For many prisoners, radio shows like “Con Salsa!” in Boston are their only connection to family and friends outside prison walls, reports the Associated Press. Callers – girlfriends, fathers, wives, brothers and mothers – dedicate songs, make confessions, give news, send love, even put the voices of their children on the air. Some radio hosts say that prison “shout outs” now are a big part of their weekly programs. “People through their calls were making a connection to that soul by just saying the name and wanting to hear the name,” said host Jose Masso. The 58-year-old began “Con Salsa!” 34 years ago on Boston University’s public radio station, 90.9 WBUR-FM, while he was a high school teacher in the city. In addition to playing salsa artists, Masso used the show as a community forum.
Another program, the Sunday evening “Art Laboe Connection,” is syndicated in 13 commercial stations in California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona. Laboe plays mainly oldies from three decades along with some recent R&B hits and gets dedication requests “at least once every minute,” Laboe said. Mari Castaneda, a communication professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said the programs are popular particularly with Latino listeners because the hosts don’t judge and they allow callers to speak freely – sometimes asking for forgiveness for infidelity or even breaking up over the airwaves. For families, the programs may be the best way to get out a quick message because prisons may be far away or limit visits. In Massachusetts, for example, visitation rules vary among institutions and phone calls can be made only during certain times, but prisoners are allowed to listen to the radio through headphones.