Printer Friendly

Disciples and dissidents: church bishop, community activist square off over two Little Rock radio stations.

Disciples And Dissidents

Church Bishop, Community Activist Square Off Over Two Little Rock Radio Stations

Please help keep the Crusade for Christ alive," says the deep, pleading voice over the airwaves of Little Rock radio station KLRG-AM, 1150.

"Don't forget to write that letter. And when you write, please enclose that generous love gift and keep the Crusade alive. That's Crusade For Christ, P.O. Box ..."

In essence, Bishop L.E. Willis of Norfolk, Va., is asking his listeners to help keep his 26 radio stations -- three of them in Arkansas -- operating.

But the message is subtle.

Willis, 62, isn't as delicate when dealing with employees.

The bishop has been known to say, "It's my station. I'll do with it what I want. Go get your own."

In Little Rock, the tactics aren't working.

"Because of the bishop's principles and ethics, we would rather he not do business in this area," says Hafeeza Majeed, a former talk show host at KLRG's FM counterpart, KMZX-FM, 106.3, known as Mix 106.

Majeed and KLRG-KMZX's former general manager, Antonio Shepherd, were fired in June. Majeed responded by organizing a protest group and contacting Willis to relate the group's feelings.

Majeed's first letter to Willis said she and others strongly support the management and staff of the two central Arkansas stations. She called the removal of Shepherd dismaying, however, because of his involvement in the community.

On a recent visit to Little Rock, Willis said, "Nobody will serve the community better than we do if the listeners come to me and discuss their requests. But I will not respond to an angry woman whose real aim is to get Antonio rehired as manager."

Majeed says that's not her plan.

"Just listen to what the community wants," she says. "I really wish they would get their act together and stop with the big egos."

Majeed's complaints are not uncommon.

"He has a lot of problems that follow him around," says Robert Unmacht, the editor at M Street Journal, a Virginia-based publication that tracks radio stations. "Little Rock isn't the only market where there are questions about Willis or where there are managers who are upset with him. I hear this sort of stuff a lot."

The difference in Little Rock is a woman who has begun her own crusade.

Majeed says, "If this has to go on six months to a year, we'll go on bit by bit."

The Bishop

The son of a sharecropper, L. E. Willis dropped out of school after the 11th grade and entered the ministry. He now presides over 60 congregations as a bishop in the Church of God in Christ. He also is active in politics, having served as a vice chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party.

Willis began a radio talk show in 1955, buying time on a Virginia station. He bought his first stations, WOWI-FM and WPCE-AM, for about $1.1 million in 1974. Both are based in Norfolk.

Willis did not buy additional stations until 1982. Since then, he has acquired more than 20 stations for about $8 million.

"I developed an appetite, a taste, a thirst to put together a small network catering largely to inspirational stations," Willis says. "There were many minority benefits that I felt would not last forever. I thought it was the time and the season to do it before the benefits were taken away."

Willis owns more radio stations than any minority businessman in the country. His pattern is to pay bargain prices and take advantage of regulations that encourage minority ownership of radio and television stations. The stations Willis buys usually are in financial trouble and have poor ratings.

Once he purchases a station, the bishop streamlines it. The number of employees might be cut to as few as two or three since he sends out programs for gospel affiliates such as KLRG by satellite from a station in Gary, Ind.

"The secret is to buy a station that is not profitable but has loads of potential, take that station, develop it, find that void," Willis said in a 1989 interview. "If you want to be successful, you have to find a void and fill it."

Willis' stations are closely held. He is usually owner, sole board member and president.

Most of the stations were purchased for less than $500,000, often with no more than $50,000 down.

His gospel stations feature the "Crusade for Christ" hour each day, during which Willis prays for miracles to meet the financial and physical needs of his listeners. The programs include countless pleas for donations.

Though he is a minister, Willis says he is a businessman first. He claims he did not build his network through donations.

Community Involved Or Crazy?

Hafeeza Majeed does not fit the image of the radical African-American activist her name might conjure up.

A clerk for Arkansas Power & Light Co., Majeed dresses conservatively and speaks politely, even hesitatingly.

"Do I sound like an angry, crazy woman?" she asks.

No, she doesn't.

Majeed is, however, a community activist who hosts a show on Little Rock's black access cable television channel called "African-American Male Mentors Think Tank."

Until the first week in June, she also hosted a one-hour show each Sunday afternoon on Mix 106. It was titled "Arkansas Speaks."

Willis has said, "I don't need people who hate me having talk shows on my station."

Majeed's correspondence seems to indicate she's acting with civility, not hate.

Majeed's strongest words to Willis came in a June 3 letter in which she wrote, "If inadequate consideration is shown toward our concerns, we have no other choice but to take action against your stations immediately following our meeting."

The first organized meeting that addressed Shepherd's firing included discussion of other issues.

The 60 people in attendance agreed to meet the following week to specifically discuss Shepherd's status. There were plans to distribute petitions and organize a station boycott.

Majeed's group invited Willis to speak when he next came to town. The bishop did not respond.

The only verbal communication Majeed had with Willis was when he called her after receiving her first letter.

"Ms. Majeed, I want to inform you your show has been canceled," she quotes him as having said.

"I can't say I was surprised," Majeed says. "I told him, |Don't cancel the show, cancel me.' Everything from that point on was unreal to me, seeing it was coming from a businessman and a religious man."

Phone Home -- Or Anywhere

Willis inspires a mixture of feelings in those who know him.

"He is a charismatic person," says Doug Raines, who was fired as general manager of KSNE-FM, 104.3, Willis' station in Marshall. "It was frustrating when trying to reach him, but he was nice to talk to. He comes across as very trusting."

Raines says because Willis is "almost totally inaccessible, the difficulty is trying to deal with him professionally."

Raines was fired along with several of the bishop's other general managers via a faxed form letter.

"He likes to blame his managers," Raines says. "That's his way of handling things."

Robert Unmacht laughs when Willis' name is mentioned because of the difficulties the M Street Journal has had in tracking the bishop's properties.

"It would be helpful if he picked up the phone and helped us straighten out the files," Unmacht says. "Bishop Willis plays games. It's a juggling game. Constantly buying, selling, trading.

"He's been a real hard one to track down. They don't like to talk at corporate headquarters."

As a minority, Willis can own 14 AM stations and 14 FM stations under Federal Communications Commission regulations.

FCC regulations allow whites to own 12 AM and 12 FM stations. The difference in the law is designed to encourage minority involvement.

FCC regulations also give anyone who sells a station to a minority a three-year grace period on paying taxes on the capital gains.

The bishop often negotiates personally for stations during marathon sessions, trying to convice white station owners of the advantages of selling to him.

"I knew of one station in which the price to whites was $7 million and the price to blacks was $5 million," Willis says. "The reason for the difference was the tax break."

Willis has numerous corporations that buy from and sell to people who are somehow related to his businesses.

It makes the bishop's dealings almost impossible to follow.

His typical deal, however, is to buy a financially troubled station in a metropolitan area at a good price.

"I consider myself a good negotiator, and I consider myself a person who can spot an opportunity and seize an opportunity," Willis says. "I have put together a group of stations that did not take millions of dollars to purchase when it comes to front money, the amount of cash to lay out. I slipped out and got some valuable properties."

The bishop was chairman of Atlantic National Bank at Norfolk, which was cited by federal regulators two years ago for unsafe and illegal banking practices. Willis owed $262,000 to the bank at one time -- 326 percent of the bank's equity capital. That was far above the 15 percent maximum.

Shepherd's Story

Antonio Shepherd hasn't found a job since being terminated at KLRG-KMZX.

"He had plenty of grounds to fire me," Shepherd says. "Bishop Willis said don't mess with the programming."

But Shepherd couldn't help it.

Shepherd says that if Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf had been forced to report to Gen. Colin Powell each time he made a decision, the Persian Gulf War never would have been won.

Shepherd saw himself as the general out in the field.

"I was handcuffed financially and in terms of personnel," he says.

If a manager were given the freedom to operate, Shepherd believes the Little Rock stations could be successful. But he doesn't think Willis "is aware of what's going on in this market."

That's why Antonio Shepherd sees KLRG-KMZX failing.

There is evidence that the entire Willis empire suffers from cash-flow problems.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers sued Willis Broadcasting, in U.S. District Court at Norfolk, in 1988 for failing to pay copyright fees for songs on two Virginia stations and licensing fees for all his stations.

Willis paid a $175,000 settlement the following year that consisted of $25,000 immediately and monthly payments of $9,000 including interest until July 1990.

In March 1989, the FCC fined Willis Broadcasting $7,800 for repeated violations at a station in New Jersey. Federal inspectors found that the station's emergency broadcast system did not work, its logs were not kept properly and there were complaints of dead air time, suggesting the lack of an operator on duty.

"The truth is we are not making tons of money," Willis told a Virginia reporter. "We're not getting rich because we have been expanding and purchasing other stations. We've taken our cash flow.

"We've struggled. It hasn't been easy. Nobody that is a sharecropper's son, who when he became an adult didn't have a dime, could do what we've done without having some anxious moments, hours, days and a few sleepless nights.

"The only thing I will say is God has been good to me. If I sold out today, I would discover that God has been good to me."

Mind Your Own Business

Shepherd had big dreams for his radio venture in Little Rock.

He thought Bishop Willis was a perfect partner to help fulfill those dreams.

"He made a great impression," Shepherd says. "Anyone who has more than 20 stations has to have something going for him."

Shepherd says he never had a chance to get his efforts off the ground.

He admits the stations dropped $1,000 in sales the first month he was there. But he says during the next two months, he brought sales back to where they had been. He didn't have time to expand the advertising base, he says.

In the less than 90 days Shepherd worked in the Little Rock market, he received only $50 in petty cash to spend for expenses, he claims. Shepherd says he paid some bills out of his own pocket to keep the stations -- and his dream -- alive.

Shepherd believes the stations are losing between $15,000 and $30,000 a month considering the debt service on the $700,000 Willis paid for them.

Although programming was not supposed to be part of Shepherd's job, he did not think Mix 106 could continue with its urban contemporary format and compete head to head with powerhouse KIPR-FM, 92.3.

KIPR, also known as Power 92, is a 100,000-watt station that blows Mix 106's 3,000 watts away.

Shepherd mixed in blues and soul music with the youthful raps and jams the station already was playing in an attempt to attract a larger, more diverse audience.

But that's not what Willis wanted.

"It's odd," says Joe Dutton, a former program director at KSNE. "He doesn't seem to want to make a profit. He just wants donations."

Dutton estimates Willis has poured $250,000 into the Marshall station to keep it going.

KSNE is a country station.

Dutton says he asked Willis if those sending money to his religious stations, such as KLRG, know their dollars are going to support the sometimes "immoral" lyrics of country music.

Willis reportedly responded that it was none of Dutton's business.

Willis doesn't think his stations are anyone's business but his own.

Poor Performances

Willis is the sole owner of KLRG-KMZX. He's been through four general managers since last year.

Stations Willis owns have a history of such problems.

The one thing they don't have is Hafeeza Majeed.

Majeed concedes the stations belong to Willis.

But she believes the black community has a stake in them as well.

Mix 106 has a history of involvement in the black community, dating to the early 1980s when it was founded in Lonoke by native Arkansan Waymon T. Dunn as KWTD-FM.

Dunn was known for his community involvement, especially for coordinating projects between AP&L and the NAACP.

Shepherd says he also had plans for community involvement.

KLRG-KMZX's acting general manager, Don Cody -- this is the second time he has filled the role for Willis -- says the stations plan to stress community service.

Cody says if he is named permanent general manager, he will do what Willis says. But he thinks Willis will work to be involved in the Little Rock black community.

It's clear that Cody is one of Willis' disciples.

Cody describes Willis as having "the charisma of Captain Kirk on |Star Trek,' the drive of James Brown, the voice of Darth Vader and then some and the get-out-and-go business attitude of Lee Iacocca."

"Whatever you get, I don't care how much power you have, you should never use it to hurt," Willis told the Virginia interviewer. "I cannot deny that owning more than 20 radio stations gives me some advantages in certain areas. Those advantages should be used to help.

"If you want to persuade people, you've got to be able to speak to them. You've got to be able to explain what you believe and what you're all about. The main reason Jesus came into the world was to convert folks. He had to get with them. They had to hear him. They had to see him. They had to know him. On the radio, people get to know me."

Will that be enough for Mix 106 and KLRG?

Can Willis, from a post on the East Coast, make a success of two stations in Little Rock?

The jury is still out with the likes of Hafeeza Majeed sitting in judgment.

PHOTO : BOYCOTT: Community activist Hafeeza Majeed, a former radio talk show host, is organizing a boycott of Little Rock stations KLRG-AM, 1150, and KMZX-FM, 106.3. She says the stations, owned by Bishop L.E. Willis of Norfolk, Va., are not responsive to the needs of the Little Rock black community.

PHOTO : NO RADICAL: Hafeeza Majeed is not a radical. A clerk for Arkansas Power & Light Co., she dresses conservatively and speaks politely. She is, however, a community activist who thinks there needs to be changes at two Little Rock radio stations. The owner of the stations, Bishop L.E. Willis, inspires a mixture of feelings in those who know him. Willis, 62, owns 26 stations, including the two Majeed is campaigning against in Arkansas.

Carrie Rengers Arkansas Business Staff
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Bishop L.E. Willis; Hafeeza Majeed; KLRG-AM, 1150; KMZX-FM, 106.5
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jul 8, 1991
Previous Article:Branching out.
Next Article:Licensed to jam.

Related Articles
Arkansas business rankings: Radio stations.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters