Friday, July 16, 2010

WVNA/WLAY plus More From Cherokee

WVNA/WLAY Off-The-Air Because Of Rent Dispute

A Guest Commentary By

Steve Wiggins

I was truly surprised to find one morning that WLAY AM-1450 on the dial was off the air. Then I read in the Times-Daily that both ‘lay and WVNA AM-1290 were going to be dark for several weeks.

It so happens that the property owner of the land where both radio stations have their transmitters more than tripled their rent and forced the stations to look elsewhere for a site. So now the owner, URBan Radio Broadcasting, Inc., has engineers from several of their stations across America scrambling to find a suitable transmitter site and secure FCC approval for it. Not an easy task.

Meanwhile ex-landlord Elton Darby, Jr., is keeping silent on why he did what he did. I tried to contact Mr. Darby five times in the past week, but have had no success in getting his side of the story.

I spoke with General Manager Dale Powers at URBan’s Shoals Radio Group in Tuscumbia on July 7th . He told me that Darby’s action took him completely by surprise.

Mr. Powers said that it was his understanding that lease negotiations were settled. Evidently he was mistaken. Mr. powers arrived in The Shoals last November. At that time negotiations between URBan and Mr. Darby had been on going for several months. According to Mr. Powers, Mr. Darby had approached URBan with the desire to sell the broadcasting company the property and towers. URBan decided it was in their best interest to continue leasing the property, and declined the offer. Then, at the end of May, URBan was informed that the rent on the property and towers was going up sharply.

This could not have come at a worse time. Radio stations, particularly AM stations, are having a rough go of things nowadays. Their revenues are dropping faster than a barometer in a hurricane due to a combination of forces. The worldwide economic downturn has curtailed many traditional radio-advertising sources, namely local mom and pop businesses. The second major threat to AM radio is New Media: The World Wide Web in general, and XM/Sirius satellite radio, as well as talk and music from wireless sources like the phone companies. Because of dropping ad sales, stations are trimming expenses wherever they can. And that is the case for WVNA/WLAY. Sometimes cost cutting becomes the decision point between continuing, or pulling the plug on the whole shebang.

So why the debacle? We may never know the whole story. Was Mr. Darby mad because URBan declined his offer? Was he being vindictive because the company wouldn’t pay his asking price? Did he think it was reasonable to give a Broadcaster, who had been at the site since the early 1950’s three days notice before tripling the rent? I wanted to give Mr. Darby the benefit of telling his side of the story, but I couldn’t reach him. Sorry.

This is not a simple story of a landlord-tenant dispute. This story is about the uprooting of two radio stations that have for decades been an institution here in The Shoals. They mean something to us. And when they suddenly go off the air because of a simple money dispute, and without any warning, the residents here suffer an injustice. How much money and power is enough? When is it time to start thinking about a legacy? Mr. Darby’s father, Elton, Sr., founded WVNA. His name will forever be attached to the radio station’s history, for better or worse. I find it quite ironic that the individual who may have set the wheels in motion for the station’s demise, is the son of the man who put it on the air in the first place.


That was Steve's first guest commentary, and we hope it won't be his last. Since we're continuing to receive numerous guest commentaries concerning Cherokee, we will be publishing one each day in addition to our other regular material.

Here's another great update from C. R.:

Rumors of a Recall

One day after the Cherokee City Council fired the city attorney and part time city clerk, rumors of a recall have surfaced. One local citizen stated "by Monday there will be a petition out to recall the fools on the town council". On a local blog a post calls for the citizens to rise up and take back the town. The poster encourages all Cherokee citizens to unite and demand State Senator Rodger Bedford and State Rep Johnny Mack Marrow sponsor a bill that would allow a recall. Currently Alabama law does not allow a recall for a Class 8 Municipalities. The petition would show Sen. Bedford and Rep. Morrow that the people of Cherokee have the majority support of the citizens.

What Will Happen

Becky Watkins was hired as an part time clerk under former Mayor Mignon Willis. Becky Watkins turned in a letter of resignation. Watkins was called back into work after the resignation by city clerk Melinda Malone. While at city hall Watkins hurt herself and is now filing a workers comp claim against the city. Because Watkins was brought back to work after she resigned Mayor Lansdell fired Watkins because she was never rehired by the mayor or city council. Several citizens complained to Mayor Lansdell that the full time city clerk was taking off too much and leaving the city hall closed too often. Mayor Lansdell hired former full time city clerk Marsha Allen in the open part time position.

During the 14 July meeting Steve Glover, Patrica Mason, Mike Malone, and Joe Franks voted to fire the part time clerk Marsha Allen and rehire Councilman Steve Glover's mother-in-law Becky Watkins. Sources at city hall believe the firing of Marsha Allen and rehiring of Councilman Steve Glover's mother-in-law were illegal. Steve Glover should not have voted on the issue because it related to his mother-in-law. Patrica Mason should not have voted because she is related to Marsha Allen's son. The vote was 4-2 and when the two illegal votes are removed the issue would be tied and not passed. Since the vote was illegal, Mayor Lansdell could move to fire Becky Watkins and hire Marsha Allen again. The next few days should be very interesting.


We've received several inquiries concerning Jimmy Sandlin's abrupt termination of Juvenile Officer John Winston; however, we have no further news on the situation. If any readers have additional info on this or other Sandlin terminations, please forward it to us for publication.