Wendy Williams Talks Departure, State of Urban Radio - Black Enterprise

Wendy Williams Talks Departure, State of Urban Radio

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