In 1974, Andrew A. Langston became the first African-American owner of a radio station in Rochester, N.Y. More than 25 years later, he's still the city's only African-American owner.
Being black gives Langston a special motivation to hold onto WDKX(FM), he says, although that has become harder to do over the past few years: More than 62% of Rochester's 29 radio stations have been bought by just three companies (Clear Channel, Entercom and Infinity).
Consolidation has "made us smarter," Langston says. He has to "program in a way that no one else does." Wdkx is the only urban station in the nation's 52nd-largest radio market. And "you do things for the community that nobody else does." For example, the station conducts voter-registration drives and awards prizes to area students who improve their grades. It has sponsored high school bands and antiviolence programs for teenagers.
Langston himself is involved with the local chapter of the American Red Cross and is working to build a museum to honor abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
"There's not enough feeling for individuals now," Langston says. "Give them a hand and lift them up and treat them the way you want to be treated. It's old-fashioned, but I'm old-fashioned."
That approach is working. Despite being the only non-corporate-controlled station among the market's top 16 stations, wdkx has ranked fourth among listeners ages 12 and older since spring 1999, according to Arbitron.
Advertisers are not quite as tuned in to the black marketplace, Langston says. They "just don't know any better." But he says he makes enough money for the station to "pay its bills."
Others don't. Radio consolidation has "made fat cats fatter and poor people poorer," Langston says. Although he has been offered "several millions" of dollars for wdkx, refusing was "the smartest thing I ever did. ... I am convinced I can do more for this market" by keeping the station independent.