Another voice gone
ELINOR TATUM Publisher and Editor in Chief | 5/3/2012, 12:41 p.m.
In 1927, almost 200 years ago, the first Black newspaper was created. In its first edition, Freedom's Journal stated, "We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us." That one newspaper marked the beginning of the birth of hundreds of Black newspapers to follow, from small farming community newspapers to big-city papers like the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburg Courier, the Philadelphia Tribune and the Amsterdam News. Then later, radio, magazines and television.
Radio became the daily voice of Black America, while newspapers were the keepers of history and the purveyors of truth. The daily discourse of Black life thrived in the pages of the Black press, and the radio was the pulse and beat of a community wanting more.
Newspapers and radio stations thrived. They were the way to reach Black America. And then something happened--actually, a lot happened. The Civil Rights Movement was over. Blacks were now starting to be hired at white-owned and -controlled companies where prior to the 1970s they were rarely given a first or second look. And the advertising business, the backbone of commercial media business, began to change as major retailers felt they could reach the Black community through mainstream efforts and bypass Black-owned and -controlled media. Yet the black press persevered, still telling the stories and preserving the history of our communities.
Then somewhere along the line, the general market finally saw the real worth in the Black audience. And because of that it was decided that using black media was not enough. They needed to own it.
Slowly, general market companies were buying up radio stations that had been owned by Blacks. Majority radio station groups were going to an urban format. Suddenly, there could be several urban-
format stations in one market. At points, one or two might be Black-owned and maybe struggling because they had less resources at their disposal, while the majority-owned stations with more access to advertising dollars thrived on the backs of our communities.
Still, that was not all bad. Some of those stations, though not owned by us, still had content that made a difference in the lives of our people. There were shows that really addressed the ills of our communities. Programming that talked about the issues that afflicted us. That talked about the lives and deaths of our sons and daughters. That talked about the injustices we face on a daily basis.
While this trend of majority-owned urban format radio was going on, Black newspapers were struggling across America. Some weathered the storms, as they continue to do today, while others were swept away, their voices silenced forever more. Each time diminishing the ability of Black America to communicate.
Then we hear about the bankruptcy of the granddaddy of all Black radio, Inner City Broadcasting Corp. (ICBC), with the stations WBLS/WLIB as its backbone. They were hurting, actually dying under the weight of debt. Their debt, bought by Magic Johnson, Yucaipa and Fortress, made the last Black-owned FM signal in New York City no longer principally Black-owned. And no sooner had this been done, do we hear of more changes in the radio landscape.