A few decades back, long before the political activation of Rhode Island’s extended Latino community, the Spanish-language programming on WRIB (1220 AM) was a vital source of news and information for newcomers to the state. “It was almost a lifeline to what was happening back home, and the only one you could count on,” recalls Providence City Councilor Luis Aponte of Ward 10, a Puerto Rican native who came to Rhode Island from New York in 1978.
But East Providence-based WRIB’s longstanding array of ethnic programming — including The Armenian Radio Hour, which had been on the air since 1947, and The Voice of Italy, which dated to 1951 —— is now a thing of the past. The radio station has gone silent since the Faith Christian Center, an evangelical church in Seekonk, Massachusetts, acquired it from the Carter Broadcasting Corporation for $1.9 million on July 7. John Pfeffer, the church’s pastor, says it hopes to begin WRIB’s new religious broadcasting format in the next few weeks.
In a statement posted on www.wrib.com, some of those previously associated with the station expressed disappointment about the transition, and they vowed to pursue rallies and demonstrations.
“While some people were aware of the impending sale, they had been assured by the church that they would be given a 30-day notice, but were informed at the last minute that on the advice of church attorneys WRIB would be shut down and closed indefinitely while new owners constructed new studios,” the statement says. “And NONE would be invited back for the future grand re-opening. This meant that many long time broadcasters were unceremoniously shown the door with no chance of even saying ‘goodbye’ to their loyal listeners.”
This treatment — which included the demise of three programs geared to Rhode Island’s large Catholic population — led the critics to declare, “Simply put, the lack of compassion by a so-called Christian church almost defies belief.”
Pfeffer expressed regret about the situation, although “we felt we did what we had to do.” The church, he says, did not have a legal right to talk with WRIB’s previous programmers since they were customers of Carter Broadcasting. And since Faith Christian Center could be held liable for comments made over the station after it took title, the church’s lawyers advised it to temporarily close WRIB, Pfeffer says, “as an act of caution.”
The station, which began operations in the old Narragansett Hotel in Providence, reaches into South County and covers much of southeastern Massachusetts, including New Bedford. Pfeffer says Carter Broadcasting sold the station because the company’s owner is in his 80s and he wants to downsize.
In the riposte at www.wrib.com, the sale is mourned as the end of an era: “We were not a station that everybody knew about, yet we like to think that we were beloved by those who did . . . a friendly connection to the home from whence so many of our hard working immigrants came.”