By Anthony Turner | Sept. 3, 2023
New York: It’s the end of an era for WVIP 93.5 FM, New York, the station that served the diaspora community for almost 40 years. Jamaican and Caribbean programs on the dial went silent on Thursday, August 31, when the last programs ended at midnight. Hope Media Group, owners of the Christian AC Way FM network and Spanish language Christian Vida Unida, signed on soon after.
Purchasing time on WVIP was not cheap. Independent broadcasters paid between US$500 to US$1,000 per hour and upwards of US$4 million annually to purchase time. Despite this, some of the independent broadcasters said that they were not informed that the station was going off air.
Bobby Clarke, chief executive officer of the Queens-based Irie Jam Media Group, which brokered time on WVIP for more than 30 years, openly shared his displeasure at how things unfolded. “The O’Shaughnessys [owners] disrespected the Caribbean community in a big way,” Bobby Clarke, who is also chairman of The Bridge 99 FM in Kingston, Jamaica, told The Sunday Gleaner.
He disclosed that Irie Jam Media Group began negotiations to purchase WVIP in March this year. Bobby Clarke said that the station was offered to his company for US$13 million dollars, about US$5 million less that the price at which it was sold to Hope Media Group.
“We signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that said I cannot tell anyone, especially block timers on WVIP, as I would not only lose the opportunity to buy the station but lose the opportunity for Irie Jam to continue broadcasting on the station,” Bobby Clarke shared, alleging a breakdown in communication. “When I got the money and everything lined up, they stopped answering the phones,” Bobby Clarke claims.
Una Clarke, who served in the New York City Council from the 40th district from 1992 to 2001 was one of the first prominent Jamaican and Caribbean politicians to comment on the sale and she made a case for political alignment.
“You can figure it out in the final analysis based on who the purchasers are and based on what their goals and objectives are,” Una Clarke stated.
A release on the Hope Media Group (HMG) website dated July 5, said the company “has announced intent to purchase 93.5 WVIP to serve as its New York City outlet for Vida Unida, the Christian media corporation’s Spanish-language music network. The name Vida Unida – or Life Together – is about being united with God, families, and the community. The WVIP-FM signal originates from the Bronx and covers more than 13 million residents in the five boroughs and New Jersey, 3.8 million of which are Hispanic”.
The release quotes Joe Paulo, chief executive officer and president of Hope Media Group, as saying, “If someone had told us that within the first two years from Vida Unida’s Houston launch we would be in nine markets, including three of the top four largest Spanish-speaking markets in the US, we would have not believed it.”
The Sunday Gleaner reached out to Hope Media for a comment on the purchase of the station, but was told that “they are all out for the day and will not be back until Tuesday, with Monday being a holiday”.
Pat Chin, co-founder of New York-based VP Records, expressed concern about the economic impact the sale of WVIP will have on her family business.
“Reminds me of when WLIB was sold some years ago. Our sales dipped,” she informed. “We can build a station for ourselves! That’s what we need to do,” she suggested.
What will happen to former radio broadcasters on WVIP now that the platform has changed its format is the question advertisers and the diaspora community want answered? Bobby Clarke indicated that his team is already in negotiations to purchase another station. “We are in talks to acquire our own station…We have [a] commitment from TD Bank to be part of the investment group,” he noted.
Looking ahead, the Irie Jam head honcho said, “We are also building out a huge digital platform that we had planned to launch in January 2024 as part of the WVIP purchase. So it is not a case [that] we are anti-Internet but I want our platform CGN (Caribbean Global network) to come out the blocks to match Netflix, Hulu … to match I-Heart radio. I am excited for a new beginning. We now have the opportunity to change direction, to seize the opportunity that we have been given.”
Ricardo Bryan, senior vice president at GraceKennedy Foods USA, spoke about WVIP and the history between both companies.
“WVIP has been a reliable pillar in the community which GraceKennedy has used for the past two decades to engage our core consumers and to launch new products. The closure will be truly missed,” he shared.
Asked about his fondest memories at WVIP, Conroy Allison, a 16-year broadcaster at the station said, “It will be difficult for me to pick out two moments from the many I had but it would include my chat with Jamaican broadcaster Alan Magnus on the occasion of his 50th anniversary on radio. I also had a great chat with West Indies cricket captain Clive Lloyd. I was able to get him to divulge many of his finest moments in his career.”
Among the popular Caribbean programmes and personalities impacted by the sale of WVIP are DJ Roy, Dub Master Chris, Irwine Clare, Killa Boo ( Irie Jam Radio); Squeeze ( Linkup Radio); Conroy Allison ( Winner’s Circle Radio); Ras Clem ( Groovin Radio); Carl B Moxie ( Wake Up Radio); Keeling Backford and David Warren ( The Keeling Beckford Showcase) and Avril ( ER Radio), among others.
WVIP was owned by the late Bill O’Shaughnessy, who died in May 2022 at age 84.