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Air War

For all the public
posturing, WNHC's fate is
in the hands of the court

 

Business New Haven
2/23/1998
By: Linda Mele

Filing bankruptcy is the last resort and an agonizing decision for the owner of an ailing business.

While court records are open to the public, media attention usually focuses on large companies in trouble, not small ones with less than 25 employees and whose debts are less than $750,000.

WNHC (1340 AM) Radio, owned by Willis Communications, has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Court records show the station owes the IRS, the state and its current landlord, among others, more than $600,000.

The bankruptcy proceedings, however, have taken a back seat to other issues raised by members of New Haven's African-American community.

When nearly 100 marchers joined Greater New Haven Clergy Association president Bosie Kimber and New York activist Rev. Al Sharpton earlier this month to support the acquisition of WNHC by Greenwich-based Buckley Broadcasting Corp. rather than by the Yale Broadcasting Company Inc. (YBC), the media showed up en masse to cover the event.

According to Kimber, the protest was organized to support Buckley's acquisition proposal, but some black community leaders called the march “a blatant deception” because Yale University doesn't own, fund or operate either YBC or its station, WYBC (94.3 FM) Radio - and Kimber knew it beforehand.

Kimber says Buckley's plan will better serve New Haven's African-American community because it's “their intent to keep the 20 current employees of the station and to continue its format and programming.”

But both Buckley president and CEO Richard Buckley and former YBC board of governors chairman Carl Loucks say promises of employment were not made to any WNHC employees.

“We only have two paid employees and we have no plans at this time to change that if we acquire WNHC,” Loucks says.

“While our daytime programming on WYBC is mostly syndicated, it is geared toward the African-American community,” Loucks adds, “and we have no plans to change that, either.”

Buckley owns some 16 stations across the country, including Hartford's WDRC (AM and FM) and WWCO in Waterbury.

WNHC's financial troubles had escalated over the last decade, according to former employees. “I just resigned the week before Christmas because I couldn't take it any more,” says former WNHC account executive Carl Edwards.

“We'd get our paychecks and couldn't cash them for nearly two weeks,” Edwards says. “Employees were at each other's throats and irrationally blamed others who got to the bank first.”

Local black leaders Roger Vann, Michael Jefferson and Scott X. Esdaile claim the protest was not about the city's African-American community or the potential loss of its voice on WNHC.

“Yale is a convenient target because of the history of animosity between Yale and the African-American community,” says Vann, president of the Greater New Haven NAACP and a former host of the WNHC's Inside the Community program.

Jefferson, an activist who succeeded Vann at WNHC after Vann's firing four years ago, organized a boycott of the station last year after he, too, was fired and escorted from the broadcasting booth by police.

“Blaming Yale for WNHC's financial problems is ridiculous,” Vann says.

Vann and Jefferson say the real issue is Edie Rozier, Willis Communications' president and WNHC general manager.

“The bankruptcy is not Yale's fault,” Vann says. “It's Edie's fault and for Rev. Kimber to make people believe Yale had anything to do with it is wrong.”

Vann says if Rozier didn't “run the station into the ground” there wouldn't have been a protest. “Placing the blame on Yale only further flames the divisiveness in the community,” Vann adds.

Vann and Jefferson agree that they both could be considered “disgruntled ex-employees,” but that doesn't change the fact that members of the community are being led to believe that Yale is somehow responsible for WNHC's problems.

Buckley also owns New York's WOR Radio, home of talk-show host Bob Grant, who was fired from WABC Radio in 1996 after making allegedly racist comments on the air when Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown died in an airplane crash, and the belief that if YBC took over the station the community would lose jobs and locally generated programming.

Rozier does indeed call both Vann and Jefferson “disgruntled ex-employees.”

“I find it extremely hypocritical for them to be defending Yale when they both regularly blasted the university when they hosted the show on WNHC,” Rozier says. “And the contention that Yale has nothing to do with the station just doesn't wash. Yale just doesn't want the negative publicity.”

Loucks notes YBC is neither funded nor run by Yale.

“Our membership is comprised of 60 percent undergraduates and 40 percent community members,” says Loucks. “The staff is made up of unpaid undergraduates who want to learn the broadcasting business and two paid employees.

“Our operational funding comes from advertising sales and the acquisition would also be funded by advertising sales. We do very well through a contractual agreement we have with WPLR, and the university does not fund the operation in any way,” Loucks says.

Current Inside the Community host Yusuf Shah says employees were told that those employed now might not all have jobs if Buckley acquired the station, but under YBC's proposal all the jobs would be lost.

“Buckley also plans to keep the African-American programming format, and YBC wants to turn it into another training facility like WYBC - which is not what's best for New Haven's African-American community,” Shah says.

“The African-American community in New Haven is about more than music, which is basically what WYBC has now,” says Shah. “We want programming that deals with the issues that affect us and the entire community, and that will be lost if YBC gets the station.

“The local NAACP should have given us moral support if nothing else, but Roger Vann and Michael Jefferson both have a personal ax to grind with Edie and did the entire African-American community - especially those who work for the station - a disservice by speaking out against us,” Shah says.

Esdaile says he has no personal “ax to grind” with either Rozier or the station. “My concern is that the people know the facts,” Esdaile says, “so they can make a decision about who to support based on the facts.”



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