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Frankie Darcell: Off the air

Loss for Detroit, Black voices


Frankie Darcell

Frankie Darcell

Frankie Darcell is off the air. Fired by Clear Channel in December, Darcell’s popular and well-liked voice will no longer be heard on WMXD 92.3. Listener comments range from “Why did they fire her? I listened to her everyday,” to calls for a boycott of Clear Channel.

Many are criticizing Clear Channel and say their latest action is part of a demonstrated lack of commitment to Detroit. Darcell’s firing, some say, is also a dismissal of Black Detroit.

“We lost as a community. We didn’t just lose Frankie Darcell,” says Jamaine Dickens, a media relations professional. “There is no local radio. There is no more local perspective.”

Darcell’s listeners took to social media sites to express their disappointment.

“Frankie has been a voice of reason. She has helped to bring people together listening, working and facilitating dialogue at all levels,” Jesse Brown wrote on Facebook. “Politically, she has been on top of the topics and balanced; her fair approach of facilitating thoughtful discussion  from City Council issues to the President of the United States. She kept us well informed and connected. Frankie added a great deal to the local culture in a variety of ways.”

Despite strong ratings and revenues, Clear Channel has continued to disinvest in the Detroit market, according to industry sources. Clear Channel moved historic, urban stations WJLB 97.9 and WMXD from Detroit to Farmington Hills in 2009.

WJLB has been an anchor in Detroit and African American life for almost 50 years and is rooted in Detroit Black radio history. Radio legends Martha Jean “The Queen” Steinberg, Donnie Simpson, the Electrifying Mojo and John Mason have been associated with the station throughout the years.

The suburban location has left Detroit isolated. Urban radio personalities are far, figuratively and literally, from the people they serve. Radio contest winners — concert tickets and movie passes — drive 25 miles to claim their prize. It has also left the community with few events or support within the city boundaries. Local news radio and talk show format has been all but eliminated.

Clear Channel, in the name of cost savings, has increasingly moved to syndicate rather than pay for live radio hosts — diminishing the possibility for quality local radio. This has been disastrous for urban radio in Detroit.

In the last year alone, Clear Channel has dismissed five employees, including local Black radio personalities Frankie Darcell, Dr. Darius and O’Neil Stevens, greatly reducing the number of on-air Black talent. Within the last month, the global media company has hired three new employees for Detroit’s WDTW 106.7 The D.

For many hardcore listeners, this means fewer personalities doing more. Tracey McCaskill and Mr. Chase will appear on both WMXD and WJLB. No other Clear Channel station has voices working on different channels in the same market, according to the company’s Web site.

Further, Clear Channel has not marketed its urban stations, instead spending marketing dollars on 955, iHeartRadio and radio hosts Mojo in the Morning or Jay Towers in the Morning.

To many, it appears Clear Channel is actively disinvesting in Detroit.

Detroiters were angered and upset by the loss of Darcell’s show and many vented on her Facebook page. One thread even called for a boycott of Clear Channel. Others questioned the ever-increasing syndication of radio.

“There is something to be said for local talent reporting about local events,” said one Facebook observer. “Everything is becoming one big suburb with a strip mall with the same ole thing. Each city is losing that spice that gave the urban areas it s own uniqueness.”

This summer, a group of Black media organizations including Industry Ears sent a letter to the FCC asking the government agency to hold broadcasters who own licenses in African American markets responsible to the needs of the community. The groups say radio consolidation has been detrimental to Black America with  companies like Clear Channel “owning 40 stations to as many as 1,200 in just a few years.”

Airwaves, after all, are public and still regulated by the FCC. The group believes companies such as Clear Channel have an obligation to the communities they serve.

“Many Black radio stations have historically provided the community with a voice in the fight for greater equality,” the letter states. “African American DJs not only provided the community with the latest news and information, but they played records by local Black artists that served as the soundtrack for African American empowerment. But today, with few exceptions, local radio has abandoned serving the needs of these communities — and at a time when many of them face enormous suffering. “

Local observers say the same thing.

“Black radio is the last voice of reason for the Black community because as newspapers, not just Black newspapers but mainstream, have fallen by the wayside because of the Internet and lack of advertising, Black radio has become the real voice — except in Detroit,” said Adolph Mongo who has appeared on Darcell’s political talk radio show. “(These stations) have knocked off the talk shows and put on these silly morning shows. Black radio is not the conscience of the community anymore. It is all about clowning and talking about ‘babies’ mamas.’ There is no responsibility. Frankie is a conscious voice in Detroit.”

Tony Travatto, vice president of programming for Clear Channel, responded to the Michigan Citizen with the following statement when asked about disinvestment in Detroit:

“We are constantly looking at all aspects of our business to ensure that it reflects how the best organizations work today, taking advantage of the latest cutting-edge technology and organizational structure so we can continue to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

K.J. Holiday, director of urban programming at Clear Channel, did not respond by press time.

Clear Channel Detroit stations include: WNIC ,WKQI, WJLB, WMXD, WDTW-A&F and WDFN.

Darcell was not available for comment. Frankie Darcell is not just lost to Detroit but her voice was heard in 18 different cities like Savannah, Ga.; New Orleans; and St. Louis, via I Heart Radio.

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