Documentary Bemoans the Demise of Black-Owned Radio
There are over 10,000 radio stations across the United States but at last count only 138 were owned by African-Americans. This is a far cry from the mid-Nineties when the figure was close to 300. What transpired to trigger such a precipitous decline, and at a time when blacks have been making advances in so many other areas of business?
The answer likely lies in the passage of the 1997 Telecommunications Act which relaxed restrictions on radio monopolies. The resulting contraction in the communications industry has been devastating for the black community, and that fallout is carefully chronicled in Disappearing Voices, an eye-opening documentary narrated by Bob Law, former program director of NYC’s WWRL during the glory days of black radio back in the Seventies and Eighties.
Besides Bob, many luminaries discussed the issue in depth, each from his or her own unique perspective. For instance, Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton points out how ready access to the airwaves once ensured him an easy way to organize a march or a demonstration. No longer. For, in this age of corporatized “urban-oriented” programming, executives are more concerned with Arbitron ratings than any connection to the communities they’re supposed to be serving.
A similar refrain is sounded by actor/director Melvin Van Peebles who says, “Just like they got rid of the Black Panthers, they’re getting rid of black radio.” Among the others weighing-in are Professor Ron Daniels, rappers Chuck D of Public Enemy and M1 of Dead Prez, entertainment critic David Hinckley and Adrian Council, publisher of Positive Community Magazine. In addition, via both file footage and recently-conducted interviews, we hear from a host of legendary DJs, including Imhotep Gary Byrd, Georgie Woods, Frankie Crocker, Bobby Jay, Eddie O’Jay, Cody Anderson and Vy Higginsen.
Offering an abundance of opportunities for both nostalgia and enlightenment, this timely expose’ convincingly conveys the dire prospects for not only African-Americana, but the nation in general, if the trend of allowing media giants to gobble up radio and television outlets continues unchecked.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 64 minutes
Studio: Black Waxx Multimedia
To see a trailer of Disappearing Voices