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WBLS ratings are up despite the loss of ‘Black Talk Radio’ programming

Craig D. Frazier | 9/5/2013, 12:49 p.m. | Updated on 9/5/2013, 12:49 p.m.
WBLS radio

The joining of the two stations was a hard pill to swallow for faithful listeners who already feel that there is a lack of variety among Black radio stations. The loss of talk show programming on Sunday limits the voice of the Black community.

“African-American listeners have lost a voice on New York City radio, not to mention the loss of jobs because of this change,” A.J. Muhammad, an avid Sunday listener from Manhattan, told the AmNews. “This is a great disservice to the Black community. We have few outlets to hear information that is relevant to our community. Without Black talk radio, we would be oblivious to what is going on in the city, country and world because mainstream media rarely reports on issues that impact African-Americans.

He gives Black radio credit for backing Obama’s campaign, the “Jena Six” and being out front on the Trayvon Martin case. More over, there are issues that are happening locally that syndication rarely talks about.

“One hour a week is not enough time for ‘The Open Line.’ The show needs at least two hours for its hosts, guests and listeners to address different topics. ‘The Open Line’ is part of the Sunday talk lineup that was launched on WRKS in 1989. The award show is now heard on WBLS on Sundays. [[ED: WHERE DOES PREVIOUS QUOTE END?]] He continued, “‘The Open Line’ is crucial in advocating for disenfranchised Black New Yorkers and justice for victims of police brutality and corruption, such as the ‘Central Park Five.’ If we had to depend on mainstream media to validate important issues and people in our community, we would be in trouble.”

WBLS still carries two other talk shows on Sunday: “The Rev. Al Sharpton,” 9-10 a.m., and “Imhotep Gary Byrd,” 7-9 p.m. Mid-days on Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., now features WBLS’ regular R&B format with hosts Eddie Love and Déjà Vu, leading into “Sunday Classics,” from 5-7 p.m.

WBLS has done well in the ratings since the disappearance of WRKS. It is currently No. 4 in overall listenership and No. 3 in the critical 25-54 demographic. WBLS morning host Steve Harvey finished a strong third overall, close behind Elvis Duran on WHTZ (100.3 FM) and the Bob Bronson-Christine Nagy team on WLTW (106.7 FM).

The question is whether those listeners translate to ad dollars—a major, ongoing problem for Black and Hispanic radio. According to accounting firm Miller Kaplan, in the first six months of 2013, advertising revenue for WBLS spiked 76 percent over the same period a year earlier in a market that was up 6 percent. General Manager Deon Levingston said in a recent Crain’s interview that next year, revenue should match its old numbers.