An open letter written by Indiana Black Expo Inc. President Tanya Bell has exposed a major rift between the organization and the market’s two biggest media properties that target black audiences.
In her letter, Bell said the annual Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration, held July 7-17 this year, didn’t have a partnership with Radio One for the first time in the event’s 46-year history, and she accused the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper of fanning the flames of discord.
Bell’s letter, dated Friday and received by IBJ on Monday, harshly criticizes a column penned by Indianapolis Recorder President and General Manager Shannon Williams and the actions of Radio One and its new regional vice president, Deon Levingston.
In the letter, Bell said the Recorder column contained inaccurate attendance data, mischaracterized IBE’s dealings with Radio One and was written without attempting to speak to IBE officials. Bell also took umbrage that Williams in her column said some unnamed exhibitors compared the Summer Celebration's exhibition hall this year to “a flea market.”
The Friday column, headlined “First Recorder, now Expo snubs Radio One,” accused Bell of cutting off IBE’s relationship with the Recorder because of critical coverage from the newspaper.
"Most people know that Expo President Tanya Bell severed the organization’s relationship with the Recorder a couple years ago because she was upset with the truths about IBE that Amos and I shared with the community in our weekly columns," Williams wrote, referring to former Radio One on-air personality Amos Brown, who died in November.
Williams admits in the column that “Because Expo, under Bell’s leadership, severed its relationship with the Recorder, our level of coverage was reduced.”
Williams was not available Monday afternoon for comment.
Radio One’s Levingston also was not available. Radio One Indianapolis operates WHHH-FM 96.3, WNOU-FM 100.9, WTLC-FM 106.7 and WTLC-AM 1310.
Bell was not available to talk Monday, but an IBE representative said the lines of communication between the organizations have opened since the letter was made public.
“I think there are some things in place to work some things out,” said Dian Foreman, IBE communications manager. “We’ve had some communication, and, of course, we’re hoping for the best.”
Foreman declined to elaborate.
In her letter, Bell said it was the IBE's board of directors, and not her alone, who decided to sever the Expo’s relationship with the Recorder, the state’s largest newspaper targeting the black community.
In her column, Williams wrote: “To my dismay, I found out earlier this month that Tanya Bell did the same thing to Radio One Indianapolis. She attempted to censor the prominent radio station by prohibiting [it] from broadcasting live at the INShape Indiana Black & Minority Health Fair or any part of Summer Celebration. She blocked Radio One, a move that is unheard of because everyone who hosts an event the scale of Summer Celebration wants and needs publicity—especially from a media organization that has four stations and reaches over 400,000 people.”
In her letter, Bell said IBE severed the relationship with Radio One because Levingston—who replaced Chuck Williams as head of Radio One’s Indianapolis cluster of stations earlier this year—changed the terms of a deal. Bell wrote that Radio One this year insisted on cash payments, not just a barter arrangement, as was previously the case.
And Bell complained that even with a $30,000 spend on Radio One stations, Radio One officials refused to do Summer Celebration ticket giveaways or even mention events such as the Ecumenical Service or Health Fair on the air. “They also refused to allow their employees, radio personalities (to) volunteer as they have done every year, for any IBE events,” Bell wrote.
“There was a conspiracy to hurt the event ever since Deon Levingston arrived to Indianapolis and realized he could not control this event,” Bell wrote.
Bell concedes in the letter that IBE did not allow Radio One stations into the Summer Celebration this year.
“After refusing to give away concert tickets to the community while aggressively promoting other competing events, refusing to mention IBE’s name on the air, and refusing to allow their staff (our family) to participate in IBE events, I stand by that decision,” Bell wrote.
In her column, Williams said the issue was causing damage beyond that felt by the three organizations.
"As I think of the state of the nation, the political, social and racial unrest that is occurring before our eyes, it saddens me to see such destruction occur in our own local community," she wrote. "Destruction by Bell and her board, who has proven year after year to be silent participants who let her do as she pleases rather than what is good for the organization and community as a whole."