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WTMP's format change offers chance for unifying medium in Tampa's black community

From anger to anxiety to apathy, the reaction about Tampa's "black radio station" changing to a Latin music format has run the gamut.

WTMP, an icon in Tampa's black community for 57 years, changed owners and went all salsa and meringue a week ago, leaving some blacks upset and others unfazed.

Fans of the station's popular nationally syndicated hosts, Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden, scramble to listen to them on the Internet and hope one of our market's other stations will pick up the shows. Given that we have five stations basically playing the same hip-hop/pop format, adding Joyner and Baisden could be a chance for one outlet to distinguish itself.

Yet WTMP's former adult R&B format skewed to an older audience, and it's relatively low-powered signal never won over many younger blacks, so they merrily continue sharing their mornings with comedian Steve Harvey on WBTP-FM 95.7 or local DJ Orlando on WWLD-FM 94.1.

Beyond discussions about format and programming comes the argument that Tampa's black community no longer has an important voice, but even that draws challenges. I asked one friend if we've lost a beacon and he smiled and said, "It was more flashlight than lighthouse."

To a certain extent, I have to agree. The format change didn't create a void, it just expanded what's long been a missing piece in the black community's fabric.

While Tampa's urban core, especially east Tampa, helps define what many refer to as the black community, it's actually grown far and beyond those neighborhoods. Large pockets of blacks now reside in nearly all of the county's suburbs: Westchase, Town 'N Country, New Tampa, Brandon and Riverview.

But are we even a true community without a bond that goes beyond appearance?

In the early days, blacks who moved out still felt a connection to the city. They no longer lived within the boundaries, but they continued to shop and worship there. Now, even that connection has been strained as predominantly black churches and businesses arise outside the city.

Tampa's disparate blacks need a force to help them unite and find common ground, and that need becomes even more pronounced when you talk about bridging the bay.

A medium like WTMP could have filled the role, but its weak signal never allowed it to extend beyond inner-city Tampa. It gave a voice to folks, including a brief weekly segment by yours truly, but WTMP's boast of being "The Boss of the Bay" never rang true.

Its reach seldom went beyond natives who grew up with the station or people who had been here long enough to find it between the static.

A similar characterization fits the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, the newspaper that has served the black community for nearly 70 years. Politicians still covet the paper's endorsement. It remains viable in the core, yet even though I can buy the Sentinel Bulletin near my home in Seffner, its suburban influence remains limited.

A greater connection among Tampa blacks would draw and retain more diversity and help all of the city thrive economically. If local blacks were more united, they consequently would be more welcoming.

More important, greater unity would put the black community in a better position to help solve its greatest ills. An education expert recently described the black graduation rate as genocidal, and black unemployment continues to outpace that of whites and Hispanics.

Given these challenges, every black person should feel an obligation to reach back and help their less fortunate brothers and sisters. This sense of obligation dims, however, as we suburban blacks become more disconnected.

I'm as guilty as anyone, failing to apply real action to my talk of making a difference.

A viable medium, whether it is print, broadcast, Internet radio or a combination of all three, can fuel that sense of purpose. Perhaps an enhanced effort from the Sentinel Bulletin, which has upgraded its website and added Facebook and Twitter, or an entity from a new group of entrepreneurs can help create the unity the black community needs through information, provocation and stern challenges of our elected officials.

In the final analysis, WTMP's format change is not a loss to lament, but an opportunity to seize.

That's all I'm saying.

WTMP's format change offers chance for unifying medium in Tampa's black community 09/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 4:30am]
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