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More than music: How KDEE 97.5 FM radio serves Black communities | Race and Culture

In California, there are only two Black-owned and operated radio stations. One of them is right here in Sacramento.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — There are more than 15,000 radio stations in the U.S., according to the latest Federal Communications Commissions report

The African American Public Radio Consortium (AAPRC) says fewer than 1% of them are owned by Black people, but their impacts are felt on a larger scale. The organization says public radio stations serving Black people and their communities significantly increase cultural news and information programming for Black listeners. Most of those stations are jazz, jazz and news, or smooth jazz radio.

In California, there are only two Black-owned and operated radio stations. One of them, KDEE 97.5 FM, is right here in Sacramento. The other station is KJLH 102.3 FM in Los Angeles, owned by singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder.

KDEE 97.5 FM is a low powered, non-commercial, community radio station. The station is owned and operated by the California Black Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a public charity dedicated to education, training, community growth and youth entrepreneurial development.

The late Aubry Stone, who founded the chamber in 1998, led the nonprofit in establishing the radio station. Its mission is in its call letters, KDEE, which stands for "Dedicated to Economic Empowerment."

Credit: KDEE

Before becoming 97.5 FM, the station originally launched as 97.7 FM in 2002 in Orangevale in Sacramento County. At that time, the station had frequency troubles, a 5-disc CD changer, outdated equipment, no on-air personalities and a need for a new broadcast system.

Tristen Mayes joined the station in 2003 to help the station better serve the public. Now, he works as one of several radio personalities, on-air Wednesdays through Fridays for the Midday Cafe radio show.

"We play our music for our folks, Black and Brown," Mayes said. "Black radio was gone. We're trying to bring it back to where it belongs in our communities, playing our music, talking about the things that matter to us, our family, our bottom line."

Credit: KDEE

Marvel Reed, former senior program director and general manager at KDEE, worked with Mayes and other station leaders over the years to ensure the station rightfully served Black people and other communities throughout the Greater Sacramento region and surrounding areas. Under Reed's leadership, the radio station became about more than just music. 

The station began to provide other needs and opportunities, particularly for Black people, including news, talk shows, programming, community events and public service information focused on health, education, housing, employment and much more. 

Reed served the community until his unexpected death on Dec.1, 2021. 

It is indeed with great sadness that we announce the passing of Mr. Marvell Reed, Program Director & General Manager of KDEE 97.5 FM. ♥️ Please keep the family in your prayers. Funeral arrangements will be posted at a later date.

Posted by 97.5 KDEE on Thursday, December 2, 2021

"Our organization suffered a terrible and tremendous loss," said the California Black Chamber of Commerce Foundation. "Our beloved and brilliant Program Director and General Manager, Mr. Marvel Reed passed away at his residence. Marvel was a trailblazer, a true friend and a mentor to many. His tireless efforts and groundbreaking results will be forever cherished."

KDEE continues to push forward, despite the tragic loss of past station leaders. Additionally, the radio group continues to succeed in an era of podcasts, online music streaming and the COVID-19 pandemic. The radio station has evolved by being a news source for the public and existing in a digital space.

"We survived it by being true to the game and making sure the message gets out to the people," Mayes said. "You talk about the digital divide, you talk about what's going on with pandemic. Those are the things that are important to people."

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