Serving the African-American community

While many of the nonprofit groups receiving low-power FM licenses will enter the radio business boasting little or no experience, John R. Hayes, president and CEO of the Empowerment Resource Center (see main story), has a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into.

Hayes was religious director and announcer for WBMU, an Asheville gospel station that broadcast at 91.3 FM from 1977 until the late ’80s.

At that point, the station was sold to Kenneth Brantley in 1988, who kept the station’s mission to serving African-American audiences intact but faced financial difficulty. After filing for bankruptcy and realizing that he was in danger of losing his station, Brantley decided to enter into a management licensing agreement with HIS radio, a regional Christian radio station that broadcasts on almost a dozen stations in the South, in 1992.

Hayes, noting that his former show won high ratings in its time slot, feels the station (now known as WLFA) doesn’t adequately serve the African-American community. “On Sunday, he [Brantley] broadcasts the gospel format,” Hayes said. “It’s taking us back to the ’40s and ’50s, when the only time black people could hear music pertaining to them was on Sunday.”

Brantley said he worked to keep the station viable, but did not find the support needed from the African-American community in Asheville to make the station financially successful. He said entering the licensing agreement with HIS radio enabled him to keep the station and still serve minority communities.

“I did all in my power to provide quality service [to the African-American community],” he said. “A half a loaf is better than none at all.”

The management licensing agreement with HIS radio expires this August, Brantley said, but he has not decided whether to renew the contract or take the station in another direction.

“I don’t want to go back to an all-black format,” he said. “I want to reach people of many colors.”

After the station changed formats in the early ’90s, Hayes said he began looking into acquiring a new radio license. The ERC’s license, said Hayes, will enable the group to serve a community long neglected by other local radio stations, both nonprofit and commercial.

“Even though they’re supposed to be nonprofit, they’re about money instead of service to the community,” he said. “That’s why most of us have been waiting for this opportunity, to at least get a voice where you can serve the community.”

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