ABCD SummerWorks alumni leading the way

SparkFM Online CEO Danielle Johnson

During the mid-1960’s, ABCD SummerWorks was a new grassroots program coming into fruition, often during the wee hours, when former ABCD staff members like Sarah-Ann Shaw pored over applications trying to determine youth eligibility, staff hiring, etc. Since then, tens of thousands of Boston youth have joined the ranks of ABCD SummerWorks alumni success stories. 

This includes Dorchester native Danielle Johnson, CEO of the hottest urban and Caribbean music radio stations in Boston, SparkFM Online. Danielle’s impact was so significant that she was included on Boston Magazine’s list of the city’s 150 most influential people in both 2022 and 2023. She spoke with ABCD Insight to reflect on her journey and her future.

Q: On air, you are known as Ms. Hotsauce. SparkFM Online is a family business, led by you and your sister Antionette, known on air as Ms. Toni, who is also a SummerWorks alumna. It’s the first Black female-owned digital radio station in Boston created to empower and amplify the underserved voices of the community. Tell us how and why you came together to launch the station in 2020.

A:  We are a homegrown, experienced, and hungry group of DJs and broadcasters who were denied opportunities at big name media enterprises. Our team consists of Operations Director Garry White (my long time friend), Station Manager Trystin Johnson (my Godbrother, aka Rockstone Trizz), Community Business Manager Antoinette Johnson (my sister, aka Ms. Toni) and Community Liaison Shamar Rhodes – all of whom are imperative to the success and growth of Spark. To bring Spark to life, I reached out to various radio and DJ colleagues and soon we had a team of 20 and went on air. 

Q: Did you sense a gap in the Boston radio scene that SparkFMOnline intended to bridge?  

A: Yes. Big media platforms don’t connect listeners with local resources, politics, and entertainment. And, their services are too expensive for local small business advertisers. Plus, there are tons of creative individuals seeking an outlet for their art, and the big stations won’t give them a minute of their time. 

It’s a fact that radio is just not what it used to be. Like everything else, radio has adopted the model of automation. Radio has taken the connection that broadcasters and the community once had with each other, and made it generic, unaffordable and repetitive. Spark ignited the flames that were dying out in the community and within its media talent. 

Q: When did you participate in ABCD SummerWorks and how was it beneficial to you?

A: I was a SummerWorks youth worker from 1997-2000 at Marcus Garvey Day Care. Of course, SummerWorks was my entry into the workforce. Earning my own paycheck gave me a sense of independence and agency over my life. I could make my own choices about things that I wanted to buy. ABCD has been a part of my life because it was my mother’s first job after immigrating to Boston from Honduras. 

Q: How did you get into radio? 

A: It was by mistake. I started out blogging entertainment news and realized that I wasn’t a great proofreader. So, I auditioned at a small online radio station for a host position and got it.

Q: Talk about the joys and challenges of having your family help you manage your business and support your entrepreneurial journey. 

A:  It’s pretty cool! These are the people that are closest to me, with whom I spend most of my time and to whom I would turn if I needed help or advice. They support all the ideas that pop into my brain. We bump heads as family members sometimes do, but when we don’t agree, our business plan and goals keep us focused. 

Q: Can you discuss SparkFM’s 10 Point Commitment to the Community?

A: Our 10 point commitment to the community is an important factor for our growth. It creates a bond among our listeners by providing content curated to their needs and builds a healthy and informed community with great music that spans multiple genres. Listeners are informed about community events, rallies, and concerts, as well as politics, wealth, health, lifestyle, civic engagement, pop culture, music entertainment news, and so much more.

Q:. Congratulations on recently receiving the Bada$$ In HerStory Award, and a Supporting Pandemic Affected Community Enterprises (SPACE) grant from the City of Boston! Tell us about both.  

A: The Bada$$ award was a surprise to me and such a needed lift at the time. Being an entrepreneur and CEO is not for the faint of heart. It’s always an honor to be empowered and recognized by your peers and community. The SPACE grant is a wonderful lifeline that will help us fully construct and move into our new studio at 1195 Blue Hill Avenue. We appreciate this boost by Mayor Michelle Wu. 

Q: Tell us about SparkFM’s focus on Teen Employment and Mentor Relationships. It sounds something like ABCD SummerWorks.

A: SparkFM partners with local high schools and colleges, providing training, community service, and internship opportunities for youth and young adults interested in broadcasting and/or entrepreneurship. We believe that investing in our youth is the key to any future we might have.

Q: Do you have anything else that you would like to share? 

A: My wish is that people really utilize this platform to get connected to the great resources and opportunities that Boston has to offer. We do our best and are open to suggestions on how to make SparkFM Online a national landmark in Boston.

Check out our friends at sparkfmonline.com and visit bostonabcd.org\summerworks to learn more and apply to ABCD SummerWorks.