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Berkeley Urban Radio Station KBLX Sold to Entercom

The New KBLX

The New KBLX

On June 21, the FCC approved the assignment of the radio license for Berkeley-based KBLX 102.9 FM from the bankrupt Inner City Broadcasting‘s subsidiary Urban Radio III to Entercom.

This sale marks the loss of yet another black-owned radio station. KBLX had featured a music format focused on R&B and smooth jazz under the brand “The Quiet Storm” and Entercom has stated that it will continue to air a similar urban music format, although it has already instituted a number of programming changes under the brand “The New R&B 102.9FM KBLX.”

Entercom took control of the KBLX frequency on May 1 under a lease agreement. By May 7, they had instituted some programming changes, including replacing KBLX’s local morning show with the syndicated Steve Harvey Morning Show. By mid-June, Entercom had hired new Program Director Stacy Cunningham to replace long-time Program Director (and host) Kevin Brown.

Listeners have expressed dismay over these changes and an online petition protests the firing of several key KBLX staffers and implores Entercom to bring Kevin Brown back to the morning show.

As Matthew Lasar pointed out in his recent post about the state of black radio, changes to the New York radio landscape prompted radio advocates to send a letter to the FCC expressing concerns about media consolidation and the dwindling number of black-owned radio stations.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, similar questions were raised by Rachel Swan in her piece about KBLX in the East Bay Express. Swan writes that the sale,

“…could also be a sign of devastation for black radio. KBLX’s former owner, Inner City Media Corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after creditors claimed the company owed $254 million, according to reports from New American Media. The company had owned 15 stations, 6 of which were geared to African-American audiences. That led broadcast watchdogs to question whether stations can sustain a profit margin by offering ‘urban’ programming, which warrants consideration in the Bay Area, where similarly-formatted smooth jazz station, 103.7 FM, saw its demise in 2009 — it’s now owned by Clear Channel and plays classic rock, exclusively.”

Harrison Chastang also writes about the changes at KBLX on BeyondChron and laments the firing of KBLX’s morning show host Kevin Brown (who was replaced by syndicated host Steve Harvey). Chastang writes,

“There are less than 200 Black owned commercial radio stations in the United States out of a total of 12,000 commercial stations. The sale of KBLX to Entercom and the firing of Kevin Brown comes as the National Association of Broadcasters seeks further deregulation of the broadcast industry that will allow the major broadcast companies to own even more stations in major markets.

The question Kevin Brown fans, and radio listeners in general need to ask Congress and the FCC is has deregulation of the broadcast industry increased the number of African Americans on the air or the number of non-White and female station owners, and will further deregulation increase or decrease the number of people like Kevin Brown on the air or increase Black radio station ownership?”

The situation at KBLX raises questions about the future of its format after the sale of KBLX to Entercom is finalized. Will KBLX continue to evolve under its new owners or will it remain true to its roots? Additionally, will the loss of another black-owned station help to increase scrutiny of the impact of media consolidation?

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