Ciao, WAMO -- we hardly knew you anymore

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The voice on the line was a familiar one. "We just lost our symphony orchestra," James "JT" Tarpley said on the phone yesterday afternoon.

Folks who know the irascible Mr. Tarpley as a regular caller of local and national talk radio shows are used to his hyperbolic pronouncements. We know without asking that he isn't talking about the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, currently touring China, wowing the crowds with Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 5."

When JT uses the plural pronoun "we," he's talking about black folks in Pittsburgh misplacing, losing or throwing away something of value -- again. In this case, he's talking about the black-owned Sheridan Broadcasting Corp.'s decision to sell WAMO, the region's only urban music station, to religious broadcasters.

"It's a cultural 9/11," JT said. "There's nothing more devastating than the demise of WAMO. This is symptomatic of the deterioration of black people in this city," he insisted.

As far as JT is concerned, the loss of WAMO-FM 106.7, WAMO-AM 860 and WPGR-AM 1510 is the latest in a pattern of community disenfranchisement, whether initiated from outside or from within the community itself.

Frankly, I doubt it. WAMO's storied history aside, Sheridan Broadcasting Corp. founder and owner Ron Davenport Sr. is a savvy businessman. He knows that young people don't get their music from radio anymore. Listening to repetitive ads requires patience that young people don't have anymore. They have too many entertainment options. As a result, revenues have fallen sharply across the urban radio landscape. Even JT admits that he rarely listened to WAMO for music.

I suspect that Mr. Davenport, who probably attends more than his share of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts, is also tired of the product his company has dispensed since he bought the station in 1973. No one listens to WAMO to catch the latest in edgy or interesting music. It isn't there -- and hasn't been for a long time.

If you're an old-school soul music fan, there's nothing better than WYEP-FM 91.3's "The Soul Show" every Saturday afternoon. If hip-hop and its various iterations is your thing, local college radio has always been more adventurous than WAMO. The signals for WRCT (Carnegie Mellon) and WPTS (University of Pittsburgh) may be difficult to pick up outside the East End, but you can listen to both on the Internet.

What I'll miss most about the demise of WAMO is the displacement of progressive voices like talk-show hosts Lynn Cullen and Bev Smith on the AM side. (Full disclosure: I was scheduled to substitute for Lynn on Friday's show. Now that's not happening).

The region is also losing "The Steve Harvey Show," a syndicated program that allows black Pittsburgh to participate in black America's daily conversations with itself.

"Look, a major renaissance is happening in this city and black folks aren't in the mix," JT said, overstating things again. "Why is it that black people can't seem to hold on to anything we own in this town?"

But as I told JT, WAMO "checked out" long before Sheridan Broadcasting sold the station to religious broadcasters. All that's left is haggling over the dollar amount.

Like many newspaper readers, I was disappointed to learn that Maureen Dowd, in her Sunday New York Times column, lifted a sentence from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo about the Bush administration's use of torture. Fortunately, Ms. Dowd and the Times responded with a correction as soon as a blogger pointed it out on TPM. The Post-Gazette, which published the column yesterday, has a correction in today.

Ms. Dowd seems to be going through a bad patch these days. I can relate. I've had many bad patches myself. Still, I have no doubt that Ms. Dowd is capable of writing witty, relevant columns without nicking other people's words. She's proven it thousands of times -- just not lately. When something like this happens, it is either an inexplicable accident or evidence of terrible practices. (She declared that she received the passage from a friend, and "clearly, my friend must have read Josh Marshall without mentioning that to me.") Call me a fool, but I'm giving Maureen Dowd the benefit of the doubt -- this time.

Speaking of columnists and torture, our friends at the Philadelphia Inquirer have slotted former Bush Justice Department lawyer and torture rationalizer John Yoo -- yes, that John Yoo -- into a once-a-month column slot.

Mr. Yoo, a former Philadelphian, joins former Sen. Rick Santorum on the roster of Philly newspaper columnists. Fortunately, Dick Cheney didn't grow up in Scranton, or we'd be dealing with an evil trifecta on the far end of the state.

Tony Norman can be reached at or 412-263-1631.


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