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Trying To Fill Gospel Music Void

BY JESSE LEAVENWORTH

April 20, 2009

EAST HARTFORD - The radio dial in some states is brimming with gospel intense, rhythmic preaching and the roof-lifting sound of the big church choir.

In Connecticut, however, the gospel signal is weak, with many more watts devoted to Mick Jagger than Mahalia Jackson.

The Rev. Maurice Pipkin is trying to fill some of that gap with Glory AM, a gospel-focused station that began broadcasting in February from a Burnside Avenue office building.

The station, WKND 1480-AM, airs music and sermons from the Hartford area and around the nation.

"I'm stronger/I'm wiser/I'm better."

"This is music by Marvin Sapp. I hope it encourages you," disc jockey "A.J." [Ashley Johnson] says on a recent Wednesday afternoon as the last notes of Sapp's "Never Would Have Made It" fade away.

The preachers and singers featured on the station are mainly African American, but the station regularly broadcasts sermons from a white preacher, the Rev. David Paul of Spiritual Life Fellowship in Hartford, and the DJs play a wide range of Christian music.

The heart of the program, however, is gospel music played and sung by black Americans, and Pipkin says that's a good thing for everyone. Gospel is soothing and inspirational music, Pipkin says, that "ministers to your soul and your well-being."

"No matter if you're white, black, purple," he says, "everybody loves gospel music."

A trip to North Carolina in 2002 inspired the married father of six children to bring some gospel home. While vacationing in Charlotte, the Hartford native says he listened to 24-hour gospel radio and thought his city needed the same uplifting service.

Back in Hartford, Pipkin said he asked the managers of a Spanish language station [WNEZ, 1230 AM] if they could make room for some gospel. They agreed, he said, after he rounded up some sponsors. Pipkin also started a gospel broadcast in 2005 at Trinity College's radio station, WRTC 89.3 FM, where he's known as "Minister Moe."

Pipkin, 37, an associate minister at Mount Olive Church Ministries in Hartford, still does the Trinity show on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but he said he wanted more exposure for the music he loves and the "Word" he wants to spread. So he approached representatives of Gois Broadcasting, which had purchased WKND and two other area stations, WNEZ and WLAT 910-AM, last year.

All three stations had been part of Freedom Communications, led by Hartford businessman Richard Weaver-Bey. The company foundered after a dispute between Weaver-Bey, who has since died, and his chief executive, Stephen Brisker, and was eventually placed in receivership by a federal magistrate in Bridgeport.

Glory AM now broadcasts on weekdays from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The plan, Pipkin said, is to go round-the-clock in June and to buy the station by the end of the year. Representatives of Gois Broadcasting did not return phone calls.

At 500 watts, the station's signal is relatively weak, but the broadcast is available online, day and night, at www.wewantgospel.com, or www.gloryam.com. Pipkin, his three DJs and support staff are all volunteers now, but Pipkin said he hopes to be able to pay the staff eventually.

Connecticut does have several religious radio stations, including WJMJ 88.9-FM in Hartford, run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford; Middletown-based WIHS 104.9 FM; and WDJZ 1530-AM in Bridgeport.

But for people in the Hartford area who grew up with gospel music and love it, there has been no steady presence on the radio.

"That market is woefully underserved," said Paul, the senior pastor at Spiritual Life Fellowship.

Asked why Hartford area radio has been short on gospel, Pipkin cited the expense of doing business in Connecticut as the main reason. He said he's lined up some sponsors for Glory AM, but needs more.

Bishop J.L. Fenner, leader of Mount Olive Church Ministries, said Pipkin has the character and stamina to make the station successful. The need is here, Fenner said. Gospel music "speaks to a community that really are not spoken to," he said, "because black people, they are gospel listening people and there's no such station in the area."

"Everybody loves gospel music."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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