Bob Law on the Black Media Crisis
Jul 6, 2012 | News Archive
Bob Law on the Black Media Crisis

Radio Veteran Bob Law writes about the state of black media and institutions!

New York’s Black Media Crisis

As we look at the recent demise of Black owned Inner-City Broadcasting, the company founded by Percy Sutton, which owned and operated WBLS and WLIB as well as other stations around the country, it is important to understand that Inner-City joins a growing number of independent stand-alone Black broadcast companies that are the victims of predatory lending schemes, as well as what has been characterized as a racist policy on the part of the audience ratings company ARBITRON, causing a sharp decline in ad revenue to the point of driving Black radio stations out of business.

In 2009, the then New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo won a landmark case against ARBITRON charging that they knowingly and willfully issued incorrect information about Black listeners, that did, in fact cause the demise of Black radio stations.

In March of this year the same ratings company agreed to settle a consumer protection lawsuit jointly pursued by the State of California and the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco over their Portable People Meters that are used in a way that discriminates against Black and Hispanic audiences dramatically under counting and again causing sharp declines in advertising rates and revenue for many broadcasters.

Those factors, combined with the negative impact of Bill Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act, have resulted in a loss of Black owned radio, as well as much of the radio geared to the Black community, regardless of ownership. As we enter this critical political season, New York City with over 2 million Blacks, the largest African American population of any US city, is on the verge of having no meaningful Black radio at all.
There is the very real possibility that CBS may be moving it’s WFAN AM to WBLS so that they can compete with ESPN sports which is now on FM at the old KISS 98.7 dial position. In filing a petition to deny the transference of the broadcast license of Inner-City to YMF, we have expressed a concern for the terrible impact of the concentration of media ownership into the hands of an elite group of mega corporations that are moving to  exclusively own all of the nations media.

Currently Michael Baisden has an on air petition drive to get him a spot on New York’s new white owned WBLS. I wish him well. However, it is important to raise the right issue. It is not that Michael is not on WBLS, the real concern is that he and others are no longer on KISS FM. When KISS was replaced with ESPN, a sports talk  format that is geared to white males, New York lost 24 hours a day of programing that was geared to the Black community. We are consistently losing stations that have the possibility or potential of serving the Black community.

It was in 1997 that the Dubois Bunche Center For Public Policy at Medgar Evers College published a research study on media ownership concentration and the future of Black Radio. That study pointed out that policies favoring the ownership of broadcast stations by people of color are premised upon evidence that such ownership furthers the goal of diversity of viewpoint. They go on to state “that a broadcast industry with representative minority participation will produce more variation and diversity than will one whose ownership is drawn from a single racially and ethnically homogeneous group.”

We turn to the Federal Communications Commisssion to maximize diversification of programing and to prevent the undue concentration of influence and economic power into the hands of a select few, all of whom are white. Magic Johnson’s interest in YMF is minimal at best.

Part of our concern is that prior to the 1996 telecommunications act, the mega corporation, Clear Channel, owned 40 radio stations. In direct response to that act they now they own 1200. They also own among other things, Premiere Radio Networks, a syndication company that syndicates 90 radio programs including Rush Limbaugh and Steve Harvey. In addition to owning 1200 stations, they also provide content for 5000 radio affiliates.

Our concerns are clear! What steps will the FCC take to assure that the public interest of New York’s Black community is not harmed by the transfer of the broadcast license from the original Inner-City broadcasting to YMF media? also, given the Black population of NYC, how is it consistent with the public interest to reduce the number of stations serving the Black community?  Finally does the FCC accept the responsibility to protect the public from the dire consequences of the concentration of media in America into the hands of a small elite group.

Beyond the courts and the FCC the power to secure fairness and justice may rest in the hands of the national Black community who are close to spending $1 trillion dollars annually. As such Black Americans will have to establish a new relationship with corporate America, one that requires the corporations to spend and reinvest in Black communities and institutions the way they do in white communities. They must do that in return for the considerable amounts that Blacks overspend on their products.

Stayed tuned.


Posted By: Bob Law