updated 11/25/2005 4:04:57 PM ET 2005-11-25T21:04:57

Radio One Inc. has plans to launch the first national talk-radio network geared for a black audience, the chief executive said.

“We’re in the black-people business,” Alfred C. Liggins III said in a recent conference call. “We are in the business of aggregating audience for this particular demo and providing content to them.”

It is Liggins’ latest effort to diversify Radio One from a pure radio company into a catchall for black consumers, who spend more than $750 billion a year. He hopes that strategy will mean growth for the 69-station company despite a national slowdown in the radio industry, which has been depressed for several years with competition from satellite radio, Internet radio and MP3 players.

Liggins has spent the last two years coming up with new ways for his company to reach black consumers. Last year, he launched TV One LLC, a cable network backed by Comcast Corp. that is aimed at black viewers. Earlier this year he bought a 51 percent interest in Reach Media, which syndicates the popular “Tom Joyner Morning Show” on about 115 radio stations nationwide.

The talk network is his current project.

“We think the market for talk is there,” Liggins said. “There are tons of talk options for non-African Americans.”

Sharpton set to assume prominent role
The network, which is still being developed, will air 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and include a political morning show hosted by Al Sharpton. Earlier this year Sharpton signed a deal to host a talk radio show for Chicago-based Matrix Media, which syndicates radio programs. But that show has yet to air, and Liggins said Radio One has locked Sharpton into a new agreement.

Brothers Doug and Ryan Stewart of “The 2 Live Stews” sports show on an Atlanta AM station will host the afternoon drive. Their three-hour show brings together hip-hop and sports talk. Liggins said he is still trying to negotiate deals with other talent and could not discuss the rest of the lineup.

Early next year he plans to put the talk network on some of Radio One’s AM stations and try to sell it to other urban outlets not owned by the company. Liggins said he has not done any research to determine whether there is a market for such a national talk network for black listeners, but the lack of news programs geared to African Americans convinced him there was room.

There are 2,179 news talk radio stations in the country. Their primary audience, according to radio research firm Arbitron, is white men. Only about 7.6 percent of talk radio’s listeners are black.

Radio One began as one talk station in 1980, when Liggins’ mother, Catherine L. Hughes, acquired WOL-AM. She changed the station’s programming to talk and hosted a radio show. Now most of that company’s radio stations are programmed with hip-hop and R&B music.

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