Now Hear This

Uptown Radio’s inspired programming highlights neighbors and helps preserve a landmark Philly theater.  

Radio is the most accessible form of media, especially in a city with a serious digital divide: overall, almost 30% of Philly households don’t have access to high-speed internet. That’s an average: in some neighborhoods, it’s as high as 68%! In these areas, radio is a vital source for news and information.

Problem is, corporations basically have a monopoly on our airwaves – they get to decide what stories to tell, and which voices to amplify. Until as recently as 2013, community radio stations were basically illegal in Philadelphia due to restrictions on low-power FM channels anywhere there’s possible interference with full-power stations.

But a radio station in West Philly challenged this, and the FCC eventually issued a new ruling to allow non-commercial LPFM channels in cities across the county. Which was huge! Community radio offers local people control of their own airwaves. There’s real power, in turning on the radio and hearing voices like yours talking about stuff that matters to you. In Philadelphia, the new LPFMs that emerged were as distinct as our different neighborhoods.

One of the first of these new LPFM’s, Uptown Radio 98.5FM, was created as part of an ambitious revitalization non-profit surrounding the historic Uptown Theater in North Philly. Volunteers produce more than 25 hours of new content per week: sports, comedy, news, announcements, info that boosts community pride and quality of life. They might not be earning paychecks, but they’re clearly having the time of their lives.

Uptown Radio is a partner with WHYY’s News and Information Community Exchange program, aka “N.I.C.E.” — a grassroots media collaborative we’re excited to be a part of. We learned a lot about this unique operation in a recent IG Live interview with three of WJYN’s most popular personalities.

Who’s Who:

Che Sa Sa/@che_sasa83
Co-host, the LOL Show — Living Off Laughter
Thursdays 7pm – 9pm
Comedians trying to lighten up the load in a heavy landscape. Jokes and funny stuff to get you laughing. Instagram, Facebook, Watch live on YouTube

OSODIVA/Kashaun T. Williams
Host, The Diva Den
Thursdays 6pm to 7pm
I’m the Hip Hop Oprah! I talk about all things diva and give a hip-hop spin to what’s going on. I’d say I’m just as opinionated as you, sister, I just speak my mind. With awesome music playing. And my hair’s cute. Instagram, Twitter & Youtube

Lateef Maximus III/@RealTeef03
Operations Manager, Uptown Radio
Co-host, Tall Talk
Wednesdays, 7pm – 9pm
Conversations with a variety of people in the community: business owners, entertainers, good neighbors. We talk about things people care about right here on the block.

WJYN 98.5 FM — LISTEN LIVE ONLINE UPTOWNRADIOPHILLY.ORG

This interview with Eric Marsh, Sr originally aired March 2021 for WHYY on Instagram Live. It has been edited for brevity and clarity. For more information, please follow the links and come out for WJYN’s Radiothon/Block party on September 18th.

Tell us about the station’s history.

Lateef Maximus III 

We’re a part of the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation, which owns the Uptown Theater. The theater was a huge part of Philadelphia’s Black music scene form the 1920’s to the 70’s. And now it’s a revitalization project.

The UEDC supports a ton of community programs, we’re just one of them – and we help promote all the others. Working with all these great people, we’ve grown our own thing borne off the idea of preserving Uptown Theater’s legacy and what it means in North Philadelphia.

How’d everyone get involved with Uptown Radio?

OSODIVA    

My show has been a blessing because I’d just come out of a tumultuous relationship — with another platform. And it’s frustrating in a sense when you’re trying to do and be and grow as a brand. And you see people that either try to take advantage of your ignorance and your need for experience when you’re just starting. But I’ve been in radio and on the air for almost like 13 years, I went to school for this and came out doing it. I was like, “I kind of know what I’m doing a little bit.”

And it’s a super blessing to have people like Teef on the team. I’m beyond grateful to be able to contribute.

Che Sa Sa    

It’s crazy. I’ve been a guest on other people’s radio shows but I never thought I’d host one myself. But when I got together with my co-hosts, I knew we had something. I gotta say Big Cuz and Lateef also were a big help. We’re like a family.

What about the station’s programming sets it apart from the rest of Philadelphia’s airwaves?

Lateef Maximus III 

When I got here three years ago, there was one live show: me and Big Cuz. Now we have 26 shows, a real wide variety. Nobody’s show is the same. Also, we’re a nonprofit organization, all volunteer. We don’t have advertisers down our neck telling us what to play and who to promote. We’re free to give everybody a chance to get on the air. Get your song played, share your opinion, talk about your neighborhood.

Shout out to Brother Yumy. The late great Linda Richardson, of course. Michelle Gordon. The station manager, Dean Lloyd, and program director Michael Robinson. That’s what I love about the station, it’s always been a group effort. It’s never about any one person, we all do it together.

OSODIVA  

The realness. I appreciate how we’re allowed to be authentic. I can play whatever I want. And can talk about what I want, and focus on what I do best. To not have to follow somebody else’s mission or structure? For real, that’s everything!

Che Sa Sa    

I love that people can hear my voice all over. They don’t have to come out to see me, I can come to them on Uptown Radio. I can make them laugh wherever they are. And if they miss my show on the air, they can watch it on YouTube. We’re not just on the radio and the internet now, you can even watch us recorded live in the studio! Just knowing all the work that we put in, to get here from where we started, I get all teary eyed.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced producing your content?

Che Sa Sa   

I learned I gotta be very careful what I say because the world has become so sensitive. You have to really choose your words, because if not, you’ll have people attacking you. For our show, I don’t talk politics or religion. I try to keep it funny, nothing too serious. There’s other shows for that. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and I definitely don’t want to lose my platform. So I try to stay, you know, neutral.

Lateef Maximus III 

In many ways it’s been a challenge having people take us seriously at first. All the time, it was like “Yes we’re a real radio station, yes, an actual FM station…” And having to explain that constantly, you know, it was an uphill battle. But in the end it just made us better prepared to get the word out. Whatever anybody has to say, I appreciate the opportunity to learn from it.

And Philly is just a different city, overall, in the way you work with people. There’s a lot of circles and stuff. Little social initiations that you have to go through. That’s not a bad thing — you just have to be aware of it. And it’s very similar to what Che was saying about being in the media, you need to watch what you’re saying, who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about. Are you wasting your time, is this even beneficial? There’s a lot you need to learn, coming up in this industry.

OSODIVA  

I hear what they’re saying about not hurting anyone because people are sensitive. I don’t care. We’re all adults here. So when it comes to my show, that’s why I love this station, because I’m tired of America’s media and everyone trying to act like there’s rules when it comes to like comedy and conversation.

Hello? No, I’m supposed to make you laugh. You’re supposed to be like, “Oh, did she say that?” Yes I did. I’m not gonna lie, I don’t have a problem with other people’s sensitivities.

When it comes to my biggest challenges, it’s like what Lateef said. Just getting people to respect the station and getting the word out that I’m live on the air every evening. The only thing I can’t do on the air is curse. That’s it.

Lateef Maximus III 

People are so comfortable with the internet and not being censored. They forget that there are laws about language on FM airwaves.

Che Sa Sa    

Sometimes when people come on my show, like they’ll try to curse. Just to test it out. And I’m like, you’re on the radio. “Oh I thought this was a podcast.” Stop!

What are some of the goals that you each have?

Lateef Maximus III 

As a station, we would like to grow. Physically, it’d be great to get a larger antenna and expand outside our 5 mile radius around Uptown Theater. Another goal is to be more involved with the community, really get some outreach going.

OSODIVA  

Everything Teef says for the station. Personally, I just want to contribute to the station, any way that I can. And I want to just stay healthy because I’m a mom. I was diagnosed with epilepsy about three years ago, which changed my entire life. Now I am all about balance and priorities. So it’s my daughter before Oso Diva, always. I am thankful every day that I’m able to be able.

Che Sa Sa   

I want everybody to talk about us, everybody in the city. I wanna be stepping somewhere, and hear someone say, “Did you hear on Uptown Radio…? Were you listening to Tall Talk when he said this, or what Oso Diva had to say about that….?” I’d love to hear people buzzing about us.

They got underground rap, right? I’m all about underground comedy. I want to give all the local comics an audience on the LOL Show. Interview them, help them find new fans. Because everywhere you go, no matter what, you can always drop a seed.

Parting words: what do you love about Philly?  

OSODIVA  

Oh, Philly. Used to just be South Street for me but now I’m older and appreciate it differently. Philly is so versatile. It’s so many different things. As far as parting words, it’s not selfish to give yourself what you need to succeed. Don’t feel bad if you got to take a moment, or have to step away to recharge. Take care of you, and come back stronger.

Che Sa Sa    

I’m not from Philly, y’all, so I like the touristy areas! I’ve been here for 18 years and I’ve been blessed to be called the sister of the City of Brotherly Love, peace.

Lateef Maximus III 

Like Diva said, I love Philly’s versatility, its diversity. You get all kinds of food. There’s all types of people here. And it’s an old city which I can appreciate.

Also, Philly has the most rappers in the universe and here’s a message for them: I need you to cut a clean version of your records because we cannot play your song if you got a bunch of curse words in it! It’s very frustrating. I want to play your songs, man! But they always forget about that third verse…

Lateef at one of Uptown Radio’s many live remotes

Uptown Radio
WJYN 98.5 FM
Listen Live: uptownradiophilly.org
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The Local byline reflects community-created content (usually from social media, often from audio/video sources) that we've collected and edited into an article for our website/newspaper.

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