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KLSP and the kicks behind the bricks
By Sarah Etter, News Reporter
Published: 05/01/2006

Atlanta 01

Behind the walls of Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary, a deep, gruff voice resonates through its gray concrete as it pours through dozens of silver speakers in cellblocks across the sprawling facility.

“You're listening to KLSP 97.1 FM, the number one incarceration station, the kicks behind the bricks! I'm Reverend AJ and you're listening to the very best of gospel music,” says inmate deejay Andrew Joseph, as he gears up for another full hour of old-school gospel music.

Joseph is one of many offender deejays at Angola, the only prison in the country to boast an inmate-run, FCC-licensed radio station.

“Working at the radio station is a very prestigious job,” says Joseph, who has worked at KLSP since its 1987 inception. “You feel like you're making a contribution and it fuses you into the community of the prison. It feels like you're doing something worthwhile.”

KLSP can only be heard on the prison grounds, where inmates spin records for one hour, with rotations including pop music, country and gospel songs.

“I'm a traditional gospel player. I play the old, old gospel music. The younger guys, they come in and do the contemporary,” says Joseph, who was initially hired at KLSP 19 years ago because a warden thought he had a great voice for radio. “When I play music, I try to let the gospel songs tell a story.”

According to Louisiana officials, the station is an added morale booster for their population.

“We have to keep our inmates productive,” says Cathy Fontenot, Assistant Warden of Programming at Angola. “We have to think outside of the box because they are with us forever. When you allow inmates to use their creativity in a positive, controlled way you're going to have less violence. They feel less frustrated, and they feel like they have a voice.”

Although the station offers a creative outlet for offenders, inmates still have to play their records by the rules. Since KLSP is registered as an educational and religious station, deejays are required to stick to the same standards as mainstream radio stations.

“Inmates are not allowed to play any sexual material,” says Fontenot. “Each inmate deejay is allowed to be creative in their programming, as long as they remain within the FCC broadcasting requirements.”

The radio station does provide a creative outlet for inmates, but officials have used the station for an additional purpose.

“During Hurricane Katrina, I was able to go onto KLSP and give these inmates important information every single night. That reduced the instance of rumors throughout the facility and tension. This is just one way for us to show the importance of communication, safety and security,” recalls Fontenot.

Angola officials also used the station during a 1997 flood. About 3,000 inmates were evacuated during the flood, which according to Fontenot, went smoothly thanks to frequent radio announcements over KLSP.

Despite its limited radio range, KLSP is receiving more and more attention from people outside. Fontenot says that recently, interest has been expressed in turning the story of Angola's 97.1 into a major motion picture; Reporters have toured the station more frequently, and celebrities have gotten involved too.

“Larry Howard, who played in The Allman Brothers Band, saw real possibilities with our station,” says Fontenot. “He decided to hold a radio fundraiser to replace our old radio equipment. We love Mr. Howard, but we never imagined what would happen.”

During a three-hour radio fundraiser, which spanned a number of mainstream stations up and down the east coast, deejays raised more than $120,000 for their inmate counterparts. When the station began in 1987, offenders and officials depended on equipment donated from a local church. With the additional funds, offenders replaced their old equipment with updated gadgets.

“They trained us on how to use the new equipment,” recalls Joseph. “The new system is very different. It's modernized, but we know how to use it. We also have the ability to do remote-broadcasts now.”

Remote broadcasting allows inmate deejays to air live shows from different areas throughout the prison. Prison choir sessions are broadcast to those physically unable from attending religious services, and the live radio also airs Louisiana's famous Prison Rodeo.

Crates of old vinyl records stuffed around the small studio's modernized equipment tell of the station's history.

“It's amazing to see where this station has come from,” says Fontenot. “You can barely read the album covers on our stockpiles of vinyl because they are so worn. We have some really classic albums here and it's just amazing to look at them.”

As Joseph, the Reverend AJ, finishes his set, it becomes obvious that he embodies the station's history. After all, it was he who initially brought fellow offenders the “kicks behind the bricks on KLSP since 1987.”


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