Wendell Pierce has big plans for WBOK, the African American-focused radio station and New Orleans institution that he and partners have just agreed to buy.
Pierce, who started his career hosting a jazz show on WYLD FM in New Orleans, before going onto international fame in roles such as Detective Bunk on HBO's "The Wire", says the revamp of WBOK will include bringing in well-known local and national broadcasters, broadening the diversity of the on-air talent (including more women), simulcasting live events and having a much bigger variety of cultural, political and sports content.
"We're going to broaden the platform not just for people in New Orleans but to reach out to folks, understanding that people listen to a lot of different broadcasts on different platforms around the world now," said Pierce, speaking from London, where he is making is stage debut there at the Young Vic Theater, playing Willy Loman, the lead role in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman".
WBOK had been up for sale for sometime by owners Danny Bakewell Sr. and his son Danny Jr.'s Bakewell Media, which is based in California. The Bakewells, though from New Orleans, had felt they'd become too remote from WBOK to ensure its future development.
"I've never known the radio landscape in New Orleans without WBOK," says Pierce. "It's a great opportunity to preserve a great legacy station with deep roots in the community and rejuvenate it and bring it back to the station that I grew up with.
"But it's not just a labor of love, it's a business venture," Pierce continued. "We have some of the greatest culture in the world but we haven't even begun to scratch the surface delving into that, (including) the opportunity to have culture itself on the radio instead of just discussion of it."
He'd like to bring artists like Iyo Scott, Don Bartholomew and Don Lewis on live, broadcast events from venues like The House of Dance and Feathers in the Lower 9th, and simulcast a Wednesday open mic night from a New Orleans venue that he wants to keep under wraps for now. Pierce says he's motivated by his own diverse broadcast experience, including radio plays for the BBC and the Peabody Award-winning weekly jazz broadcast he did with fellow New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis from Lincoln Center in New York.
"We want to do shows that can be syndicated nationally, also on the various internet platforms like podcasts. We're talking to some nationally-known names now that I'm excited about, also some well-known New Orleans folks," Pierce says.
"Everything is still under review," he says. "We've got to finish buying the house then we can get in there and redesign and furnish the place."
Pierce's partners, which include local businessmen Cleveland Spears, Troy Henry and Jeff Thomas, are taking an equity stake, with Liberty Bank providing the balance of the undisclosed purchase price in debt financing. They expect to complete the purchase this quarter and aim for a relaunch of WBOK in the summer.