Wendy Williams Talks Departure, State of Urban Radio

Some say the market in NYC is ‘done’

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Unabashedly bold radio host Wendy Williams officially announced Thursday she would leave her nationally syndicated radio show at the end of July. Williams’ departure creates a gap on urban radio as the industry faces declining ad revenue and media consolidation.

“I’ve been in radio for 23 years,”says  Williams, who is the host of The Wendy Williams Show on Fox. “While I love radio, I had to leave WBLS and radio for now. It’s not to say I’ll never be back. This TV show is a dream come true.”

It remains to be seen how the popular host’s transition will impact the show’s home, WBLS-FM. Owned by I.C.B.C. Broadcast Holdings, Inc. (No. 80 on the BE Industrial/Service Companies list with $50.6 million in revenue) Williams’ midday show was a revenue driver for the company, says Deon Levingston, WBLS vice president and general manager. The show recently ranked No. 1 among the 25-54 age group and reaches 778,000 listeners.

“WBLS has been a dominate radio station in America for the last few years and Wendy Williams and Steve Harvey helped us get to that point, radio ratings wise, and revenue wise.”

A powerful force among African Americans, black radio has long served as a means of information, but tepid ad sales, a proposed performance tax, and cost cutting measures threaten its livelihood. Williams’ departure from radio for television signals a changing tide in how content is consumed. It also illustrates black radio’s struggle to develop a content format and business model to recapture dwindling revenue, says Chris Smith, professor at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California.

“It’s very difficult in this changing business environment for traditional media like print and radio to retain talent,” Smith says. “Everything is becoming more TV and online oriented.”

Williams’s fans appear to agree. “According to some of the e-mails I’ve been receiving, people are saying that’s it. New York [City] black radio is done,” Williams says. “Am I really of force like that? I don’t know.”

Keeping the same capital structure from past decades will spell doom for the survival of black radio, Smith adds, explaining the key to success lies in embracing new media to attract listeners.

Radio advertising expenditures for the first quarter of 2009 plunged 14.2% year-over-year, according to data released today by marketing research firm, TNS Media Intelligence, in June.

“I hope traditional black radio outlets try to get hold of [new media] and embrace it and have that be apart of the emerging legacy for themselves,” Smith says.

From the archives: One-on-one with Wendy Williams

  • Thank you for your help.

  • Very interesting post – Might be old new, but it was new to me. Thanks.

  • Keisha Pottinger

    I am happy for Wendy as for WBLS, they started to make cut back to her show in the past year. According to Wendy, she has always wanted to be on TV and here is her opportunity. It is a good move.

  • Interesting article. Urban radio stations and their DJ personalities need to convert to satellite and internet media in order to survive or they will have the same fate that Smooth Jazz stations have had all over the country. The only time I listen to the radio now is when I’m in the car — and that’s not often. That’s about to change when I have an aux line installed so I can listen to my IPOD through the car speakers.

    When I am online – which is often — I get to hear new and old music (on demand if I want) IN ITS ENTIRETY with limited commercial interruption and without the DJ banter. I’m not affected by the fact that there are no more smooth jazz stations in New York City because I can listen on-line! There are literally thousands of stations that cater to every musical taste 24-7.

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  • bob steele

    consolidation, is what put black radio in the state it is in today, 10 years ago some championed the cathy hughes, peppy suttons for aquiring more stations than they could acutally afford, even though they were brought at discount prices, preformance tax, slow ad rates please, wbls was hurting before the reccession was finaly declared last fall, radio as a whole has been hurting for the secound half of this decade, the corporate radio bubble has burst, and people aka the listener’s have wised up to stations filling programming with syndication, when the owner tells you “we must pay our bills.” what the owner leaves out to you he or she must do this to continue to play in the corporate radio culture, what he or she won’t also tell you, is that, that culture they play in has them, and you the listener. left with fragmented radio, forced syndicated shows, even it comes from the studious of a wbls, Traditional Black Radio died with the passing of the 96 telecommunications act, New media sounds cool, but we also heard that with new technology 10 years ago, pre dot com burst, what we need instead of always chasing new things and playing in them, is just maybe actually starting our own, outlets without aspiring to be playing in a system that fails the owner and then in return the owner fails the listener.

  • mgrant

    Amen, Bob Steele

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