Sunday, September 7, 2008

Disappearing Voices

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Bemoans the Demise of Black-Owned Radio

There are over 10,000 radio stations across the United States but at last count only 138 were owned by African-Americans. This is a far cry from the mid-Nineties when the figure was close to 300. What transpired to trigger such a precipitous decline, and at a time when blacks have been making advances in so many other areas of business?

The answer likely lies in the passage of the 1997 Telecommunications Act which relaxed restrictions on radio monopolies. The resulting contraction in the communications industry has been devastating for the black community, and that fallout is carefully chronicled in Disappearing Voices, an eye-opening documentary narrated by Bob Law, former program director of NYC’s WWRL during the glory days of black radio back in the Seventies and Eighties.

Besides Bob, many luminaries discussed the issue in depth, each from his or her own unique perspective. For instance, Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton points out how ready access to the airwaves once ensured him an easy way to organize a march or a demonstration. No longer. For, in this age of corporatized “urban-oriented” programming, executives are more concerned with Arbitron ratings than any connection to the communities they’re supposed to be serving.

A similar refrain is sounded by actor/director Melvin Van Peebles who says, “Just like they got rid of the Black Panthers, they’re getting rid of black radio.” Among the others weighing-in are Professor Ron Daniels, rappers Chuck D of Public Enemy and M1 of Dead Prez, entertainment critic David Hinckley and Adrian Council, publisher of Positive Community Magazine. In addition, via both file footage and recently-conducted interviews, we hear from a host of legendary DJs, including Imhotep Gary Byrd, Georgie Woods, Frankie Crocker, Bobby Jay, Eddie O’Jay, Cody Anderson and Vy Higginsen.

Offering an abundance of opportunities for both nostalgia and enlightenment, this timely expose’ convincingly conveys the dire prospects for not only African-Americana, but the nation in general, if the trend of allowing media giants to gobble up radio and television outlets continues unchecked.

Excellent (3.5 stars)


Running time: 64 minutes

Studio: Black Waxx Multimedia

To see a trailer of Disappearing Voices, visit:


blade said...

Why can't the Black Entertainers and sports figures come together and make an annual contribution that will not only launch, but it a national heard Black Radio station maintained for as long as they are making the money that WE as Black Folks pay to hear them at concerts or buy tickets to see them play? Why can't they put back as a part of their contracts? Why can't they demand that their agents contribute as well? What's the problem here? Are we afraid to say "Put up or shut up?

Raymond Mattry, Roosevelt
Ask my neighbor Chuck D about me.

SketchArwen said...

A message from the Director of Disappearing Voices, U-Savior Washington and everyone at Black Waxx. We want to let you know how things are going down...

To my beautiful Black brothers and sisters,

For the last couple of months Bob Law has been circulating lies about us stealing a movie.

As filmmakers we’re baffled as to why we would steal a film from somebody who is not a filmmaker and does not have a studio or any filmmaking equipment. I’m just curious as to when the theft occurred. Was it before or after we promoted him at screenings and on radio shows, put his name on printed materials and on our website along with his bio and photo and gave him vanity credit as a producer even though he didn’t contribute evenly in the making of the film? In fact, his sole financial contribution consisted of half of the cost of a teleprompter that was only needed so that he could deliver his lines properly. What kinds of thieves run around making their victims look good?

It’s interesting that the claim that we “hijacked” this film from Bob Law happened when the public began to take notice of Disappearing Voices and showed tremendous enthusiasm and anticipation for it. This at the same time that the NY State Attorney General hauled Arbitron into court over the Personal People Meters mentioned in our film.

The claim of thievery is confusing, especially since the film hasn’t been distributed yet. In fact, I suspect that it may all be a ruse to cover up a far more sinister agenda.

My suspicion stems mainly from the ridiculousness of Bob’s assertions. They’re just plain dumb. Before all this, I would have sworn up and down that Bob Law is far from dumb. Well, my father always told me that when smart people do dumb things be careful. Something else is going on.

When I first heard that Bob was saying these things I ignored and dismissed it because I thought someone was just trying to throw stuff in the mix.

But when we got a letter from his attorney the day before the film was supposed to be screened (perfectly timed it would seem) demanding that we stop showing the film, that we had infringed upon copyrighted material, we were thrown for a loop.

So why did he do it? Well, we need to ask ourselves who would benefit by the failure of this film. Who would have an interest in this film not being seen or distributed? Arbitron? Clear Channel? Mainstream media? All of the above? And they all certainly have the means to persuade weak-minded individuals to go along with them in exchange for promises.

Signs indicate that Bob has been compromised. No other explanation makes sense.

The idea that we stole something from him is preposterous and everyone knows it. And even if they don’t know, they should know better.

So, in light of all the drama we nipped it in the bud.

Bob Law has been dropped from the final version of Disappearing Voices – the Decline of Black Radio. The film will no longer feature narration written or performed by Bob Law. We are pleased and proud to announce the upcoming release of Disappearing Voices – The Decline of Black Radio - Directed by U-Savior, narrated by radio legend Wayne Gillman (WBLS, Air America), with narration written by Iyanna Jones (The Ghetto Chronicles, Eyes of Xhosa) and additional interviews with:

Bernard White - Program Director at WBAI Community Radio

Jonathan Adelstein - FCC Commissioner

Alec Foege - Rolling Stone Magazine contributor and author of Right of the Dial - The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio

Dr. Kristal Brent Zook - Author of I See Black People - The Rise and Fall of African American Owned Television and Radio

Marcus Reeves - Author of Somebody Scream – Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power

Ralph Poynter - Activist and P.I. for the infamous Larry Davis case

Sonny B. Southerland - Legendary 91.5 WNYE Community Radio DJ.

So there you have it. These are the facts as to why he’s not in the film. Straight from the director’s mouth.

My final observations are that it’s a shame when people take kindness for weakness. It’s even more of a shame when these things happen in the movement, as if we don’t have real problems we should be addressing.

And for all of Bob’s friends who think he’s right and beyond reproach or who simply feel compelled to show loyalty because they’ve known him so long, here’s a quote from Octavia Butler:

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought

To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears

To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool

To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen

To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to

To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

And for people who wondered why we took so long to respond: we were hard at work and we were still hoping in the back of our minds that he would come to his senses and eventually apologize for besmirching our name.

I guess he has so much invested in his ridiculous lies that he thinks there’s no turning back. It’s never too late to do the right thing, Bob.

Thanks to all who knew about this and called us to extend and declare their support.

Thanks to certain folks who didn’t say I told you so when you had every right to.

Thanks to the film festivals that didn’t buckle when they received bogus phone calls from Bob accusing us of stealing.

Wow. For Bob to stoop to this level, business must be really bad at the Seafood Café.

Revolution then peace,