thursday.
“You’re giving them a voice,” said DJ Sir Thurl, also in the studio (both men asked that only their DJ names be used). “They have to have a way to get it out.”
One woman called in Thursday, talking about how she doesn’t get off work until the evening, and has to cover her baby’s face with a blanket to protect her from tear gas when they’re walking to their apartment. Another called and said at night, when she hears the booming sounds coming from a few blocks over, she feels trapped in her home.
Boogie D gave time for those in the community to promote their efforts to do just that. One community member calls in and says there’s going to be a community barbeque at the Canfield Apartments, where Brown was killed, the following day.
The station has also brought in guests to talk on the radio, including Mike Brown’s first cousin, Missouri state Senator Jamilah Nasheed, and St. Louis native musician Nelly. The station also broadcast President Obama’s statement on Ferguson live on Thursday afternoon.
“It affects our lives as well,” said DJ Sir Thurl, who lives ten minutes from where most of the unrest has taken place. “You have to be involved.”
The switchboard lights lit up again.
“We live here,” Boogie D said. “We can’t just entertain and have fun.”
He opened a phone line.
“This is Hot 104.1.”