By Karen Juanita Carrillo | SACOBSERVER.COM WIRE SERVICES
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 this month, 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."
Sutton added, "That's what you call 'high-class B.S.!'" one former WLIB staffer said when told that Sutton said the station's changes were necessary because African Americans 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 re-built to suit the needs of the new network.
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," Brath 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. Many have even claimed that WLIB's efforts helped to get out the vote for David Dinkins as he ran to become New York City's first Black mayor.
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 a.m. to 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.
Alongside Franken, Air America Radio will feature comedienne Janeane Garofalo; environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; author and activist Laura Flanders; Lizz Winstead, a co-creator of "The Daily Show"; radio personalities Mark Riley and Randi Rhodes; and political humorist Sam Seder. Chuck D, lead rapper for the group Public Enemy, was initially announced as part of the Air America Radio staff, but sources now say that the hip-hop icon is backing away from that commitment.
"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."
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."
This story comes special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News