A loudspeaker on the sidewalk blares a heavy bass line outside a building that blends with various shops and markets on South 52nd Street in West Philadelphia. A hand-written welcome on a sheet of white paper is taped to the door, and faulty-looking windows house cheap-looking curtains. The entrance does not seem like a likely spot for any sort of professional media organization. But it is.
West Philadelphia Educational Broadcasting (WPEB) is an independent, community-based radio station on 52nd Street near Hazel Avenue. It is run entirely by volunteers who commit to a membership program that includes duties like joining a committee and volunteering at least 20 hours to the station. Individuals must pay a membership fee between $5 and $50, and local organizations must pay between $200 and $1,000.
After being forced to shut down in 2005 due to legal allegations involving another station, WPEB relaunched in May 2008. Jasper Jones, a radio show host and active member of the technical, programming, and fund-raising committees, said the station has been around since 1979.
The station, however, lacks funding. Jones estimates at least $75,000 is needed for renovations like equipment upgrades. Currently, the equipment is not updated to industry standards. Jones also said funding is needed to expand the station’s frequency range. WPEB reaches West and Southwest Philadelphia, and only parts of North Philadelphia.
“It’s an uphill battle,” he said.
Jones hosts his own radio show at WPEB twice a month. He believes community radio is important for discussing topics mainstream radio generally overlooks.
“I have a show that deals with education, environmental, economic and social justice,” he said. “Have you ever heard of anything like that on mainstream radio?”
Entertainment artists agree that WPEB is an important asset to the community.
“Mainstream [radio stations] will tell you what’s going on in Haiti, but there’s stuff going on everywhere,” said Jimmy DaSaint, a recording artist and author who stopped by the station for an interview and to share some new tracks. “What’s going on out on 51st Street and 38th Street?”
In the early 1990s, DaSaint founded the rap group Inner City Hustlers. He was released from federal prison in 2009 after serving a 10-year sentence. DaSaint insists community radio can help put an end to youth violence and drug abuse.
He lifted his gray sweater to reveal various scars from a 1997 shooting that left him comatose for 30 days.
“Somebody has to speak for the ‘hood, speak for the streets and speak for the kids that can’t speak for themselves,” he said.