Effectiveness of Black Talk Radio Questioned - Part II

LaFontaine Oliver is General Manager of Baltimore NPR member station WEAA. Oliver continues the discussion on whether Black talk radio offers only one point-of-view to its listeners.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now, we're going to turn LaFontaine Oliver. He used to be assistant program director of Radio One's WOL, and he served as program director for the satellite channel, XM 169 The Power. He's currently the general manager for public radio station WEAA in Baltimore.

I should mention a couple of things. First, we asked Casey Lartigue's former boss, Lee Michaels to join us and he declined, as did Joe Madison.

We should also mention that some people consider NPR competitors of Radio One, but that most people don't because one is a commercial enterprise and the other is non-profit.

Having said all of that, LaFontaine, thanks for joining us.

Mr. LaFONTAINE OLIVER (General Manager, WEAA, Baltimore): Thank you so much, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, what do you make of Casey's argument that Black Talk Radio does not offer enough alternate points of view?

Mr. OLIVER: Well, this issue - "Memorandum 46" and conspiracy theories aside -I think there maybe some validity to Mr. Lartigue's argument about the lack of alternative viewpoints. But the same argument can be made about talk radio in general. I mean, America's airwaves are largely dominated by a single perspective. And Black Talk Radio represents such a small percentage of talk radio, and some may view it's role to be very different in that it provides a consistent, unified voice opposing what's dominating the airwaves, if that sort of makes sense.

MARTIN: Now, you know Radio One's history currently has Reverend Al Sharpton hosting a radio show, and it - but it used to feature the conservative voice of Armstrong Williams. Wouldn't that suggest that it is a sort of an open forum, that maybe the issues here were more personal?

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah, somewhat. I mean, I was also involved in the early creation of that network, and I can say that there was some effort made to present some balance when dealing with issues of a controversial nature. But I don't know that it necessarily consistently presents that full range, but that's a part of the commercial model that it's a part of, being more akin to…

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. OLIVER: …entertainment and information and not hard journalism.

MARTIN: Well, LaFontaine, just briefly, I'm sorry. We should have more time for this important conversation, so maybe we'll come back to it in the future. But what would it take, in your view, having worked on all sides of this business, to get more diversities of opinion on the air, period?

Mr. OLIVER: Wow. That's a tough question, I mean, we certainly have a lot more options now than we did years ago with satellite, in addition to terrestrial and the Internet. But it's really going to take the folks at the top of our industry to really embrace the fact that folks may not necessarily buy into the idea of format purity, which said hey, you know, you've got to do one thing and talk to one audience in order to maximize audience share and to attract the advertisers. I mean, the way I would get it, this argument is a perfect example of Booker T. and DuBois, and we would really appreciate Booker T. without DuBois and vice versa? So…

MARTIN: That's an important point. LaFontaine, thanks so much.

Mr. OLIVER: Thank you.

MARTIN: LaFontaine Oliver is the general manager for the public radio station WEAA in Baltimore. He joined us. He's here in Las Vegas with us at the 2007 National Association of Black Journalists Conference.

And I should mention once again, we did contact Radio One, but they declined to make a representative available for this broadcast.

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