Battle in Grand Rapids to save Urban radio


Pittsburgh has been in the national trade press because its only Urban radio stations were sold and headed for a Catholic format. Meanwhile, much the same story has been taking place in Grand Rapids MI, centered around WJNZ-AM.

The station is in receivership with $360K in outstanding loans.

The station’s own Robert S. Womack, known professionally as Robert S., has been trying to put together an ownership group to acquire the station and keep it in its current format, and continue its roll as being the only station in the market serving the African American community, which makes up about 7% of Grand Rapids’ total population.

Womack’s group failed to match the $310K bid of Holy Family Radio, a group that wished to acquire the station and put a Catholic-oriented religious format on the station.

Womack’s attempt to save the station’s format suffered a setback with investors Marvin and MaLinda Sapp pulled out of the group, taking $150K with them, in a dispute over the station’s future should they eventually win the license. Sapp, a gospel singer, wants to install a more family-friendly format on the station, whereas Womack want to leave it as is. Womack said other investors have made up the difference after the Sapp pullout – and in fact, it has put $315K in escrow at the request of the court should the delay cause Holy Family to withdraw its offer.

To the disappointment of Holy Family, which feels it won the auction fair and square, the sale has been delayed with a hearing scheduled for 10/19/09.

However, Womack says the delay is giving everybody time to negotiate. He’s hoping other stations can be found for both Holy Family and the Sapps, who continue to say they are in the running for WJNZ, without Womack.

RBR-TVBR observation: MMTC has been warning, in the context of the PRA debate, that many Urban radio stations will be shoved over the brink into bankruptcy should performance royalties become yet another financial burden to deal with. We’d have to say that coming this close to disenfranchising an entire key demographic in two markets lends credence to that assessment.