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OPINION - Black stations

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Hyperbole and exaggeration can make people look foolish. When people rise in their careers and become leaders in their industry, you expect them to pick their words carefully. We depend on them to give us proper perspective in their areas of expertise.

There was some radio news last week. Two New York City radio stations, WBLS and WLIB were sold. The buyer was Emmis Communications, a large broadcast group with a good reputation. The seller was YMF Media LLC, an African-American media company where basketball star Magic Johnson is one of the partners. The buying and selling of radio stations is not uncommon – there are nearly 300 broadcast licenses that change hands each year.

The head of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Jim Winston, says this sale “continues to wreak havoc on the African-America community”. Havoc? As in riots or protests? Marches in the streets? Really? Hardly.

Mr. Winston’s problem is that these two radio stations used to be owned by Inner City Broadcasting – the largest black-owned broadcast group in the country. Inner City’s creditors forced the company into bankruptcy court in 2011. YMF Media took over most of their stations and has been selling them off over the last three years. Winston objects that a black buyer wasn’t found for the two New York stations, and that they were instead sold to a corporation.

The argument is foolish. WBLS is a successful radio station; it’s in second place in the latest New York ratings. They have a large audience. Are they suddenly going away because the station’s ownership changed? Of course not, unless the new owners make changes the audience doesn’t like. The idea that there are “black licenses” that are attached to “black stations” is a fallacy. The biggest change in the radio landscape in the last decade is the rise of large, corporate broadcasters than own dozens (or hundreds) of stations. It’s wrong to think of these corporations as “white”. They’re owned by thousands of shareholders; people of all colors, languages, religions and backgrounds. If the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters wants to increase its influence, they should pool their money and buy a large block of stock in a broadcasting corporation.

The timing of Mr. Winston’s comments are unfortunate. Less than a week ago the FCC cancelled its over-the-shoulder study of broadcast newsrooms because of obvious freedom-of-the-press problems. The stated purpose of this study was the examine barriers to broadcast ownership for women and minorities. (Obviously the connection between how the news is put together and broadcast ownership is thin.) So this raises an interesting question. Would Mr. Winston be willing to give up some of his First Amendment rights to alter who owns which stations? That would be a choice that would truly wreak havoc.

Chris Conley

Image: Radio broadcast tower via WikiCommons.com