Battle For The Airwaves - Page 2 of 7

Battle For The Airwaves

180 stations. Collectively, these companies reach a majority of black and urban listeners with their programming.

While large broadcast companies have benefited, deregulation has been a nightmare for black-owned broadcasters, creating an ultra-competitive environment that has forced many out of business. According to Kofi Ofori in his report, Radio Local Market Consolidation and Minority Ownership, in 1991 there were 173 minority-owned broadcasters. By 1997, however, that number dropped to 169, and by 2001 was down to 149. Simply put, the day of the single-station owner is over. Aidoo reinforces this sentiment by stating: “If black people continue to lose those properties [minority-owned stations], the likelihood of us ever regaining them is next to none.”

What does all this mean for you? The trend impacts African Americans on a number of fronts. First, it has undercut black entrepreneurship in radio broadcasting–an area that gave rise to a segment of BE 100S companies over the past three decades. Today, the largest black-controlled radio broadcaster is Radio One, a former BE 100S company and 2000 Company of the Year. In order to grow and stay competitive, Radio One eventually reduced its ownership stake below 51% in a series of public stock offerings. It also expanded the reach of its 65 stations when it partnered with ABC Networks in 2001 to create the Urban Advantage Network.

Second, the dominance of broadcasting monoliths limits local programming, as the airwaves become saturated with national programs and syndicated fare. Clear Channel provides more than 100 syndicated programs to 7,800 stations nationwide, reaching 180 million listeners; however, the No. 1 urban radio show, The Tom Joyner Morning Show, syndicated by ABC Networks, reaches only 5 million listeners nationwide. David Honig, executive director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC)–a national, nonprofit organization that promotes and preserves equal opportunity and civil rights in mass media–asserts that niche operators must be protected to ensure a diversity of voices and viewpoints on the airwaves. “Radio is one of the most important industries in the country because it shapes opinion,” says Honig. “If you just have a few companies controlling all of the pipelines of opinion, then democracy starts to crumble.” For instance, Saunders says the loss of his stations created a vacuum in vital political information and news for Charleston’s African American community. “Last year, blacks in the Charleston area [virtually] stopped voting because WPAL-AM wasn’t there,” he says sadly. “Everyone at my station was interested in the community. Now we have people at urban [formatted] stations that don’t know anyone in the community. [They] just play music and come up with new ways to make money.”

The third impact is the employment of fewer blacks within the industry. The number of African Americans on and behind the mic will continue to shrink, with fewer black stations and less original and local programming.

So, will preserving black radio require a super-heroic effort? A number of entrepreneurs are marshalling their resources to fight for market share and a presence within the industry. Companies, such as