Magazine article Black Enterprise

The Future of Black Radio: Facing a Rapidly Changing Industry and Brutal Competition, This Medium Can Survive through Syndicated Programming and Bold Entrepreneurial Moves

Magazine article Black Enterprise

The Future of Black Radio: Facing a Rapidly Changing Industry and Brutal Competition, This Medium Can Survive through Syndicated Programming and Bold Entrepreneurial Moves

Article excerpt

ON A HUMID SEPTEMBER DAY, GROUPS OF AFRICAN Americans--most wearing black as a sign of solidarity--filled the streets of a rural Southern town. They came from coast to coast. They were entertainers such as legendary rappers Salt-N-Pepa; hip-hop artist, actor, and producer Ice Cube; and rising Hollywood power Tyler Perry. They were everyday citizens--teachers, entrepreneurs, students. And they all--more than 15,000 strong--descended upon Jena, Louisiana. They came to march in support of six African American teenagers standing trial, accused of beating a white teenager, in arguably one of the most racially charged cases in recent memory.

And black radio led the way. Through their daily talk shows and ubiquitous presence, syndicated radio personalities Michael Baisden, Steve Harvey, and Tom Joyner rallied thousands in a demonstration reminiscent of the civil rights movement. Shining a bright light on a case largely ignored by mainstream media, they used the airwaves to become powerful voices of advocacy and empowerment. "I felt it on the radio. My manager and I got together and came up with the whole concept," says Baisden, the demonstration's chief architect, whose talk show runs on 64 radio stations and reaches 4 million listeners. "I could feel people's passion that they felt the same way I did about the situation. The march gave me faith. As long as we're talking about something that's universal, like our kids, we'll all get behind it."

Approaching the first anniversary of the Free Jena Six march, it's only fitting BE explore the role of black radio not only as a powerful force to inform and move the masses, but as a segment within a rapidly changing industry besieged by fierce competition. Five years ago, BE reported on the radio industry (see "Battle of the Airwaves," May 2003) and cited that government deregulation in the mid-1990s served to shrink the number of independent black radio stations--a viable business segment of the BE 100S and champions for progress in the 1970s and 1980s. These companies were unable to effectively compete with broadcast leviathans such as Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting for black and urban listeners.

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"The 1996 Telecommunications Act removed restrictions on ownership of broadcast properties, allowing one entity to own as many stations across the country as desired and as many as eight radio stations in a single market," says James Winston, executive director of Washington-based National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters.

So today, to reach this coveted market, large broadcasters use nationally syndicated radio shows in an attempt to expand audience reach and market share and to increase revenues. As a result, local programming, once an indispensable staple of black radio, is quickly becoming a distant memory. And since syndicated radio provides a platform for national advertising, the stations with local programming can only compete for local advertising.

Black radio, for the most part, has morphed into a new creature. The question yet to be answered: Will this generation of content producers provide a new wave of black entrepreneurship in broadcasting while ensuring that African Americans have a strong voice on the airwaves?

AN INDUSTRY IN PERPETUAL TRANSITION

A recent study by Los Angeles-based ROI Media Solutions, based on Arbitron PPM (portable people meter) data, revealed that urban radio has the ability to reach some 97% of African American consumers ages 12 and older each week--especially during morning and evening drive times. But radio, like most traditional media today, is in a state of transition. It faces a fusillade of competition from new media and other customized information and entertainment choices--iPods and MP3 players, satellite radio, the Internet, console games, and DVDs. Station owners have found a way to provide listeners with options through nationally syndicated shows featuring hosts such as Harvey, Joyner, Baisden, Wendy Williams, Doug Banks, and Dede McGuire, among others. …

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