Radio Facts: GRAND RAPIDS — Supporters are lining up behind longtime broadcaster Robert S. Womack, who is trying to block the sale of WJNZ Radio, 1140 AM, the station he's worked at for years.
Earlier this year, the station went into receivership after its owner defaulted on loans. Womack and other investors launched an effort to keep the station, but were outbid by Christian programmer Holy Family Radio of Lowell.
Womack contends the bidding process was unfair and biased. A change of ownership would end the station's long history of serving the black community. Womack estimates the station has 50,000 to 70,000 listeners. “This is the second-largest city in Michigan and the 39th largest media market in the nation without a black-supported station,” said Mark Covington, 49, a longtime listener who on Wednesday stopped by the station's studio, located in a converted house at 1919 Eastern Ave. SE. Listeners bought up 100 T-shirts with the message “I'm the pulse of the city 1140 AM,” said Womack, who has ordered another 200 shirts.
Supporters plan to wear their shirts when they gather at Rosa Park Circle at 10 a.m. Friday before marching to the Kent County Courthouse, where Womack's lawyers will ask for an injunction against the station's sale. The sale to the new owners is set to be finalized Friday.
Womack said he and other investors reached a deal with station owner Michael St. Cyr in July 2008 to buy the station for $300,000 in a lease-management agreement. Although they never fell behind on their $10,000-a-month payments, the deal fell apart after St. Cyr defaulted on a loan with Huntington Bank in which the station was part of the collateral, Womack said.
St. Cyr couldn't be reached for comment. After the property was put in receivership, Womack was asked to continue running the business and cover its expenses with money the station generated. “My experience with Robert has been very good,” said Daniel Yeoman, the court-appointed receiver from Amicus Management, Inc., adding the experience was “refreshing.”
“We were both interested in preserving the asset's value.” Yeoman disputes Womack's claim the bidding process was unfair. “All the parties consented to the sale bid process where all parties could bid and rebid,” he said. Womack contends the bank first accepted his investors' offer of $250,500 for the property, but then decided to reopen the bidding process. Ultimately, their raised bid of $300,000 was $10,000 less than Holy Family Radio's.
Gospel singer Marvin Sapp and his wife, MaLinda, also bid on the station, Womack said. Neither could be reached for comment Wednesday. In addition to the broadcasting license, the organization gains transmitters and transformers located on 41 acres in Ada Township. The Lowell group is a nearly two-year-old listener-supported non-profit dedicated to “broadcasting the knowledge, love and practice of the Roman Catholic faith to the West Michigan community,” Dan Grady, the organization's treasurer, said in a statement.
If he isn't successful in gaining a court injunction Friday, Womack isn't giving up. “We plan to petition the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) to block the transfer of the station based on discrimination practices in the bidding process,” Womack said.