Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Radio station WRXB, longtime voice in St. Petersburg’s black community, goes silent

ST. PETERSBURG — Radio Station WRXB, a constant in Tampa Bay’s African-American community for more than four decades, offering a staple of R&B, gospel and community news, is no more.

The radio station, once black-owned, abruptly went off the air on Nov. 14.

It was a shock to Richard C. Guess, 67, host of the weekday show "Undignified Praise and Worship."

"I walked into the office this morning and everything was disassembled and in boxes," he wrote on Facebook. "No warning, no courtesy phone call, no thank you for your service. Nothing."

The Chicago owners, Polnet Communications, "a key player among ethnic broadcasters in the U.S. and … number one media outlet in the Polish-American community," according to its website, did not return calls from the Tampa Bay Times.

Guess, who had been on WRXB-AM 1590 for "well over 15 years," said the station’s owners had "never invested anything" in the local community.

"We were doing very well at one time, until our transmitter blew and we were off the air for about a year," he said.

"We came back up and we were only on a portable transmitter that only reached so far in our community. I wrote two letters to Chicago to the corporate office. I questioned them about the station and what were their plans."

On Nov. 27, Polnet notified the Federal Communications Commission that WRXB was off the air. FCC records show that WRXB’s transmitter problems dated to Aug. 19, 2015, when Polnet requested a "special temporary authority" to operate the station with reduced power. The FCC, in an October 2016 letter, noted that WRXB’s owner had been trying to repair the transmitter for more than a year, but that "many older transmitters simply cannot be repaired." The problems continued until April 14 this year, when Polnet notified the FCC that it had resumed licensed operations.

Guess said he’s been told that the station, which operated out of studios at 3551 42nd Ave. S, is for sale. FCC rules require any contract to be filed within 30 days of its execution. So far, there’s no application pending for reassignment of the WRXB license.

WRXB was once owned by the late J. Eugene Danzey, who acquired it in 1975, making it the region’s first independent, African-American-owned radio station. Danzey sold it in 1998. A couple of years earlier, he told the Times that he was concerned about the future of small, independent stations like his.

"This is a hard sell in this market," he said. If he had to do it over, Danzey said then, he probably would have gone into a market with a larger African-American population.

Over the years, WRXB, which in recent years went to an all-gospel music format, was the station of radio personalities such as Sister Dianne Hughes, who even prayed with callers. State Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, hosted a weekly community program while he was on the St. Petersburg City Council. The Rev. Basha Jordan, grandson of St. Petersburg’s pioneer African-American businessman Elder Jordan, also hosted a show.

But Jordan had a falling out with Polnet over the station’s transmitter problems.

"They were not being forthright with the broadcasters, or the advertisers. Lightning had struck the tower and the station was not putting out the 5,000 watts that they were giving us the impression that they were," he said. "When I confronted them with it, they tried to blow me off."

Guess plans to relaunch his show on the Internet this week. His 24-hour Undignified Praise, on upradio.org, will feature gospel and smooth jazz for a worldwide audience, he said.

Another former WRXB host, Pastor Brian J. Anderson Sr., 45, also filled the role of weekend program coordinator. Polnet Communications "didn’t do enough to ensure the legacy and success of the station," said Anderson, whose on-air name was Brian Jay.

"This was their first foray into urban radio. I never felt that they had a real vested interest in the black community, and that was the failure."

Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, who had been a guest on Anderson’s show, The Voice of the Village, said WRXB had been a valuable resource.

The St. Petersburg Police Department had a weekly show, Police and Community Perspective, which was launched in 1997 and halted in December 2016.

"They were having regular transmitter problems, equipment problems, and their listening audience was getting smaller and smaller and we felt that there were better ways to reach out with out grant dollars," police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said.

"We were paying more than $800 a month and it just wasn’t reliable. … They couldn’t guarantee us who they were reaching and we have to be good stewards of public funds."

Anderson, who was in his third stint with WRXB when it went silent, said the station had provided a voice for the black community to celebrate its victories, such as when President Barack Obama was elected. And there were occasions to help each other, like a fish fry fundraiser so a family could bury a loved one.

"Those are the things that I remember," Anderson said. "It was old-fashioned black radio. That was the village way of getting information out."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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