Citing financial strains and the challenges of managing a New Orleans company from afar, the Los Angeles owners of local radio station WBOK-AM said Monday they will sell the station to a local buyer within the next month.
Bakewell Media Co., which has owned WBOK since 2006, said negotiations are ongoing in a deal that could bring changes to the news and talk radio station, which is targeted at black listeners.
The company hopes to sell the station to an owner who can help it win back national advertisers who have begun to rely on mainstream media outlets, rather than black-owned stations, to get their messages to minority audiences, said Danny Bakewell Jr.
Having a local owner would help WBOK foster meaningful relationships with local advertisers, he added. Bakewell and his father Danny Bakewell Sr., the company’s principals, are from New Orleans but live in California.
“Business is constantly changing, executives are constantly changing, and we have not been able to forge those kinds of long-term relationships that are so (vital) in the world today, particularly in media when it comes to advertising,” the younger Bakewell said.
Danny Bakewell Sr. graduated from St. Augustine High School in New Orleans in 1965 and moved to Los Angeles while in his 20s. He started a development firm, the Bakewell Co., in the 1980s.
That firm dived into the media business in 2004 with the purchase of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a newspaper aimed at black readers in Compton, South Los Angeles and Inglewood. It then purchased WBOK, long a gospel music station, shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
The Bakewells renovated WBOK's devastated Gentilly Avenue offices and shifted its focus from gospel to news and talk shows. It recruited black-owned businesses to advertise and hired talents such as former WQUE host C.J. Morgan, broadcaster and activist Paul Beaulieu and former City Councilman Oliver Thomas to deliver news and commentary of interest to listeners.
But the station has struggled over the years to raise enough revenue to compete in an ever-changing media landscape, the younger Bakewell said.
Other black-oriented stations across the U.S. have had similar challenges, according to The New York Times. Part of the problem is a tendency by advertisers to partner with larger media outlets.
Bakewell Jr. said a decision last year by sponsor Entergy New Orleans to pull its support from WBOK had nothing to do with the decision to sell the station. The $20,000 Entergy pulled made up between 5 and 10 percent of the agency's operating budget.
"The challenge has been getting advertisers who are willing to advertise on WBOK from the start," he said. Entergy has since continued to advertise with WBOK, he added, though not at the same funding level.
More will be revealed about the sale in coming weeks, Bakewell said. While he said it was too soon to say what changes the deal could bring to the station, he said the goal is to make the transition "as seamless as possible."
"We want the station to succeed, and we are doing everything in our power to transfer the station over to an ownership group that we believe will continue the message of WBOK," he said. "We look forward to WBOK being the voice of our community for the next 12 years and long into the future."