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|Posted August 14, 2003|
|Haitian radio station fights for survival|
|By JACQUELINE CHARLES, Miami Herald Writer|
Radio Carnivale began with an ambitious plan to provide South Florida's Haitian community with something it never had: 24 hours a day of up-to-date breaking news live from Haiti, along with music, sports and other types of programming in Creole, French and English.
Now, nearly two-and-a-half years later, that plan is in jeopardy.
On Saturday, New World Broadcasting, the company that owns the signal that Radio Carnivale (WRHB-AM 1320) transmits on, pulled the plug.
Instead of hearing the usual Saturday lineup of Creole-language programming, Radio Carnivale listeners heard Latin music.
''People actually wept,'' said Rudolph Moise, prominent Haitian-American physician and Radio Carnivale founder. ``It did not feel good this weekend when the plug was pulled.''
Radio Carnivale finally resumed programming Sunday afternoon after Moise wrestled up the $57,000 in back rent for the signal. But the station remains in jeopardy unless Moise can raise money to buy the signal.
For Moise, who has invested more than $1.2 million of his own money in Carnivale, the weekend's shutdown exposes a reality that can no longer be ignored: Despite big-name advertisers like Publix and Home Depot, and a revenue stream that is 48 percent higher today than this time last year, Carnivale continues to struggle financially.
''It's a very difficult situation,'' Moise said.
Since the beginning, Moise has been working to find investors to help him purchase the signal and keep Carnivale afloat.
New World Broadcasting is asking $12.5 million -- a price Moise says is too high for this market.
And he also has to consider Carnivale's monthly overhead.
The current monthly expenditures are about $160,000, which includes a $115,000 lease payment to New World.
Jim Ortega, a media broker from Denver who is working on an analysis for Moise, free of charge, said the $12.5 million asking price is a ``tad on the high side.''
''That is a big number,'' said Ortega, noting his most recent market comparisons showed an AM station in Boston, which has a stronger signal than Radio Carnivale, selling for $10 million.
``The Haitian market is comparable to Des Moines, Iowa, and AM stations in that market aren't going for $12 million.''
Adib Eden, principal stockholder in New World, said the asking price is fair.
''We think the price is very, very reasonable and a lot less than what they had set in the contract,'' Eden said.
``Our number is an appraised value. There hasn't been an AM station sold in this market for years . . . there are no more signals in this market.''
Eden, who is Cuban-American, said he's had several offers for the station, including from Haitian Americans.
''I really see this effort as similar to the Cubans. I want to be able to help the Haitian community have their own station, but I am a businessman,'' he said.
Though Moise has extended his lease with New World by another year, he says the only solution is to find more investment partners.
He plans to meet with current and potential shareholders Sunday in hopes of finding a solution.
''This is for the community. This is something we need,'' he said of Radio Carnivale.
HOPES FOR CHANGE
Until Radio Carnivale, most Creole-language programming in South Florida was provided by Haitian radio hosts buying time on other people's station.
Carnivale sought to change that by hiring paid staffers, including a slew of journalists in Haiti who call in with breaking news reports.
Some critics in the community say it is biased against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Moise says Carnivale is just trying to provide objective news for the Haitian community.
The station has become a must-stop for local politicians, Haitian and non-Haitians, including Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham, who first announced he was seriously considering a bid for the White House during a December visit to Carnivale.
''It's more than a radio station. It's an institution that creates a platform, a foundation for upward mobility and empowerment for Haitian Americans,'' said Rock Anderson, the station's sales manager.
Anderson, who remains optimistic about Carnivale's future, sees its growing pains as no different than those endured by many Spanish-language stations in the market and that of WEDR-99 JAMZ, the popular black-oriented radio station in South Florida.
Jerry Rushin, general manager of WEDR who serves as an advisor to Radio Carnivale, said the station serves a market that neither his station nor others address.
''The task they have is enormous and I don't have any great answers for them,'' he said.
``I think [Moise] deserves a shot at a viable frequency. I would like to see it work for that reason; he's courageous for investing his money in a project like that.''
Reprinted from The Miami Herald of August 14, 2003.
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