In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Boston suffered a spike in youth violence. In the summer of 1990, that violence hit its apex. The community sought various ways to curb the problem and one solution was Zumix.
Zumix began as a grassroots music program providing kids in East Boston a safe haven to go to after school where they could write and make music. Fast forward over 20 years and Zumix has expanded to include events like Battle of the Bands, concerts, a range of music classes, block parties, an online radio broadcast, and finally, after decades of waiting, an FM station (94.9).
Zumix is a youth development and arts non-profit that offers free or reduced cost group programming for kids between the ages of 7 and 18. Kids can go after school and during the summer for classes covering songwriting and performance, creative technology, group and private instrument lessons, and community radio and the astonishingly talented people that emerge from Zumix is simply a byproduct of the program’s purpose.
“Our goal is not to churn out amazing musicians but to use music as a tool to empower young people,” said Anni Leff, Development Associate at Zumix. “We want to mold productive and engaged young people in the world and at Zumix we use music to do that.”
The big news for Zumix, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, was the opening of its very own “youth powered” FM radio station this September. As with everything Zumix does, kids are heavily involved in running the radio station alongside a team of professional mentors and learn everything from how to operate radio technology to the ins-and-outs of being an on-air personality.
As a non-commercial organization, Zumix does not have to deal with advertisements and is not compelled to play any specific type of music, which leads to an extremely diverse lineup. With that freedom, the station focuses on sharing underplayed music and local Boston artists.
“We want to expose people to new things,” said Leff. “We can air content that you won’t hear anywhere else.”
They have shows focused on folk and Americana, Massachusetts-based artists, Spanish language, 70s and 80s punk, West African cassettes, and even youth-written NPR-style storytelling.
Sophie Kazis, Zumix radio coordinator, leads the charge on identifying local music and bands. Her work is largely grassroots and social media-based, but Boston has an abundance of local talent to choose from and the station is hoping to invite more bands into the studio for interviews and live performances as it grows. Zumix also promotes a symbiotic relationship between music exposure and youth development since the kids learn from the band they provide air-time for. If you’re a Massachusetts artist looking for some exposure, get in touch! Just remember, your music has to be FCC compliant.
As a station built on the back of tight-knit community, involvement with listeners is top of mind for Zumix. If there’s something you want to hear, call in.
“We want people to know that this is a station they can tune into but also connect with,” said Leff.
Outside of the radio station, Zumix hosts a raft of other programs including Rock Ed, where kids are taught “how to be in a rock band,” and a Battle of the Bands which spans genres and age groups.
Despite this expansion, Zumix’s grassroots beginnings are still relevant today.
“We’re seeing a lot of change to our neighborhood with the ongoing gentrification,” said Leff. “Community violence is going up as it does in those situations, so there’s a still a very relevant need for positive youth development.”