23 April 2006

KSLP angola prison radio

April 22, 2006, 12:35AM
Prison-run radio has captive listeners
'It kind of frees you from the atmosphere that you're in,' DJ says

New York Times

ANGOLA, LA. - KLSP, a radio station with one turntable, six employees and a $48 weekly payroll, has limited reach over this patch of swampy farmland and razor wire northwest of Baton Rouge. It is meant to be that way.

The station director and many of the DJs are convicted murderers. Most of its 5,100 listeners are serving life sentences at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The 100-foot metal pole that transmits the station's FCC-approved signal — a relatively weak but consistent 100 watts — rises from a grassy knoll behind death row.

Home to 83 men, death row is where KLSP-FM (91.7), which prison officials say is the nation's only licensed prison radio station, finds its most dedicated audience and the inspiration for its core mission: spreading the word of Jesus (and an occasional message from the warden) to men doomed to die behind bars.

"Our greatest challenge is to give hope where there is hopelessness," said Burl Cain, the warden at Angola, where the average sentence is 89.9 years with almost no chance of parole.

"This radio station helps do that — it beams out positive information, positive gospel music," he said. "Even gospel rap."

The station is in a two-room cinderblock shed next to Angola's main prison compound. KLSP, "the incarceration station, the station that kicks behind the bricks," as Sirvoris Sutton, a DJ and program manager, puts it, broadcasts from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

A Harris AirWave mixing board, two CD players, an aging Gem Sound turntable and a digital playlist pump out a steady variety of gospel during work hours. After 6 p.m., the prison's six DJs, who earn 20 cents an hour, spin an eclectic mix of bluegrass, hip-hop and golden oldies. Friday nights, after a talk show for 170 Muslim inmates, KLSP reveals its regional bias, playing hours of swamp pop, a Cajun brand of rock 'n' roll.

Prison officials screen all music for sexual, violent or negative lyrics; gangsta rap and heavy metal are not played. The station has no telephone, so song requests arrive by prison mail. DJs, all of them inmate trustys allowed to move without guards, can be fired for breaking the smallest rule.

"It's one of the better jobs you can have here," said Sutton, 35. (His on-air name, DJ Shaq, was given to him by inmates when he dunked a basketball.)

KLSP, says Cain, is central to what he calls the prison's "Bapticostal" underpinnings, which foster a mutual respect between his administration and the inmates.

"When you hear a song from your childhood, it kind of frees you from the atmosphere that you're in," said Rockin' Robin Polk, a KLSP DJ and technician.

KSLP information from Louisiana State Penitentiary website