What happened to black talk radio?

Conversation increasingly losing out to music among listeners, critic says

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Print

By Alisa Valentin

Medill News Service

The title doesn't sound like the kind of show you'd expect to hear on a gospel radio station — The Booty Butt Naked Truth Show.

Broadcasting on WBGX (1570 AM), the black radio program strives to keep up with the popularity of today's music stations by bringing in younger guests to talk about issues.

"We try to bring a perspective, awareness and a consciousness to the things we see are hurting our community," says the show's host, Harold Davis.

The program has aired since 2010. It took an approach similar to longtime black talk radio station WVON by engaging the African-American community in conversation. The Naked Truth show attracts young listeners by bringing in younger guests. The show recently had a 17-year-old, Englewood resident talk about the aspects of living in his community.

But black music stations have taken some of the bite out of black talk radio, according to one industry watcher.

Black radio historically has had a large cultural and political influence in Chicago. It was here that radio personalities Tom Joyner and Steve Harvey got their start. Robert Feder, a longtime, prominent Chicago media critic says the music side of black radio is still very healthy, whereas the talk radio side is struggling.

The latest Arbitron radio ratings list WGCI (107.5 FM), a hip-hop and R&B station, No. 1 among listeners ages 18 to 34. WVON (1390 AM), however, is ranked 45th in the market, despite its historical influence in the city dating back to the 1960s. Black music station WVAZ (102.7 FM), which syndicates The Steve Harvey
Morning Show, ranks No. 3 three among listeners ages 25 to 54.

The history of Chicago radio, according to Feder, has set the bar high for those who make it in the city's radio scene. Harvey and Joyner, who are both syndicated and both include music in their shows, continue to influence their listeners.

African Americans, Feder adds, tend to be more of a unified voice because of these syndicated shows.

"When a Tom Joyner or a Steve Harvey takes on some kind of cause or begins some sort of a crusade they can have a tremendous impact, really across the whole country," Feder says.

But segregation within the industry led to what would become Chicago's first black talk radio station, WVON. It launched in 1963 playing R&B music, but the station didn't shy away from talk as a way to educate and uplift the community. Following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the station's on-air personalities stayed on the airwaves to help ease tensions in the city. In 1983, WVON helped mobilize black voters to elect Harold Washington as Chicago's first black mayor. By the mid-1980s, the station had switched to an all-talk
format.

"Going back to the Civil Rights era, black radio was the central means of communication in the black community," Feder says.

Black radio influences popular music, fashion and popular culture to a great extent in the African American community, and according to Feder, "These numbers suggest that young African Americans are listening to radio in greater proportion than their white counterparts."

But in general, Feder says listeners are not tuning in to black talk stations in the kind of numbers that would make them profitable. Gospel station WBGX, based in Harvey, sells airtime to a variety of churches in blocks, some as small as 15 minutes, to do their own programming, in addition to airing Davis' innovative program. But WBGX has too small of an audience to be listed by Arbitron.

Still, the Naked Truth show has succeeded using an impromptu approach during its two-hour slot from Tuesdays through Thursdays.

"A lot of people say they learn more with our format than they have anywhere else because we cover a variety of topics," says co-host Kamla Ronan, who also recalled the show about the Englewood resident.

"[The guest] discussed in detail what he knew about the violence in Englewood. Because he came in to discuss it, that captured an audience from 17 to 22."

Reader Comments

1 Comment - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Ellen Coz  

Posted: January 31st, 2013 7:45 PM

Go indie, start a streaming talk-radio site online, then design an app for your listeners so they can download the station and stream it on their smart phones. Black talk radio should thrive because new technologies are open to niche audiences for the taking. Use social media and you'll more than stay afloat, you'll thrive.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Austin and Garfield Park.


            
AdvertiseClassifieds
Photo storeContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor