Forward Times Staff Reporter
It is hard to fathom that Houston has never had a 24-hour FM all news station until now.
But, for many, what may be equally as hard to fathom is that the first and only 24-hour FM radio news station in the city of Houston is owned by a black broadcasting company, Radio One.
Many questions, however, have been swirling around over the last several weeks concerning the recent changes at Radio One Houston, the biggest being that format change from Praise 92.1 to News 92 FM. The transition did not happen on November 14, as originally announced, but the format eventually changed and they have been broadcasting around the clock with local news personalities that may be recognizable, such as Mike Barajas, Carolyn Campbell, Robert Washington and Craig Roberts.
While many in the community did not understand or welcome the change, Radio One Founder Cathy Hughes shed light on the decision.
In a Houston Forward Times exclusive interview, we asked Ms. Hughes about making such a power move in the radio marketplace.
Houston Forward Times: How do you feel about being the first and only 24-hour FM news station in Houston?
Cathy Hughes: “We couldn’t believe there was that big of a hole in Houston and that we, as a black owned broadcasting company, could bring this type of format to the Houston market. We are truly blessed and excited.”
Houston Forward Times: Why did Radio One decide to change the format of the station from Praise 92.1 FM?
Cathy Hughes: “We would never change the format of a station if there are enhanced ratings. If the ratings are not enough to generate revenue to support the station, we are forced to make the proper changes.”
HFT: So, what information did you gather to make your decision?
Cathy Hughes: “Radio One spends over five million dollars a year on research to determine how each of our markets is doing. We receive data every week and are able to know who is listening to our stations, when they are listening and how many are listening at any given time.”
HFT: So why do you believe the format didn’t work?
Cathy Hughes: “It’s one thing to say how much you love a station and how much you want a station, but it takes resources to sustain it. Why do you think there aren’t any black daily newspapers in America? They don’t receive the support from the black community that it needs to survive. We are the only broadcasting company in the United States with an FM Gospel format on many of our stations. The truth of the matter is we have to subsidize that format, because they aren’t generating the type of revenue that we need to grow it. As much as it hurts, the bottom line is that the format on Praise 92.1 FM in Houston didn’t work, which I consider tragic.”
HFT: How does Radio One make the decision to deliver community programming in the markets they service?
Cathy Hughes: “You have to prove why it should be on the air. I pay our general managers to know what is going on in the community; therefore, they would be the ones you would need to talk to.”
Cathy Hughes, Founder of Radio One, built her radio empire on connecting with the community, so it was a shock to many in the Houston community when Radio One announced that “Sunday Morning Live” and “Dialogue with Ada Edwards,” two long time shows within the Radio One Houston programming schedule were recently canceled and no replacement community programming provided.
The Houston Forward Times, along with many community leaders, decided to form a community think tank to discuss these and other issues. Many items were discussed, but a consensus was established that included several key recommendations and a request that Radio One Houston General Manager Doug Abernethy meet with the collective group. It was at that initial meeting that a specific request was made to Abernethy that he asks the top brass at Radio One, CEO Alfred Liggins and President Barry Mayo, to meet with the collective group.
The meeting took place on November 29, at Radio One Houston offices in Greenway Plaza. On hand at the meeting with Liggins and Mayo, were Houston Forward Times Publisher, Karen Carter Richards, along with: Jeffrey L. Boney, CEO and Founder, Texas Business Alliance; Rev. William Lawson, Pastor Emeritus, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church; Bishop James Dixon, Pastor, Community of Faith; Minister Robert S. Muhammad, Mosque...; Sonny Messiah Jiles, Defender Media Group; Deloyd Parker, SHAPE Community Center; Kofi Taharka, The National Black United Front; Marcus Davis, CEO, The Breakfast Klub; Yolanda Smith, Executive Director, NAACP Houston Chapter; Judson Robinson Jr., President, Houston Area Urban League.
The group discussed the importance of having a community affairs liaison, preserving and enhancing the on-air radio presence of the black community voice, and sought to better understand Radio One’s views on their commitment to the black community in Houston. A list of the group’s recommendations were provided to Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins and a request that he respond swiftly concerning these recommendations.
At the meeting, Liggins and Mayo indicated that most of the radio markets have lost over 30% in revenue due to the economic crisis and that changing the format at this time was warranted, especially because over 90% of the radio listening audiences listen to FM radio. Liggins also stated that they spent over $72 million for 92.1 several years ago and were making approximately $2 million per year, which stunted the ability for Radio One to receive an adequate return on their investment in a reasonable amount of time.
Liggins guaranteed that Radio One would review all recommendations and provide a response to the group by Friday, December 9.
There are many questions that are resonating within the black community and many are seeking answers to those questions. The consensus in the community is that Radio One’s presence in the community is welcomed and appreciated and the majority wants to do everything they can to make it the success it needs to be.
Others in the black community have long expressed that they feel GM Doug Abernethy, a white male from Pittsburgh, may not have a clear understanding of the black community in Houston. They consider that to be the catalyst behind why he and his executive team in Houston have had an extremely limited, if not non-existent community presence and a consistent lack of sensitivity to the overall needs of the black community.
The abrupt cancellation of “Sunday Morning Live,” a fixture in the Houston community for more than two decades, without any notification to the black community did not help put those concerns at ease.
The black voice in Houston is under attack and the black community is being faced with the choice of whether it will sit back and allow their voice to be silenced over the airwaves.
The Houston Forward Times has always kept the community informed about issues important to the black community and we will continue to keep the community informed about this issue as it progresses