Bob Law

*Is Black Radio in threat of disappearing? In April, New York’s KISS-FM radio station was merged into WBLS. “Open Line” a popular talk show was kept, but the Michael Baison Show, also popular, was not, thus the merge did not include all of the KISS-FM programming. Now there is fear that WBLS itself is about to be bought by YMF Partners. This has prompted former WWRL “Night Talk” Show host, Bob Law, to file a petition along with Councilman Charles Barron, Michael North and Betty Dopson of the Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People, asking the FCC to delay the sale of WBLS to YMF since YMF cannot purchase the station without FCC approval.

A community activist, Bob Law is the founder of the National Respect Yourself Youth Organization, which established a national network of Respect Yourself Saturdays involving academia. The respect organization has operated a baseball little league, a summer entrepreneur program which helps young people start their own summer business. He is also the organizer of the New York Peacekeepers campaign which encourages non-violence.

A filmmaker, Law is involved in film projects with the Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens, where he is chairman of the board. His play, “The Magic Clown,” a play for children, is being performed in NYC Public schools. He is also the author of “Voice for the Future.” Mr. Law is the owner of “Namaskar,” Bob’s Health and Wellness store, and Bob Law’s Seafood Cafe, located in Brooklyn.

In 1949, WLIB was purchased by the New Broadcasting Company headed by Morris and Harry Novik. Although White-owned, the Novik Brothers served ethnic audiences, targeting the Jewish and African American communities. The station eventually became the voice of the Black community, with the Noviks developing a press room and a Community Affairs department that allowed the Black community to utilize the station for their own public affairs announcements. By the 1950s, disc jockeys such as the late Hal Jackson were part of the on-air staff. The staff also included actor William Marshall and Victor Bozeman. By the 1960s, WLIB was one of several commercial jazz stations in New York featuring radio jocks such as WLIB’s Billy Taylor, Del Shields and Ed Williams who built up a large listening audience and worked together to establish a radio music format that is used to this day.

In the 1970s, there was a political outcry by African Americans for a black-owned radio station. Due to political pressure and after years in radio, the Novik brothers were ready to retire. Therefore, the Noviks looked for someone to buy the station that would meet with the approval of the Black Community. Therefore, when Percy Sutton, backed by several black investors came along, the Novik brothers felt Sutton met with the approval of the Black Community so chose Sutton just as much as he chose them. Sutton and his backers bought the station and formed Inner City Broadcasting. Eventually Inner City fell into bankruptcy and now their stations are under threat of being bought by YMF Partners once YMF obtains FCC approval. It is the contention of Messrs. Law, North, Barron and Ms. Dopson, that it was predatory lending and the Arbitron ratings system that helped to reduce advertising revenue (which is oftentimes doled out disportionately to black Media), that brought about the bankruptcy. They are also concerned that once YMF gets the approval from FCC to purchase WBLS, YMF will simply turn around and sell it to a mega corporation that will eliminate the black format for their own format. Thereby effectively wiping out black talk media and thus eliminating the black voice which reflects Black culture in NY.

“I am not sure it’s coincidental that there is an effort to silence Black voices and dismantle Black radio,” remarked Law. “This agenda is set to go full steam in this election year. The Million Man March was supported by black radio since there was no popular political support, Black or white, who supported the march. Black Radio told the people to go when the politicos said not to go. Did the people go? So then who had more clout and influence?” stated Bob Law. “As I see it, this may have brought attention to the powers-to-be concerning how influential Black radio is, thus the desire to silence it” stated the community leader.

“So what happened next is, Black radio was made unprofitable. This happened via a consistent and deliberate under counting of black listeners in NYC and perhaps across the nation. Arbitron (the ratings company) has been accused of giving out information to the ad industry that under counts black listeners so the radio station cannot get paid for the audiences they actually deliver. No matter how well these stations perform, their performance is being under counted. When Andrew Cuomo was attorney general, he brought a lawsuit against Arbitron here in NY. The language in Cuomo’s indictment said “Arbitron was willingly and knowingly giving out incorrect information to their clients, both ad agencies and radio stations, and they were doing so to the detriment of black radio stations.” Cuomo’s findings said “…that Arbitron’s numbers is so far off and black radio is being so underpaid, that it is actually causing the financial demise of black radio.” In February 2012, the Attorney General in Los Angeles, California, also brought a suit against Arbitron stating nearly the same thing Cuomo said in his litigation. Arbitron settled out of Court, although I have yet to see they corrected what they were doing,” remarked Mr. Law.

“There is a thing they do in ad agencies called “Minority Set Aside,” wherein X amount of dollars are set aside for minorities. But all the minorities dip into this same “minority set aside” pot, no matter if one minority station is doing better than the Hispanic or Asian stations, or vice versa. Therefore, those whose market numbers may surpass the others, still cannot get the money they earned since the amount of money is fixed.  This is part of the process of how these minority radio stations are kept poor in spite of their performance,” claimed the former “Night Talk” host.

Bob went on to say this is not just a Republican agenda since some Democrats are also involved.

“Bill Clinton when he was president authored and pushed through a telecommunications bill which took the limit off of how many stations someone can own and removed all the protections the general public had in how the airwaves were used. Clinton’s legislation said that anyone can have as many stations as they want as long as they can afford to buy them. Who can afford as many stations as they want? Disney can, MS Clear Channel can, CBS can, Fortress can, and all those mega companies can. But the little stand alone stations cannot afford to compete with these huge corporations. I believe Bill Clinton knew that full well when he authored his bill. I think it was a conscious and deliberate decision on Bill Clinton’s part when he orchestrated this bill. Of course, these smaller stations want to own more radio stations. This puts the smaller stations in the position of having to purchase a cluster of stations in order to attract the advertisers who advertise with the bigger corporations. Since the bigger corporations can approach the advertiser and say advertise with us because we can run your product ads in our “multiple” stations while the smaller station can only run your product in their “one” station. So where do you think the advertiser is going to advertise? Therefore, in order to stay in business, the minority stations and the black owned stations were forced to buy other stations. And, that is when the predatory lenders came along. The predator lenders gave loans insisting that black stations had to allow the lenders veto power in their stations, power to vote on policy, and be involved in the stations’ operation. These bad deals were made because the stations could not get loans from the banks.  Therefore,could only hope to pay these predators off as soon as possible. The Black owners found out that they had made a deal with the devil and their loan became a loan to own scheme. The fact that the lenders had insinuated themselves into the daily operations of the station, making policy for the station, made it virtually impossible for the stations to pay the money back. Then of course the predatory lenders began to demand their money and thus forced the stations into foreclosure and into bankruptcy so these lenders could seize the stations. So now what we are looking at — is the loss of black voices from the airwaves, not just in NYC but across the nation,” continued the community activist and author.

“Advertisers looked at the Arbitron figures and told Black stations that “Black” doesn’t sell. Yet, advertisers make huge profits from the Black communities even though they do not ask black folks for their money. White advertisers as a whole do not advertise in black newspapers, radio stations, newspapers or businesses. Yet, black folks spend their money with these white advertisers freely. Our FCC petition, we understand, (and we do not stand alone in this petition), may not be granted. We will see. But we think that the FCC will more than likely rule against the people and opt to go with the big money, ignoring our petition no matter how strong our argument is and/or how credible,” said Bob, of what he expects will happen in terms of the petition he and others filed to stop the sale of the last black radio station in NY.

Bob discussed what he thinks the Black community must do — not only to keep their radio stations but to secure their position as a culture within the rapidly changing American society. According to Law, Black people are not paying attention.  He is concerned that all minorities need to pay attention to the political climate around them that has an impact on them whether they think it does or not.  It impacts them via educating their children and surviving economically and culturally.

“The Black community as consumers will have to come together. We have been intimidated and embarrassed and made to feel that to mention black is being racist. Some black folks feel that way because others have convinced them that nothing black has any merit. And because they have that mindset, everything is being taken away from Black folks — from our dollars to our vote. It’s time to step up and not be silenced or sidelined. We need to learn critical spending. Begin to spend our money wisely. We do not have to march in the streets, we simply need to go to our pantry and ask ourselves can I do without these products. Look around your homes and determine what you really need and what you can do without. Do you need that pizza, that coke, that beer? You don’t even have to sacrifice that long, just long enough to get the advertisers attention. Tell these advertisers since they are not paying attention to the people or believe that black people for example, are a huge consumer market base, show them you are. Just stop buying and see how long it takes before these mega-corporations start missing your dollars?” concluded the playwright, activist, author and entrepreneur.

Take back your consumer power because that is a viable power. One that will not be ignored once you show the powers-to-be you know how to cleverly use your consumer power.

If you wish to hear more of the interview with Bob Law, click onto–radio-personality-and-author-bob-law-2