WTMP may be sold in complex deal

A white-owned, out-of-state firm would direct the black-centered station.

By ERIC DEGGANS Times TV/Media Critic
Published September 15, 2007

Glenn Cherry insists it isn't a setback; just a change in direction.

But Cherry also confirmed that he has stepped down as general manager of WTMP-AM 1150in Tampa - the area's most powerful black-owned "legacy" radio station - as part of a complicated deal that may lead to the sale of nine radio stations controlled by his company, including WTMP.

A sale, if implemented, would place a white-owned company in charge of Cherry's black-centered radio stations in Tampa, Jacksonville and Savannah, Ga. - turning over yet another locally-owned radio outlet to a company based outside the state.

Cherry's family owned company, Tama Broadcasting, this week began leasing nine radio stations to a management firm created by the New York-based investment firm, D.B. Zwirn Special Opportunities Fund.

The agreement was pushed by Tama's investment partner, Black Enterprise/Greenwich Street Corporate Growth Partners, an investment fund set up by the publisher of Black Enterprise magazine to help grow minority-ownedbusinesses.

Cherry said Black Enterprise's fund recently took a controlling interest in Tama Broadcasting and chose to implement the leasing deal as prelude to negotiating a sale of the stations. The lease and sale are part of the fund's strategy to recover about $16-million in financing provided to Tama since 2002, he said.

Under the terms of a lease, D.B. Zwirn & Co.would control the Tama stations' content, while ownership would remain with Cherry's company. Cherry said he did not expect WTMP's black-centered format to change, at least in the short term.

A sale would leave Cherry's family with just two stations, WPUL-AM in Daytona Beach and WCSZ-AM in Greenville, S.C., and two newspapers, the statewide Florida Courier and the Daytona Times, Cherry said. The sale also threatens the status of Florida's largest private, black-owned media company.

"For us, this is not anything unusual - this is how the system works," added Cherry, who ended a 10-year tenure as WTMP's general manager when Zwirn brought in new management. "At some point in time, investors want to get their money. You can buy them out...you could go public, or you can sell or merge with another company; those are the three ways private equity can exit a deal."

Officials from Black Enterprise/Greenwich Street did not return calls for comment. A spokesman for Zwirn declined to comment, saying he did not know enough about the deal.

Cherry ran the family's newspapers and radio stations with his brother, Charles W. Cherry II, and other family members. The family patriarch, Daytona Times founder Charles W. Cherry Sr., died in 2004.

The Cherry family purchased WTMP in 1997, beginning a string of acquisitions for Tama that included WTMP-FM 96.1 in Tampa, WHJX-FM, WSJF-FM, WJSJ-FM and WOKF-FM in Jacksonville, and WSSJ-FM, WMZD-FM and WSGA-FM in Savannah.

Now Cherry is looking for his next opportunity, unsure if he will remain in Tampa.

And for fans who wonder whether the white-owned company now leasing Tama's stations will retain WTMP's format, Cherry had one suggestion: Keep supporting the station.

"As long as the community supports it, it will stay as it is, because it will be successful," Cherry said. "If the community doesn't support it, it won't be black (focused) for long."

About WTMP

Tama Broadcasting's Tampa stations are WTMP-AM 1150 and WTMP-FM 96.1, which simulcast an urban adult contemporary format.

Notable shows include the Tom Joyner Morning Show weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. and The Wendy Williams Experience, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m.