Chicago radio stations asking listeners to “put the guns down”

Power 92's Frankie Robinson, at a press conference with Mayor Emanuel. (DNA Info/Ted Cox)
Power 92’s Frankie Robinson, at a press conference with Mayor Emanuel. (DNA Info/Ted Cox)

Will it work?

While urban radio station Hot 97 in New York City is having fun with their new, hot, ridiculous “docudrama” cable TV show, it is a far different environment involving urban radio in Chicago.

The atmosphere is far from festive – and the drama is real.

As first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Fran Spelman nearly two weeks ago, several radio stations and personalities agreed to join forces, urging listeners to “put the guns down”. The effort is being coordinated with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Stations are also devoting airtime to programming developed to tackle the problem of gun violence, including public service announcements dedicated to the matter. Radio personalities also plan to open and close their shows urging Chicago residents to think before they use a gun.

The initiative was unveiled May 9 at a press conference at a community center in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood – one of many Chicago communities hit hardest by gun violence. Participating stations include Crawford Broadcasting’s WPWX-FM (Power 92); Midway Broadcasting’s WVON-AM, a news/talk outlet targeting African-Americans; Univision Radio Chicago, owners of WOJO-FM; and Clear Channel Media + Entertainment’s Chicago cluster, including urban powerhouses WVAZ-FM (V103) and WGCI.

Also appearing at the press conference was Power 92’s Frankie Robinson, and WGCI’s Tony Sculfield, who said that even he interviewing those affected by gun violence has taken a personal toll on him.

City leaders hope enlisting these stations spreads the message that gun violence is unacceptable. The ongoing violence has put Chicago in an unflattering national spotlight and was the focus of CNN’s recent eight-part docuseries, the critically-panned Chicagoland.

While the stations should be lauded for unifying together to address a major crisis in our city, some of them participating – namely WGCI and Power 92 – have been accused of feeding the problem.

Last fall, several activist groups targeted both hip-hop stations of playing racy music targeted to children and teenagers. Many of the songs contained lyrics about carrying and shooting guns, and degrading women.

In recent months, shows targeting Hispanic audiences (the now-defunct Jose Luis Sin Cenura) and African-Americans (The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Love and Hip-Hop) have also been singled out for content – including situations where the action turned violent. A few weeks ago, two cast members of RHOA attacked each other at a reunion show and a Love and Hip-Hop cast member (rapper Benzino) was shot by his nephew while riding in a funeral precession for his mother near Boston.

Some have questioned the effectiveness of the campaign. For one, many would accuse the urban stations in being in Mayor Emanuel’s pocket – recent polls have him with just an 8 percent approval rating among African-Americans – the group most affected by gun violence in Chicago. But keep in mind these stations are doing what they are supposed to be doing… serving the community and the public interest, as license holders. It’s interesting how people criticize stations for not serving their communities, but when something like this comes along, radio geeks rip the effort.

Local DJs saying “put down the guns” may not have an impact on Chicago’s homicide rate or the high number of shootings on the weekend – but at least it’s a start.