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December 19, 2004 - The Associated Press (US)

Inmates to Get Holiday Cheer From Radio

By Roger Alford

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

WHITESBURG, Ky. - Inmates across the nation can receive some holiday cheer from faraway relatives through a radio call-in show that will be aired nationwide this year.

WMMT-FM in Whitesburg, which is popular among big-city inmates being held in isolated prisons in central Appalachia, will host a call-in show Monday so that people can offer Christmas wishes to inmates from Red Onion in Virginia to Folsom in California.

Prisoners also are invited to call in for the program, which is slated to run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST.

The project is a public service to inmates who are being held in prisons hours from home and who might not otherwise receive a visit from relatives, said Nick Szuberla, a WMMT on-air personality who helped produce the call-in show.

"The benefit to us is not monetary," Szuberla said. "This is not a commercially profitable venture. Part of the mission of the radio station is to give a voice to people who may not have a way to get their message heard."

More than 40 radio stations across the nation have enlisted to simulcast the call-in program, catering to inmates in prisons like Sing Sing in New York and Big Sandy in Kentucky. It will be the show's national debut.

Lorenzo McClean, an inmate at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Va., said inmates appreciate the radio station's initiative.

"Thank you for looking at us as human beings," McClean said in an e-mail to the station.

WMMT's programming includes jazz, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, rap and other forms of urban music that appeals to prisoners who haven't developed a taste for the Nashville sound offered on most stations here.

The signal from WMMT, a 15,000-watt station, reaches six major prisons, including two super-maximum security institutions, and numerous jails in southeastern Kentucky and portions of Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The simulcasts, via Pacifica Radio Network, will send the call-in program to prisons from coast to coast.

Amelia Kirby, co-founder of the project, said the show is always heartwarming, especially when she's able to connect inmates and family members who haven't seen eachother in years.

"One family that we have gotten to know drives from 9 at night until 8 in the morning to visit their loved one who is held in a rural prison in southwest Virginia," Kirby said. "They live in Washington D.C., and let me tell you these coalfields are a long way from there."


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