Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Urban Talk Radio Says – Show Me The Money

Sep 14, 2010

Virtually every day I set foot inside a radio station and spend time talking, listening and connecting with those that matter the most – the people.  Whether it’s locally in NY on 98.7 Kiss FM, or on one of my syndicated broadcasts – ‘Keepin it Real’ or ‘The Hour of Power’ – the idea of sharing relevant information and news with the community is something I have never taken lightly.  Continuously underreported and misrepresented in the mainstream press, African Americans more often than not turn to talk programming to receive content that directly affects them and in turn, society at large.  Building on the notion of reaching those that rely on urban radio to provide vital coverage of the day’s events, I spend three hours every weekday and two hours every Sunday accomplishing just that, for I recognize the integral importance of this underappreciated medium.  Now if only Madison Avenue would wake up and acknowledge the same reality.

This week, the Congressional Black Caucus will convene in Washington, D.C. for its annual conference.  Along with tackling key issues such as the rising economic and unemployment crisis among minorities, disparities in academic achievement, Black leadership and more, the CBC conference will also be a time to address the blatant lack of advertising in urban talk radio.  In an industry dominated by right-wing pundits and programming (about 90% of all talk radio is conservative), those of us on the left are virtually ignored.  Not surprisingly, Black and Latino – or urban radio – is at the end of the totem pole.  But what many simply glance over is the fact that unlike the majority populous, African Americans’ prime platform to receive otherwise unreported information is talk radio, and their buying power is increasingly disrespected.

In 2008, Target Market News estimated that Blacks spent $27 billion on apparel and services in that year alone, while the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth expects that number to rise to over a trillion dollars by 2012.  And yet, previous studies have indicated that nearly 91% of urban stations and urban programming experienced discriminatory practices at the hands of advertisers.  Case in point:  a few years back, BMW refused to buy ads in NY on stations like Kiss FM, despite research that proved approximately 46% of people who owned or leased BMWs in NY were Black adults aged 25-54. 

If corporations and advertisers want and expect us to purchase their products, they need to begin appreciating and respecting us.  We can no longer blindly support those that do not value our dollar, do not value our immense buying power and do not value us as a people.  While radio stations continue to converge and therefore eliminate programming, we cannot allow the few broadcasts that speak to us to face further repercussions.  Our listenership is loyal, our reach grossly misrepresented and our relevance is far beyond the news cycle of the moment.  When folks seek a venue to voice their concerns, they turn to us.  When they need to bring attention to an injustice, they turn to us.  And when they want to hear someone that relates to them, they turn to us – and we cannot let them down.

In a capitalist society where the all mighty dollar dictates sustainability, appreciation and longevity, it is shameful and outright insolent that advertisers openly discriminate against urban talk shows.  Because information and knowledge are the greatest weapons in combating inequity, I will continue marching in to the recording studio, as will the others in Black and urban radio.  But we will unequivocally hold those accountable that choose to ignore and silence us – and that’s the bottom line.