NEW YORK (NNPA) - New York’s radio station WLIB-1190 AM has been loyally "serving New York’s Black community"—as its logo states—for decades now. In the early ’90s, WLIB was lauded as a resource for "Afrocentric" programming and became known for featuring Imhotep Gary Byrd’s "Global Black Experience" show.
The station was, in many ways, a Black activist outlet.
But, by the end of March, WLIB will be taking on a different hue, as it joins the launch of Progress Media’s "Air America Radio," the new, predominately White, liberal talk-radio network. Air America has reportedly partnered with Inner City Broadcasting Corporation (ICBC), which owns WLIB.
"We are excited about the diverse and important voices Air America Radio is bringing to the airwaves, both on our own WLIB signal and others," said ICBC Chairman Pierre Sutton. "This strategic partnership allows both companies to combine our resources and deliver relevant messages to a broad and diverse audience."
"That’s what you call ‘high-class B.S.!’" one former WLIB staffer said when told that Mr. Sutton said the station’s changes were necessary because Blacks had just stopped listening to WLIB. The former staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that, if WLIB’s talk shows were promoted the way conservative talk shows are—and the way Air America’s shows will be—the station would have made money.
Air America Radio plans on using what it terms a roundup of "progressive activists" and "celebrities" as part of the activist left’s efforts to counter the national popularity of White, right-wing, conservative talk shows and radio personalities. The network will begin broadcasting shows from across the country on March 31 over WLIB and radio stations WNTD in Chicago and Los Angeles’ KBLA.
"I don’t get it. I mean, I do not get it," local activist Elombe Brath said about Air America Radio’s takeover at WLIB. Reports are that WLIB’s 40th floor station has been remodeled for Air America, and that the 30th and 39th floors are also being rebuilt to suit the needs of the new network.
Mr. Brath, who hosts and produces the show "Afrikaleidoscope" on WBAI-FM, and who played a part in the Afrocentric reorganization of WLIB’s programming back in the early 1980s, complained that, if listenership was down at WLIB, the station should have restructured from within, as it did in the 1980s.
"All of the talk should be organic, from within the Black community," he insisted. "How can they think about coming into New York with a package program like this? We have people here already who know radio, who can do shows. And they want to come in with a program from other people trying to talk to Black people in New York City? [WLIB] is just a station that has been stripped of what it’s supposed to be!"
In its heyday, WLIB and shows like "Night Talk with Bob Law" on WWRL-AM, Samori Marksman’s "Worldview" on WBAI-FM, Bob Slade’s "Open Line" on WKRS-FM, and WWRL’s "Drive Time Dialogue" formed part of its own advocacy radio network. They highlighted Black community health concerns, cultural awareness and political activities. But now, as WLIB joins with Air America Radio, plans are to keep only a few of the station’s leading Black radio personalities. Mark Riley will be a co-host on "Uprising," Air America’s 6-9 a.m. show, while Dahved Levy, Ann Tripp and news director Wayne Gilman will also remain with the station.
Air America Radio’s featured on-air personality will be Al Franken, a comedian who helped create NBC’s "Saturday Night Live" and who recently wrote the book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," a scathing anti-FOX News, anti-Bill O’Reilly book that became a best-seller.
"I don’t know how Air America is going to broaden the reaches of ’LIB," said one radio personality who chose to speak anonymously about the situation. "How is this going to impact the Black community? As far as I’ve heard, they’ve got a couple of Whites who just really want to go after Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and all the others. You can’t convince me that that’s going to be something good for Black and Hispanic people."
Mr. Brath agreed with that analysis: "You’ve got people here in New York who believe in Black culture, so I don’t see why they’re ... they’re like outsourcing, in a sense. In reality, what the station needs is to have some people who know the community and can speak to its needs."
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