Black Radio’s Betrayal

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WURD-the last home of Black talk radio in Philadelphia-has struggled for the last few years, unable to attract advertisers or a large listenership.

Though small, the audience it did have was loyal. This support was largely a show of faith in the station’s owners-the Lomax family-who were perceived as at least having good intentions.

Then a new format was rolled out, transforming WURD into an information station. The station moved from the typical anger and complaint programming synonymous with most of today’s Black radio to serious discussion of issues considered critical by the Black community, including the Dafur crisis, the nationwide ramifications of Katrina and the Jenna 6 case in Louisiana. Suddenly the humble little 1000 watt AM was addressing the global Black experience and consequently, taking its audience seriously.

This metamorphosis coincided with the arrival of nationally prominent and respected radio legend Bob Law. Though his efforts to program and reposition the station encountered some resistance from within, the growing audience responded with tremendous approval. The Bob Law Show featured conversations with dynamic personalities like Tavis Smiley, Maxine Waters, Cynthia McKinney, Minister Farrakhan and leaders from influential social organizations like SCLC and NCOBRA. Listeners were extremely active - via constant letters, emails and on air calls. As a result of Bob Law’s expertise and influence, WURD was beginning to gain national attention.

But this success would be short lived. WURD hired a new general manager: Kearny Andersen. His stewardship consisted of an immediate restructuring of the format and staff. This was the same method he employed in the destruction of two previous talk stations in Philadelphia, including WHAT AM.

Under Andersen’s regime WURD has reverted to small time narrowly focused Black radio complete with home remodeling companies as advertisers, the mainstay of Black radio stations when they were nothing more than a platform for selling shoddy products to Black consumers. In this kind of atmosphere, the late night preachers selling prayer cloths and the alcoholic beverage peddlers can’t be far behind. 

Bob Law had slowly begun to reinvent Black talk radio, and at the same time, infuse the community with the pride that comes with hearing a positive reflection of self over the airwaves. An arduous task, yes; but if there is anyone who is capable is it Bob Law. What is most unfortunate about this recent turn of events is that once again, Black listeners have been sold out.
Still, something of value can be taken from this travesty.

The assault on Black radio cannot be carried out, cannot be successfully accomplished, without the acquiescence of those charged with providing quality programming. At first glance, this upheaval would seem the innocently intended knee-jerk reaction of a business man desperate to make money, something the owner has a right and a need to do.

The bone of contention here is that the changes invoked were unnecessary and are ultimately ineffective in achieving this goal. Format is not the issue. Personality is not the issue. It has never been. Black jocks have dominated since they entered the playing field known as radio. If WURD and other stations like it are to be successful, they must include as part of their reinvention a return to the golden days of Black radio, when radio was a reflection of the passions and concerns of the people it served.

It must fight to once again find the pulse of the neighborhoods. It must speak their language and look out for their interests. In the business sense, it must offer the community and the advertisers a brand new product. It cannot afford to mimic the outdated and often racist concepts that resulted in the limited appeal Black talk radio has today.

How WURD allowed itself to be conned into a strategy that has already proved an abysmal failure is a mystery. The most optimistic of us view it as a temporary setback, though. As long as jocks like Bob Law continue to operate with an ingrained sense of brotherhood and responsibility both on the air and off, there is a strong chance for Black radio to not only exceed the low expectations the industry continues to force upon it, but to surpass our highest expectations, thereby restoring it once again to its rightful place as the voice of the people.

If you want Bob Law back on WURD let them know.

Visit the link below to email them:

Or write or call at: 900AM WURD, 1341 N. Delaware Avenue, Suite 300, Philadelphia, PA 19125. Office Hours: 9am - 5pm EST; Phone: 215-425-7875 Fax: 215-634-6003


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