You couldn't pay Michael L. Carter enough for kprt(am)-kprs(fm) Kansas City, Mo. "This is a precious thing," he says of his family-owned holdings.
Carter's grandfather, Andrew "Skip" Carter, founded kprs(am)-now fm-in 1950, building the first black-owned radio station west of the Mississippi. Last month, Carter Broadcast Group celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gala at the city's largest venue, Bartle Hall.
Michael Carter took over as the group's president in 1987. His grandfather has died, but Carter still reports often to his grandmother, Mildred Carter. Even at 90, she tunes in daily and is not shy about calling when she hears something that displeases her, he says.
The Carters' decades of work have paid off. The urban-format kprs hit No. 1 in the Arbitron rankings this spring, its best performance since fall 1998. (It slipped to second this summer.) kprt, which has a religious format, ranked 17th this spring, 16th this summer.
Success hasn't been easy, especially with consolidation, Carter says. Keeping the stations' ad share up has been more difficult since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A full 80% of Kansas City's radio stations are controlled by major or multistate owners, with Entercom and Infinity controlling seven of the top eight stations.
However, with two of the three urban stations in town, Carter Broadcast is hard to beat among African-Americans, Michael Carter says.
But strong community ties may be just as important. kprs devotes generous amounts of airtime to fighting youth violence and awards scholarships to college-bound students; it also inaugurated a "Put the Damn Guns Down" campaign. Carter himself is a local pillar. The Kansas City Star named him one of 150 people in the area who "have built a lasting legacy."
He would like to buy another radio station in the market, but prices are high, and he's loath to go into debt. Meanwhile, "we get offers [to buy the stations] all the time," Carter says. But "we've got to stay true to what we do. ... We are going to try to continue this legacy as long as we can."