In the aftermath of the George Floyd police murder and protests for racial justice nationwide under the Black Lives Matter movement, there have been calls for more diversity in every faucet of life – especially in the media business, particularly when it comes to news and information.
On Tuesday, iHeartMedia launched a new information network targeting African-American audiences. Christened the Black Information Network, it is billed as “the first and only 24/7 national and local all news audio service dedicated to providing an objective, accurate and trusted source of continual news coverage with a Black voice and perspective.”
iHeart believes there is an audience for this content – 86 percent of Black listeners surveyed stated the necessity of this type of service while 83 percent of those surveyed stated information available on BIN wasn’t available on mainstream TV and radio – with respondents proving equally strong in the 18-34 and 35-54 demos.
The format is similar to what you would find on all-news stations – news, weather, traffic (if applicable) – but in addition, includes biographical segments on African-American figures and content from some of iHeartMedia’s stations targeting Black audiences. Segments of some BIN content is also being made available as podcasts.
The new BIN is headed by Tony Coles, who was a former senior vice president of programming for iHeartMedia’s station group in Chicago, and recently as vice president of iHeartMedia’s West region. He will continue to be based here in his new role.
The new BIN launched on fifteen terrestrial radio stations after stunting with speeches from Black leaders on Monday. The new format replaced a variety of formats at launch, including a heritage conservative talk station in Atlanta (WGST). Once home to Atlanta Braves baseball and launched the careers of Sean Hannity and Neal Boortz, the station has ranked near the bottom in recent years. The most recent PPM report showed WGST tied for 33rd place in the Atlanta market with a scant 0.2 rating.
Other formats ditched for BIN include sports talk in Detroit; Macon and Augusta, Ga.; and New Orleans; Alternative in Cleveland and Norfolk, Va.; and Gospel in Nashville. most of these stations barely achieved an one rating.
In Chicago, the format didn’t replace faltering country station Big 95.5 (WEBG-FM), but it did secure a position on the HD-2 channel of WVAZ-FM. Listeners can tune in to BIN on iHeartRadio’s app or website.
iHeartMedia’s Hip-Hop/R&B Contemporary and R&B Adult Contemporary stations WGCI and WVAZ respectively, are also the official news service for both and 91 other iHeartMedia stations in both formats.
Advertising partners in the venture include Bank of America, CVS Health, Geico, Lowe’s and Verizon, among others.
The move is the latest overture to African-American listeners. On June 19, iHeartMedia Chicago launched a Brilliantly Black initiative, to support African-American businesses in the Chicago area. The stations are encouraging listeners to type in “brilliant” in each of iHeartMedia’s six radio stations’ websites search boxes to find out more about those businesses. Many of them have struggled in recent months, thanked to the forced shutdowns due to Covid-19 and later, the rioting and looting of many of those same businesses during protests on May 31 and June 1.
Before the calls for more diversity and programming targeting African-Americans became more vocal, Fox launched a new streaming channel called Fox Soul, whose programming is now being tested on several Fox-owned stations nationwide, including My Network TV affiliate WPWR-TV from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A special note: Despite the fact I blasted the idea a few weeks ago saying it will not make a difference in diversifying newsrooms, T Dog Media will comply with new AP guidelines and will capitalize the “B” in black, effective immediately. T Dog Media will also stop referring to African-American radio stations as “urban” as there have been some controversy over the name, first coined by now-defunct trade magazine Radio & Records in the 1970s, with their chart known as “Black/Urban Contemporary”(by comparison, rival Billboard has never named similar charts as “urban”.)
From this point forward on the blog, “urban contemporary” is now known as Hip-Hop/R&B Contemporary and “urban adult contemporary” (or urban AC) is now known as R&B Adult Contemporary.