When WWRL 1600 AM a friend to Harlem listeners and talent turns into a Spanish-language music and talk radio station next week, New York City will lose its only remaining commercial progressive talk radio outlet.
Station employees first learned about the news in mid-December, with low advertising revenues blamed for the change, according to the New York Amsterdam News.
WWRL is owned by Access.1 Communications, a black-owned radio broadcasting company. The station has been around for 86 years and switched to its progressive programming format in 2006, increasing its presence as a forum for the LGBT community in the years since.
“It was a business decision,” John Campanario, host of the LGBT talk forum Out And About and a digital marketing executive for the station, told GBM News. “The antics of people like [right-wing talk show hosts] Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have put advertisers off talk radio, across the spectrum. This is happening nationally.”
One memorable incident occurred in 2012, when Limbaugh lost a significant number of advertisers after he made offensive remarks about reproductive rights advocate Sandra Fluke, who was then a student at Georgetown Law School.
Errol Louis is the political anchor of NY1 News, but he was the morning drivetime host for WWRL from 2008 to 2010. In a New York Daily News op-ed on Friday, Louis noted that while public radio stations, which are often perceived to have a liberal bent, are still around, the landscape has been tougher for commercial progressive stations across the country:
The biggest pressures squeezing liberal talk radio are commercial ones. Deregulation of the airwaves allowed conglomerates like Clear Channel to borrow billions from Wall Street and begin buying up stations by the hundreds. Saddled with debt, Clear Channel has ruthlessly standardized its 840 stations and squeezed each for maximum profit. That meant eliminating progressive talk from its stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland.
A 2007 report from the Center for American Progress and Free Press also pointed to the lack of diversity among radio station owners as a reason that conservative talk radio has been so dominant.
“Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows,” wrote the authors. “In contrast, stations controlled by group owners — those with stations in multiple markets or more than three stations in a single market — were statistically more likely to air conservative talk.”
But as Ari Rabin-Havt, host of “The Agenda” on SiriusXM Progress, notes, the change of WWRL does not mean that New York City residents will be unable to hear progressive talk; there will still be non-commercial stations, Internet radio and SiriusXM.
“Twenty years ago, let’s say, if the local progressive talk station left the airwaves, there would be no place for people to get that,” said Rabin-Havt. “Well, look, consumers can first off go to Sirius XM and get that talk anywhere in the United States. Consumers can go to the Internet and find progressive talk anywhere in the United States. While it’s sad [that WWRL is changing], because that was such a flagship station, it isn’t as devastating to consumers as it would have been several decades ago.”