Bob Law: History of Black Radio and the Removal of Black Militant Thought

Bob LawOver the past few weeks Hard Knock Radio has been doing a series of interviews focusing on the state of Black media. Such a series would not be complete without getting some critical insight from long time freedom fighter and media justice advocate Bob Law.  He is one of the Godfathers of Black radio and has never wavered in using the airwaves as a tool for liberation.

In our conversation, he gives a serious history lesson not just on the evolution of Black Radio and the role it has long played in the Black Freedom Struggle, but he also talked to us about how there has been an attempt to remove, silence and erase any institutional memory of Black militant and radical thought.  Law painstakingly details how that has been happening and breaks down the reasons why.

Law pinpoints much of this removal with the release of the 1972 Harvard Report, officially known as Study of the Soul Music Environment‘ . This was a white paper commissioned by Columbia Records and done by a group of Harvard Business students on how to take over the Black independent music scene. Clive Davis was the head of Columbia at that time. Law details how that report coincided with other attempts in film and TV to eradicate, marginalize and ridicule strident, politicized Black voice in the music and entertainment industry.

During our discussion, we play an excerpt from a speech given to Black music industry executives by Minister Farrakhan in 1979 who makes note of this change. That speech is contrasted with a speech Martin Luther King gave to a similar body of Black music industry folks in August 1967, where he heaped praise on them and emphasized that there would be no Civil Rights Movement had it not been for Black Radio. The organization he spoke to at that time was called NATRA (National Association of Television and Radio Announcers)

During our interview Law details what took place after King gave that speech. He explained that NATRA was destroyed by white industry executives who were concerned about their growing power and political influence. That destruction and silencing has never stopped.

This interview is a serious history lesson from a pioneering figure who really knows his stuff.

Here’s a couple of things to give more context to Bob Law’s remarks.. First is a video fo from ABC News with former FBI agents talking about studying and destroying Black Culture.

The second is excerpts from that Dr King’s speech given to NATRA juxtaposed with Minister Farrakhan’s speech given 12 years later.

Below is an article Law recently penned called Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air. It his take on where Black radio is at right now

 If one should desire to know if a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality

of its music will furnish the answer. — Confucius

 Bob LawCurrently the airwaves are filled with messages that are violently anti woman, anti Black and in a real sense anti life itself. We are inundated with lyrics, dialogue, and images, from music videos, song lyrics and DJ comments that glorify violence while encouraging the degradation and exploitation of women, to video games that require that you kill people in order to stay in the game and move forward.

To understand our concern, perhaps it is helpful to understand the emotional significance and influence of music. As noted musician David Byrne has explained, music tells us things, social things, psychological things, physical things about how we feel and perceive our bodies, and it does it in a way that other art forms cannot. It is not only in the lyrics as Byrne and others have pointed out, it is also the combination of sounds, rhythms, and vocal textures that communicate in ways that bypass the reasoning centers of the brain and go straight to our emotions.

Poet Larry Neal, one of the architects of the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s has said that our music has always been the most dominate manifestation of what we are and how we feel. The best of it has always operated at the very core of our lives. It is the music that can affirm our highest possibilities. That may be precisely why the best of our music is under siege.

It is also important to understand that in this society, music conveys social status. Being associated with certain kinds of music can increase your social standing, Consider the higher level of sophistication associated with opera or classical music, or the level of cool sophistication associated with the music of Coltrane, Monk and Miles.

Some have suggested that while we may indeed like the music, often what we really like is the company it puts us in. In this sense the music creates a community or life style that is validated by the acceptance of the music. It is the music that validates the “Gangsta”

Currently the airwaves are dominated by a body of music, images and ideas that has established a code of behavior that denigrates women, and encourages the murdering of Black people. It is a lifestyle where all women are “Hoes” and “B—–s”. Consider this “gangsta” lyric. “I got a shotgun, and heres the plot. Takin Niggas out with a flurry of buckshots . Yeah I was gunnin and then you look, all you see is niggas runin”.

Music, images and dialogue that offers another view cant get reasonable airplay. The airwaves are regulated by the FCC, a commission that was established in 1934 to regulate in the public interest. When George Bush installed Michel Powell as Chairman of the commission, in 2001, Powell said he did not know what in the public interest meant.

Since the 1996 telecommunications act which set the framework for deregulation, the FCC has been reduced to pablum serving only to sanction the acquisition of broadcast frequencies and license to the mega media corporations which has resulted in the concentration of media ownership into the hands of very few.

Under the major revisions of US telecommunications law, the first since the 1930s, members of the general public no longer have “legal standing” to challenge broadcast policy or to insure that the public interest is served. Now it is the licensee (station owner) that controls content.

Previously the station owners rented the airwaves, while the general public owned the airwaves. That is no longer the case. None the less the Federal Communications Commission is still directly responsible to congress, and since Black media ownership is a major casualty of deregulation, and since the diversity of opinion and ideas coming directly from the Black experience in the world are being removed from the marketplace of ideas, we have appealed to the Congressional Black Caucus in general and the New York congressional delegation in particular to urge congress to reexamine the current function and effectiveness of the FCC.

Our first appeal to the CBC was December 6 2012, and in spite of additional attempts to reach members of the CBC, to date congress members, Evette Clark, Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries have freely dismissed our appeals to them.

Perhaps if there is a link established between the murderous video games and the young white boys who routinely walk onto a school campus or shopping mall with automatic weapons and open fire, congress might then act to reestablish some guidelines that would force broadcasters to allow for input from the community in the effort to balance what is being offered on Americas broadcast spectrum.

But as long as Black people, especially Black women are the primary victims of this insidious violence, even the increasingly irrelevant Black congressional leadership ignores us.

Franz Fannon is correct, “Ultimately a people get the government / leadership they deserve” It is time to support the kind of leadership we truly deserve.

written by Bob Law



  1. Excellent programming Brother Davey D…thanks for being the generational bridge that is keeping our revolutionary history alive by relating the recent past to the current present…Bob Law is an icon in NYC and it is always inspiring to hear his voice again.

  2. Babatu Y Olubayo says:

    This analysis compliments the destruction of black student movements on campuses and our public/private institutions (includingHBCU’s). It was the students who were on the forefront of the sit-ins and who pressed for inclusion in all aspects of community development, family stability, and political participation. The assault was typified by the Ron O’Neals of the world(Super-Fly) and the destruction of the Black Panthers to name a couple of strategies.

    There are effectively three levels of control in this society: Control of goods and services: the means of production and distribution of material items, control of force and violence: jails, police, the military, and lastly, control of the mind. Control of the mind means schools, media, and any psychological warfare.

    White institutions and power paradigms will not allow Africans (Blacks) to be able to critically think, promote an analysis of their condition in this country, resolve or minimize their contradictions, and most importantly, move toward self-sufficiency or independence.

  3. Bro Leroy says:

    The Confucius proverb is direct and to the point. Interviewing Bob Law on this matter is extremely valuable. He has seen it from the inside and very few of us come back and explain to the community what is happening. Others must use Bob as an example. Also, note that it is Bob Law’s “Night Talk Show” that ‘nationalized’ the build up to “The Million Man March.” There are many stories coming out of the Human Rights Movement of the ’60’s on how “Black” radio (some Black owned, but mostly white-owned with conscious Black talent) made a difference in full attendance at meetings and mobilizing boycotts. Those who oppose Black folks’ acquiring a decent living have dedicated themselves to blocking us from the airwaves. In Harlem, a show we co-hosted for over 25 years, delivering information from all types of people to a Black audience (Harlem Community Radio) was terminated because of the false charge of anti Semitisim based on our mentioning Minister Farrakhan’s name, mentioning “The Final Call” newspaper and announcing that Professor Griff was coming to Harlem the next week. The enemy has borrowed Malcolm’s statement, “By any means necessary” while reminding us of the reality of the Dred Scott decision.

  4. I want to thank all responsible for this article. I am so happy to hear from BOB LAW again. It was Law that instilled in me that the purpose of Black radio is to PROVOKE BLACK THOUGHT. Listening to what Bob had to say, it reminded me of what is going on here in Chicago across the airwaves. Corporate owned WGCI-FM and WVAZ-FM sounds like a studio of monkeys who do nothing but talk foolishness all morning and afternoon. WVON is now SOLD OUT. WVON was once the beacon of independent Black thought. Now thought and comment that may sound “too Black” is now discouraged, talked down and avoided at all cost. WVON was for awhile using the airwaves to promote the homosexual agenda. The daughter of Pervis Spann is now making the “business decisions” that dictate what will go across the air at the station, with a white program director who has been there for years. No one could ever understand, why Black program directors, could not stay at the station. Fortunately for us here in Chicago, we finally have a light. For two hours, four days a week we have a radio program called THE BUTT NAKED TRUTH. The show is so wildly popular, I can say that WVON has no listeners between the hours of 2pm to 4pm(Central time). THE BUTT NAKED TRUTH is where pure, independent, RAW Black thought is expressed and heard. If BOB LAW is reading this, I urge him and anyone else reading this article, to check out this new jewel we have here in Chicago, Tuesday through Friday. http://WWW.GOSPEL1570.COM WBGX. AGAIN, 2PM TO 4PM Central time. I am one who has been looking for answers as to who the forces were behind the destruction of Black radio and music. This piece has helped me out A WHOLE LOT. I MUST AGAIN SAY THANK YOU.

  5. Excellent post! This was some serious information Mr. Bob Law shared with us!
    Thanks for posting, Bro. Davey D! We appreciate all that you do!