Radio DJ Kiki Brown was sitting in the conference room at Audacy’s Pittsburgh studios when she heard the news: The network was buying WAMO and restoring it as the city’s premier urban radio station.
“I was like, ‘Yes! This is great. This is awesome,’” Brown says. “It was emotional to me because it took me back.”
Like many Black Pittsburghers, Brown grew up with WAMO as the soundtrack to her youth. Unlike friends in her Hill District neighborhood, she also had a personal connection: Her dad is Clifford “Sly Jock” Charlton, who brought rap to Pittsburgh’s airwaves in the 1980s.
Now Brown has her own show on WAMO every weekday from 3 to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Her “What’s Good in the Hood” segment will also continue to air on Audacy stations in Pittsburgh at 6 a.m. on Sundays. WAMO 107.3 FM joins a host of Audacy Pittsburgh stations, including KDKA, 100.7 Star, 93.7 The Fan, Y108 and B94.
“We want to continue to be the beat in the street, that we’re the voice, that we continue that community conversation and tell the stories that aren’t quite told,” Brown says, rattling off a list of communities from the Hill District to Hazelwood and Homewood where the station once was a big part of daily life.
“We connect with those communities. WAMO traditionally connected with those communities. We owe it to those communities to continue that engagement,” adds Brown.
WAMO started out in 1948 as WHOD but changed its call letters in the 1950s, borrowing the initials from the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. Its famous DJs included “Porky” Chedwick, but it also brought news to the local Black community. The Post-Gazette reported in 2009 that Black-owned Sheridan Broadcasting Corp. sold the station to the Catholic religious broadcasters St. Joseph Missions. The station has changed hands since and most recently was part of the Martz Communications Group.
“We want to take it to another level and potentially bring it back to what it was,” says Michael Spacciapolli, senior vice president and market manager of Audacy Pittsburgh.
The station’s history was a big part of Audacy’s interest in acquiring WAMO. Spacciapolli says to expect the station to have a presence around big events and to hear more local DJs who can engage with the community.
“WAMO is a huge part of the city as a whole,” he says. “It’s not just the African-American community at all. We’re interested in what the station means and can mean to people across the entire city. We’ve seen that just since the announcement with the response and excitement.”
As for Brown, she’s been back on the mic since the day Audacy took over on April 4, knowing now that her dad, who has retired, will be listening.
“He coaches me,” she said. “He tells me to smile when I talk.”
Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you may email him.