The future of black-owned radio


Finally there’s some good news for Inner City Broadcasting Corporation forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy because it owes $254 million to creditors. Inner City, the owner of New York’s first Black radio station, WLIB, and later purchased WBLS in the Big Apple, has reached an agreement in principle with senior lenders. The company has 17 other radio stations across the country and a number of TV cable franchises. Now, according to their press release, Inner City and the senior lenders will file a chapter 11 plan of reorganization by mid-October.

The bad situation that Inner City is in unfortunately mirrors the plight of a lot of Black radio stations across America. They are in serious financial trouble. This is something that has been a problem for many years.

The head of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, or NABOB, pointed a finger at the Telecommunications Act of 1996 when he testified before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet in 2007. NABOB Executive Director James Winston lamented the fact that since the legislation was enacted that, “the number of African American owned companies holding broadcast station licenses has fallen by 40%.”

Winston also called on the lawmakers on the panel to, in his words, “investigate Arbitron’s new Portable People Meter (“PPM”) Audience Measurement system, because it appears that within its design is a critical flaw in the gathering and processing of the audience data which has resulted in a clear bias against the reporting of minority audiences.…PPM is a greater threat to the survival of minority owned media than even the FCC’s threatened ownership rule changes.” His attack on PPM four years ago continues to resonate.

“The PPM is like a God that Black radio has to pray to.”  Lee Bailey, executive producer of and host of RadioScope, told me. Bailey, who started in the business in 1970, described the state of Black radio as turbulent and scary. The people meter system is still being blamed for a lot of Black radio stations shutting down.

It should be noted that no matter the climate, Cathy Hughes, the founder and Chairperson of Radio One and TV One, has survived. She is able to not only maneuver in a white and male dominated business, but also thrive.

I once listened in awe to Hughes talk about starting out in Washington, DC as owner of WOL. She had such hard times in the beginning that she and her young son had to live in the radio station. But look at her now.

Radio One is the largest radio broadcasting company that primarily targets African Americans and Urban listeners. Not only that, it owns or operates 53 radio stations.    

As we all know, the future is now. By that I mean the Internet, for scores of people, is their main source of information, especially entertainment. Downloading music from the Internet, sad to say, has made a lot of radio stations, no matter the format, obsolete for a lot of people under 30 years old.

First they download music to their computer. Then the songs go on a device they take with them everywhere they go. It’s like they have their own commercial free, personally programmed radio station.

Some Black radio stations realize what is going on. They are beefing up their websites and soliciting friends on social networking sites, and the like.

Call me optimistic. But, I don’t think that Black radio will go the way of the dinosaur and become extinct. While we talk about the first Black radio station, WDIA, in Memphis in 1948, we won’t ever talk about the last one. I believe, particularly in major cities, there will be Black radio stations providing programming to the Urban community.

–Tene’ Croom, President, Tene’ Croom Communications
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