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In 2017, a lot of smartphone-wielding tech snobs might argue that the radio isn’t relevant anymore. But for Boston community center ZUMIX, launching a 24/7 Low Power FM (LPFM) station in 2016 after a decade of online streaming was one of the biggest steps in the foundation’s 25-year history.
Founded in 1991, ZUMIX has been a vital non-profit cultural organization in Boston where children and teens can learn how to play an instrument, record music, or be an on-air radio personality. The foundation’s latest acquisition of a LPFM license to broadcast at 94.9 FM has offered a significant boost to the ZUMIX radio program in particular.
To celebrate and commemorate, the organization hosts Boston DJs for ZUMIX this Friday (March 31) to support the teen programming that ZUMIX fosters at 94.9 FM. The event will feature performances, a silent auction, and guest DJ sets from Boston DJs, including WFNX 101.7 FM luminary “Morning Guy Tai” Irwin, the organizer of the event who got involved with ZUMIX when the station got a LPFM license last year.
“I’ve long admired ZUMIX for their hands-on work with teenagers, work that gets results, and launches kids into young adulthood, college, and a creative, productive life,” Irwin tells Vanyaland.
In a similar manner to the education that ZUMIX provides young DJs with, Irwin cites his own experience with becoming a DJ as something that finally put him on the right track for a promising career. When working at a Long Island Carvel as a teenager (yes, the ice cream joint), his career path took an unlikely turn over a simple free ice cream cone.
“For me, radio is the thing that saved me,” he admits. “Sounds dramatic, huh? Yeah, well it’s bloody true. On slow nights I called WLIR radio and made requests. Most of the DJs would answer the phone, and many played my requests for Mott the Hoople, Be-Bop Deluxe, Slade, or any other British band I was in love with that week. One jock, Denis McNamara, actually came into the store, which was located about a mile from their studio, and took me up on an offer of a free cone. He invited me to come up to the studio some time, and just hang out. Before I knew it, a guy named Ben Manilla, who is now a nationally renowned audio expert, asked me to read one line of a commercial — so I said ‘Long Island Honda in Hicksville’ and it was as if the addict had tasted the poison, and would never let go. Now I had direction, focus and identity that I would never lose. For the next 30 years radio was my world, including my stretch at WFNX [from] 1985-1997.”
From there, Irwin became an advisor for the Salem State radio station, WMWM, and later worked as a career advisor and college instructor. When ZUMIX acquired a LPFM station, he got involved with the community center and quickly saw the advantages and opportunities that it was providing to Boston youth.
“My involvement with ZUMIX is organic,” he says. “I see what it does for the kids in East Boston, and I immediately relate to youth who don’t look like me, speak like me, dress like me, or necessarily care if the Stranglers ever get back together again. It’s soul — the soul of creativity that unites us all.”
At the Boston DJs for ZUMIX party this Friday — which includes appearances by former WFNXers Mike Gioscia and Neal Robert, WROR’s Julie Devereaux, and WZLX Boston Emissions host Anngelle Wood — Irwin hopes that the Boston radio community will support 94.9 FM so that the station can continue its youth radio program and give participants the same boost he needed as a teenager. “ZUMIX Radio is not just another after school program,” he says. “It’s the soul of East Boston, the soul of young Boston, of young America.”