WTMP-AM may end 57-year history as voice of Tampa's black community at 6 p.m. Friday
Tampa radio station WTMP-AM's 57-year tradition of serving as the voice of the local black community may end Friday, as new managers take over the programming, firing the staff and starting a new format.
The new programming for WTMP (heard at 1150 on AM and 96.1 FM) may not begin until after Labor Day next week. But the syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show — one of the most popular programs among black listeners nationwide — and The Michael Baisden Show will no longer air on WTMP.
An executive behind the change would not confirm or deny rumors that the station will transition to a Spanish-language format at 6 p.m. Friday.
But former staffers and fans are left feeling as if Tampa’s black community has lost its biggest broadcast institution — just four years after a struggle over debt wrested control of WTMP from the black-owned, family-run media company who had operated it for 10 years.
“It’s like a death in the family,” said Alex Jordann, 53, the station’s former program director, who was raised in Tampa and returned to work for the station last year. “It was a voice for the black community...a station I grew up listening to that inspired me to get into radio. It’s Tampa without the A’s.”
(See a detailed St. Pete Times story on WTMP's legal and financial issues by clicking here)
Starting Friday, WTMP will be programmed by Davidson Media Group, a company with 32 stations in 12 markets known largely for Hispanic-centered radio.
WTMP has been at the center of a complex and heated legal battle since 2007, when difficulties in repaying a $20-million loan from a New York hedge fund led the Florida-based Cherry brothers to lose control of nine radio stations owned by their Tama Broadcasting Inc., including the Tampa station.
In 2008, Texas-based Scott Savage was appointed as a receiver in control of Tama’s broadcast licenses by the hedge fund. Savage said Davidson Media will pay to run the programing on WTMP, selling advertising on the station and pocketing any profits.
His hope is that a successful run by Davidson would improve the station’s value enough for a sale which could repay the loanholder, now known as Fortress Investment Group.
“We decided to change our direction to a format that is going to generate more listeners in the next couple of years,” said Savage, who wouldn’t say what the new format might be and didn’t know when Davidson Media might implement it.
“(WTMP) is competing against FM stations that have a much better signal and are owned by the likes of Clear Channel and CBS Radio,” he added, referencing CBS’s rap-focused WLLD-FM (94.1) and Clear Channel’s urban station WBTP-FM (95.7). “We did everything we could to compete as basically an insolvent company.”
But Charles W. Cherry II, the former vice president and general counsel for Tama, accused the hedge fund and its managers of destroying in just a few years what took them a decade to build.
“They replaced us with some money-driven outsiders who have no tie to the community,” said Cherry, whose family still owns the black-centered, statewide Florida Courier newspaper along with the Daytona Times and radio stations in Daytona Beach and Greenville, S.C. “If they knew how to run a radio station, they wouldn’t need to change the format.”
Cherry, whose younger brother Glenn served as general manager for WTMP, said they are still appealing court decisions and pursuing complaints with federal officials. He saw their fate as part of a larger pattern of Wall Street financiers taking ownership of radio stations from small, often-black-owned companies and running them with skeleton crews to minimize expenses before selling them off.
Once known for organizing cleanup campaigns in housing projects and sponsoring community events, WTMP in recent years relied on syndicated shows from Joyner and Baisden with a lack of local flavor.
The station’s AM signal (along with a weaker FM broadcast at 96.1), also was difficult to hear in many part of the Tampa Bay area. Outgoing local sales manager Angela Brewton estimated about a dozen full and part-time staffers will lose jobs in the change.
As some hope another radio company may pick up Joyner or Baisden and continue the format — Cox Radio has a strong urban station in Orlando which already airs Joyner, WCFB-FM — fans mourn the loss of WTMP’s over half-century legacy of addressing Tampa’s black community.
“WTMP as we know it now, is gone,” said Jarvis El-Amin, co-host and producer of Honest Opinion, a talk show discussing community issues which aired on Saturday mornings. “Now we don’t have an urban radio station for adults. The community loses. The politicians lose. Everybody loses.”