Written by DAVID HINCKLEY    Tuesday, 19 June 2012 10:33    PDF Print E-mail
Bob Law warns NYC's black radio could fade out

  • Radio host Bob Law  >
Radio host Bob Law >

When radio station WRKS (98.7 FM) was subsumed last month into WBLS (107.5 FM), there was considerable relief that the popular Sunday morning talk show “Open Line” would continue on ’BLS.

Longtime city talk radio host, programmer, restaurateur, entrepreneur and activist Bob Law thinks that’s good, too.

But Law also says too much of the discussion about the station shuffle missed the point.

“The more important issue wasn’t whether ‘Open Line’ would be on ’BLS, but the fact that Kiss is gone,” says Law. “We lost a whole radio station. That’s what we should have been talking about.”

Law, who spent many years at WWRL and hosted the nationally syndicated talk show “Night Line,” is no fan of the way black radio has sounded in New York in recent years.

“They’ve been programming scared,” he says. “They’ve tried to play it so safe, because that’s the only way they’ve felt they can get advertisers, that they’re hardly black stations at all.”

Nonetheless, he calls it critical that stations serving the black community continue to exist. So he and three other activists — Councilman Charles Barron, Betty Dopson of CEMOTAP (Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People) and Michael North — have filed a petition asking that the FCC delay approving the sale of WBLS and its sister station WLIB (1190 AM) to YMF Partners.

WBLS and WLIB were purchased in 1971 by Inner City Broadcasting, making WBLS the only black-owned FM station here. Inner City fell into bankruptcy, however, and the stations now have been bought by YMF Partners, pending FCC approval.

Law, Barron, Dopson and North argue that Inner City was forced into bankruptcy by “predator lenders” and the new Arbitron ratings system, which Law says “consistently undercounts black listeners.” That further reduces advertising revenue that was never proportionate for black media in the first place.

Law says he is concerned that YMF will simply sell WBLS and WLIB for a profit to “one of the huge corporations that already control almost all of radio.”

His fear, he says, is that 2 million black New Yorkers could end up with no adult radio station serving them — a catastrophic cultural loss.

“On the radio now, you only hear four or five singers,” he says. “Beyoncé, Rihanna. You wouldn’t even know there are new records by Gerald Alston or LaBelle, because no one will play them.

“Without black radio, there are authors and filmmakers you would never hear about. There are news perspectives you will never get.”

He doesn’t discount the Internet, he says. “It’s very helpful. But it’s an add-on. It’s no substitute for commercial radio.”

Law says he and his colleagues plan two public hearings soon on the loss of black radio. Their time and place, he says, will be announced.

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