The Grio interviewed me about this petition. So I squeezed my entire doctoral dissertation into six paragraphs. 🙂
Here’s what I sent it:
I am deeply disturbed by this turn of events in New York City. Black radio—particularly when 1190 WLIB-AM had a Black news/talk format in the 1980s, and you could listen to “Nighttalk with Bob Law,” the show created by National Black Network and originating on 1600 WWRL-AM—was a powerful force in the lives of many New Yorkers. Both played an extraordinary role in my political and cultural socialization.
I am a native of Newark, N.J., so most of us grew up on New York City media. When I listened, WLIB was exactly what some Black journalists called it: “The Afrocentric University of the Airwaves.” I was introduced to the concept of Afrocentricity because of WLIB and “Nighttalk.” WLIB taught me about some older men named “Dr. Clarke” and “Dr. Ben,” and I listened intently to what they had to say about world history. New York’s Black radio identified for me who was out in the street fighting for Black people, and why they were doing it. And who their enemies were. And why, by extension, I now had to consider their enemies my enemies. A Communication major at Seton Hall University, I started cutting class and staying home in the mid- to late-1980s to listen to what the activists, historians and others had to explain about the condition of Black people, and the responsibility of all Black people—particularly those in media—to struggle for Black self-determination and self-definition.
WLIB and “Nighttalk” were living, crackling, commercial-filled, radical street-level HBCUs. They took the historic legacy of Black radio and furthered it. Even KISS, owned by white corporate types, had a brother named Bob Slade who understood this tradition and represented community concerns. I understand he’s now on WBLS, but what will happen if there’s no more WBLS?
Today, KISS is gone, Gil Noble and “Like It Is” are starting to become fading memories, and WLIB is gospel. “Nighttalk” is gone and Bob Law is a restaurateur. Gary Byrd is holding on to his career for dear life.
So losing WLIB and WBLS? New York’s historic Black Liberation Stations? If that happens, it will be a major setback for Black political socialization and community development. New York has always been a leader in Black activism because its radical and progressive traditions—Garvey, Adam, Malcolm, streetcorner speakers, rallies/protests etc.—transferred successfully to radio and television, giving a political and cultural education to multiple generations at the same time. I’m 44, and I remember when New York local television had FIVE local and national Black public affairs shows on weekends. (“Like It Is” (WABC) “The McCreary Report” (WNEW/WNYW) “Tony Brown’s Journal” (WNET/PBS) “Essence: The Television Program” (SYNDICATED, BUT AIRED ON, MADE AT AND BY WNBC) and “Positively Black” (WNBC). Black people in New York were organized in the late 1960s and early 1970s because they had forums they trusted that told them what was going on. They continued to count on Black radio in the 1980s, 1990s and even the 2000s to educate them politically and culturally, and to organize them.
Regardless of media consolidation, whites have the entire political and social spectrum on their radio dial—from Pacifica to Rush, with NPR and all-news radio in the middle. Historically, a Black radio station had to fulfill all of the functions Black people needed—educator, motivator, activist, spiritual uplifter. What we have now—a (mostly white) corporate abandonment of those ideas—is bad enough. But not to have it at all in the nation’s biggest, most powerful, and politically and culturally Blackest market will show how Black communities once again have been given symbolism instead of substance in the Obama era.