Jun 29, 2021 - Culture

Why Urban One believes in WBT’s conservative talk format

Old Radio Microphone

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When Urban One — the country’s largest Black-owned media company targeting Black audiences — acquired local conservative talk channel WBT last fall, station employees and media observers wondered whether the new bosses would change the format.

They haven’t, and they don’t intend to, Urban One’s radio division CEO David Kantor tells me.

  • All they want to do is make it even more Charlotte-focused. The station will have an all-local lineup from 5am to 7pm each weekday.

Why it matters: WBT, which’ll turn 100 next year, is the first conservative talk channel for Urban One, a company whose mission is “to be the most trusted source in the African American community.”

  • WBT has a predominantly white audience, Kantor says, but reaching it felt like a natural next step in a city where the company already had three stations geared toward African Americans.
  • “Philosophically, we are a radio company, not just an urban radio company,” he said.

Driving the news: The move to all local meant an end to the relationship with the nationally syndicated Rush Limbaugh Show, which has changed its format after the longtime host’s death in February. Urban One will announce a new Charlotte host for the noon-3pm slot in mid-July.

The company sent an initial message of support when it gave morning show host Bo Thompson a contract extension for “several years,” Thompson told me Monday evening.

  • “I can’t say enough good things,” Thompson says. “From the first conversations, they said, ‘What are your concerns?’ or ‘What are your thoughts?’ They sat down and got to know me. … And so far they’ve let BT be what BT is.”

The big picture: Urban One had three Charlotte stations before last fall: WPZS Praise 100.9 (inspirational), WOSF 105.3 RNB (urban adult contemporary) and WQNZ 92.7 The Block (mainstream urban).

WBT is a widely respected station with strong ratings and an advertising base built over decades. It stands apart in Charlotte, a blue city where conservative viewpoints hardly dominate in local media. But that’s part of the reason Urban One is optimistic about its bet.

  • “It’s hard to get larger if you’re limited to a format that’s only a certain percentage of the population,” Kantor says. “So we look at it like this: Are we maximizing the programming needed for the African American population? If the answer is yes, then what other formatting makes sense?”

What’s happening: Urban One acquired WBT, WLNK (107.9 The Link) and WFNZ-AM/102.5 FM Translator (sports talk radio) in a package deal with radio heavyweight Entercom in November.

  • Kantor says the company doesn’t have immediate plans to make changes at WFNZ.

On a recent trip to Charlotte, Kantor says he got a tour of WBT and saw some of its antique radio equipment and soaked up the history of the station.

WBT sign
Photo: Michael Graff/Axios
  • The station started in late 1920 and early 1921 when three investors set up an amateur station in one of their chicken coops. It was the home of country music legends like Arthur Smith and the Carter Family.
  • By the 1990s it was mostly talk radio.

Today WBT’s top hosts are morning show anchor Thompson, a Myers Park High grad who grew up dreaming of working at the station; along with Vince Coakley from 10-11:45am; Brett Winterble from 3-6pm; and Mark Garrison from 6-7.

  • “We love Bo. And Brett. And all of our talent,” Kantor says. “As long as talent doesn’t put something on the air that we think is reckless and unconscionable, we feel [conservative talk is] one of the formats necessary in the marketplace, and we program to it.”

Between the lines: WBT also opens Urban One to new streams of revenue, Kantor says, especially during election years. And WBT carries the Panthers games.

  • Also, Urban One’s portfolio has a strong I-85/I-95 feel, with stations from Atlanta to Richmond to D.C. to Baltimore to Philadelphia. So investing in Charlotte makes sense.
  • “We like Charlotte for a lot of reasons,” Kantor says. “We think it’s one of the shining markets of the future.”

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