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


Dr Martin Luther King; The Power of Soul Music & the Importance of Black Radio

Historic 1967 Speech to National Association of Radio Announcers

MLK-brown-leanThis weekend we’ll be celebrating Dr Martin Luther King‘s birthday and in doing so we should all be mindful of the power of his words. We should be mindful of King’s words as we continue to dialogue about what sort of responsibility those who speak to the public have especially via broadcast medium especially with respect to Black Radio..We thought we’d take a walk down memory lane and listen to what King had to say about the role BLACK RADIO played in furthering the Civil Rights struggle..It was a speech given in August of 1967 in Atlanta, Ga to NATRA (National Association of TV and Radio Announcers )

In this rare speech which can be heard in its entirety by clicking the link above..King talks about how Black radio has been a transformative tool. He notes that Black radio is the primary source of information in the Black community  and is more powerful medium than even Television which he says was made for the benefit of white people.

King notes that Black radio deejays are important ‘opinion makers’ who made integration easier, through the language of universal language of soul music.  He praised Black radio deejays for helping unite people and Black radio deejays through presenting this music was able to conquer the hearts and minds of people in ways that surpassed Alexander the Great..

J Edgar Hoover

King who challenged Jim Crow laws and discrimination was considered by his enemies to be a rabble rouser who was creating a dangerous climate with ‘incendiary’ words. His words were so powerful that former FBI head J Edgar Hoover saw fit to follow him and try to disrupt his activities via a program called Cointel-Pro. There were many including some Black preachers who did not want King to come to their towns and speak because he would stir things up. His ability to move the masses was threatening.

Now at the end of the day, King was able to help push through the Civil Rights Bill of  1964 which put an end to most Jim Crow Laws. He was able to  help get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed which ended discrimination practices at the polls. At the same time Kings powerful words so enraged folks, that he was constantly receiving death threats. He also ruffled the feathers of powerful people including President Lydon Johnson after he spoke out against the Vietnam War.
If Kings words were seen as important weapons against discrimination, why are we not seeing the words of today’s far right punditry weapons to support oppression and draconian behavior and policies?

Jack The Rapper

Jack The Rapper

The other thing to keep in mind about Dr King was his shrewd understanding of media in particular radio and what a powerful tool it was. many do not talk about the special relationship King had with Jack ‘Jack tha Rapper Gibson and the nations first Black owned radio station WERD founded in 1949 which was housed in the same building as King’s SCLC headquarters on Auburn street in Atlanta.

Gibson is credited with being the first to broadcast King and other Civil Rights leaders on public airwaves. There are stories about how when rallies and special events were unfolding, King would bang on the ceiling with a broom to the studio housed above him, the disc jockey would lower the boom mic and King would speak to the people via radio.

In this 1967 NATRA speech Dr King delivered the members of this important African American organization were very appreciative as King laid out the indispensable role Black radio had played  in shaping and furthering the Civil Rights struggle. King names off some of the key unsung radio heroes who he says there would not have been a Civil Rights movement had they not reflected the mood of the people and brought critical information to the masses. We hear about Georgie Woods, Pervis Spahn, Magnificent Montague and Tall Paul White to name a few.

King also talks about how radio is the most important and predominant medium in the Black community. It has far more reach and influence than television. He also talks about how the music these Black radio announcers played. King asserted that it helped united people. King pointed out how Blacks and Whites were listening to the same songs and doing the same dances and that the Soul Music these disc jockey’s played had served as an important cultural bridge.

Magnificent-Montague-300He also talks about how some of them were vilified for ‘creating a climate’ that led to the unrest in American cities. Most notable was the radio announcer named Magnificent Montague who had coined the phrase Burn Baby Burn to describe a hot record, but was later used a rallying cry for the Watts Riots of 1965. Montague who was good friends with Malcolm X who had been assassinated earlier that year, was on the air at  KGFJ was accused of riling the people up and causing the mayhem. He had done no such thing, nevertheless LAPD paid him a visit. Montague was made to drop the slogan Burn Baby Burn to Have Mercy Baby.

It’s interesting to note that after King was assassinated many of the Black radio deejays who were vilified were called upon to help quell the riots that were breaking out in cities all over America. The most notable were Petey Greene of Washington DC and Georgie Woods of Philadelphia. One last point we’d be remissed if we didn’t shout out Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin, who has been written out of so much of our history.. King was sharp, but a lot of his media game came via Rustin and we should make note of that…

In addition to speaking about the important role of Black radio played in furthering the Civil Rights struggle, King  also drops gems that many associate with his famous Transforming a Neighborhood Into a Brotherhood speech.. This is the Dr King that has been hidden from us and downplayed where he directly challenges the state and systems of oppression. He’s on point with both his analysis and spirit.. He talks about how white folks were given free land when they moved out west while the sons and daughters of slaves were left penniless via Jim Crow laws and other forms of discrimination thus putting us far behind.. This is an incredible speech.. So again click the link above and listen to it in its entirety.

With respect to King’s message on Black radio we did a video mash up where we included key excerpts from freedom fighter H Rap Brown who talks about the role of entertainers and how they are often manipulated and used against the community by the White Power structure.

MinisterFarrakhanpoint-225We also have excerpts from Minister Farrakhan talking about BLACK RADIO in his historic 1980 speech given to radio deejays at the Jack the Rapper Convention in Atlanta. He talked about how Black Radio deejays are used as agents to dumb down our thinking. What’s interesting to note is that Farrakhan’s speech came 13 years to the month after King gave his NATRA speech. The time between King’s speech and Farrakhan’s speech we saw so much of Black radio dismantled and so many of the disc jockeys silences and depoliticized. Farrakhan talks about how station owners went out of their way to hire deejays who would talk jive to the people and do very little to uplift them. It’s a trend that many say still exist today.

We round it the mash up with remarks on radio by Hip Hop activists Rosa Clemente made during the historic protest against Hot 97 in spring 2005 and Chuck D during 2Pac‘s Birthday celebration in June of 2005 also in Atlanta. Rosa notes how the people who control NY’s number one Hip Hop station are 7 executives all over 40 who are white men. She accuses them and their deejays of peddling a type of mind drug to the community.

Chuck’s remarks are telling as he notes how elders who are heading up these stations are afraid to grow up and be adults and how they’ve become frightened to speak to their own offspring.

Enjoy.. all these people drop some serious jewels.

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

In These Troubled Times We Really Need to Remember Martin Luther King-Now More Than Ever

Click HERE to listen to Speech

 This weekend we celebrate what would’ve been Martin Luther King‘s 81st  birthday. In doing this we take time out to reflect on his life and the words he delivered on the issues of peace and social justice.

This year I wanted to put forth one of my favorite speeches by Dr King called ‘Entrance into the Civil Rights Movement.. It’s an important speech in the sense that it highlights what was at the core of King’s essence-his relationship to God and his ability to call upon the Holy Spirit.  It’s a very moving speech where he outlines the challenges he was facing as a leader and how he to look deep inside himself in order to move forward…
you can peep the speech here:

As we celebrate, I am also including a YouTube video I put together called MLK vs the Radio.. This is contains portions of speech that King gave in August 1967 to a group of Black radio broadcasters. It’s an incredible piece where he talks about the responsibility and important role Black radio played in furthering the Civil Rights Movement. I wanted to reintroduce this speech because many of us are still reeling from the verbal assaults that have been occuring on radio shows like the one hosted by blowhards like Rush Limbaugh who recently made disparaging remarks about  50 thousand Haitans who dies in this weeks earthquake.. I want people to peep this video and ask yourself if media is doing right by you.. This piece also includes the voices of activist Rosa Clemente, Minister Farrakhan, H Rap Brown and Chuck D of Public Enemy…

-Davey D-

 Below is a quick bio  from Wikipedia…

 Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States, and he has become a human rights icon: King is recognized as a martyr by two Christian churches.[1] A Baptist minister,[2] King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, serving as its first president. King’s efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. There, he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history.

The Spin of Reality Radio-Lisa Fager Takes on Cathy Hughes



The Spin of Reality Radio
by Lisa Fager, Industry Ears 

Lisa Fager of Industryears breaks down many of the arguments put forth by Cathy Hughes of Radio One. Personally i am in opposition to her support of HR 848 and will hit this in a future column

Lisa Fager of Industryears breaks down many of the arguments put forth by Cathy Hughes of Radio One. Personally i am in opposition to her support of HR 848 and will hit this in a future column

Cathy Hughes, founder of the  Radio One media conglomerate, calls it “Reality Radio”.  In actuality, it’s a series of brief monologues describing her fierce opposition not only to House Resolution 848 – the Performance Rights Act – but also to the Black members of Congress who support it.

And what, exactly, is her “reality”?  That HR 848 – the Performance Rights Act recently introduced in the United States Congress – “could put many black owned radio stations out of business.  And force others to abandon their commitment to provide free music, entertainment, news, information, and money losing formats like gospel.” Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from reality.

Plainly put, HR 848 will allow performers to get paid when their songs are played on the radio.  The United States is among only a handful of nations — including China, North Korea and Iran — that do not pay royalties to performers. All other nations pay royalties to both the songwriter and performer of music.

Hughes has crafted arguments that lay out superficial reasons for why HR 848 is “not in the best interests of Black people”.  However, a closer inspection of her arguments indicates that the issue is much more complicated than Hughes makes it out to be.

“Reality Radio” claims that if HR 848 is passed, then “the RIAA will get paid and only half will go to artists.”

The truth: If “Reality Radio” has a problem with performance fees, then they should be working to increase the artists’ revenue.  If HR 848 is scrapped, as “Reality Radio” suggests it should be, then artists will get absolutely nothing.  The internet, cable and satellite radio stations already pay performance fees to artists.  What the Performance Rights Act will do is to stop giving special treatment to AM and FM radio by allowing them to play the artists’ music for free. 

 “Reality Radio” claims that HR 848 will “kill Black radio”.

The truth: Black radio was placed on life support long before the advent of HR 848.  It’s demise, ironically, began when large corporate entities like Radio One and Clear Channel began to consolidate what were once local radio stations and transform them into cookie-cutter templates.  Additionally, stations with less than $1.25 million in annual revenues — which is 75 percent of all stations nationwide — would pay just $500 a year for all the music they play. Smaller stations would pay $100 a year and public radio, college radio and nonprofit religious radio stations would pay less or nothing. 

“Reality Radio” also argues that defeating HR 848 will “save black radio”. 

 The truth” this is such a contradiction, it isn’t even funny.  Urban radio is the most syndicated format in radio and no longer serves local communities.  For every city in which syndicated programs like the Tom Joyner Morning Show or the Michael Baisden Show airs, that is a city that keeps its local talent unemployed during the hours that these nationally syndicated shows are on the air.  That doesn’t sound like its saving local Black radio to me.  In fact, it’s actually helping to eliminate local news and public affairs programming.    The radio efforts around Jena 6 were commendable; however we have had many more “Jena 6”, Ravaugh Harris’, Sean Bells and Oscar Grants since then, but lack access to public airwaves to mobilize and inform local communities.  How about a Save Black Communities campaign?

As social justice and media activists, Industry Ears is certainly no fan of either the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) or the very influential RIAA.  However, the reality is that performing artists must be taken care of if we want to remain entertained by their music.  It is illogical to think that the RIAA wants the radio industry – especially Black urban radio – to go belly up.  This notion is just nonsense because radio helps sell records and records help sell radio. 

On July 9th, Congressman Conyers will hold a hearing on HR 848.  People need to become more informed about this important piece of legislation and make up their own minds on whose interests are best being served by it.

Paul Porter, co-founder Industry Ears will testify on HR 848 and radio consolidation at tomorrow’s Judiciary Hearing 10am @ Rayburn


 Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner


Time to Emancipate the Airwaves


 Time to Emancipate the Airwaves:
The Airwave Abolition Movement

by Paul Scott


PaulScott-225Back in 1865, two years and some change after Abe Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves in Texas finally got the memo that chattel slavery had been abolished. Better late than never I suppose. However, if the right wing talking heads had their way, black folks would still be picking cotton in 2009.

Next week , marks the beginning of Juneteenth week (June 15-19th) a time when African Americans celebrate the end of the last vestiges of that peculiar institution. It is a time to celebrate the freedoms of this country that were so long denied African Americans.

But some things are still in bondage; the airwaves.

While this country prides itself as being a diverse melting pot of ideals and a plethora of differing opinions, the airwaves have long been dominated by a right wing conspiracy to control all conversations concerning race, class and all things political.

There is not a city in America where you can’t hear the melodramatic, melodious voice of Rush Limbaugh taking shots at the Left or Sean Hannity’s arrogant whine espousing the doctrine of Conservative white world domination.

What is rarely discussed is the amount of political power that comes with the privilege of having unlimited access to the airwaves.

So when Rush Limbaugh says that he hopes President Obama fails, he ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie. He has the ability to galvanize millions of Rush-o-holics to do his evil biddings and make his anti-Obama dream turn into reality.

Despite the Right’s wolf crying of victimization since the last election, make no mistake about it, the hand that controls the golden microphone rules the world.

It is past time that we seize control of the airwaves and I cannot think of a better time to do it than Juneteenth (the Black Independence Day.)

Although the Conservatives have had their panties in a bunch over the possible reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine (or similar legislation) that will allow folks like me to verbally pimp slap the smirk off of Bill O’Reilly’s face every time he disses Hip Hop, this has not been a major topic in the African American community.

Also, many African Americans are totally in the dark when it comes to understanding the possible impact of a FCC Diversity Advisory Committee that could have Shaka Zulu’s “Black Power Hour” going head to head with Mike Savage’s “Savage Nation.”

While this lack of information may be dismissed by the Right Wing as evidence that black folks would rather listen to Lil Wayne songs instead of the news, in reality, the ultra Conservative media have abused their powers to control the dissemination of information.

But no more!

Black folks need some Affirmative Action airtime.

We have to teach members of the Right a lesson that they should have learned back in kindergarten. Sometimes you have to share your toys.

This Juneteenth , the black community will start an underground railroad to get the information out about the various initiatives to insure African American access to the airwaves. The word will spread from city to city that there are new initiatives available under the Obama administration that could level the media playing field.

It is imperative that members of the African American community use the week of June 15th to contact their Congress folks and demand that the Fairness Doctrine be re-energized and make phone calls and send letters and emails to the FCC throwing our total support behind the Diversity Advisory Committee.

While more access to the media may not guarantee our making it to the Promised Land it will ,at least, supply us with the GPS navigation system to help us get there.

Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots He can be reached at (919) 451-8283 or

Black Radio-The History and Demise of WAMO in Pittsburgh



This is a good story that captures a bygone era that is only a dream nowadays for people who have deeper understanding of how important and powerful Black radio could be..WAMO was a legendary station that was known all over the country. Sadly, this station went the way of so many other Black formatted radio stations by dumbing down the audience and playing it super safe.. This is part 1 of a 2 part story… please check the two videos at the end which puts this into better context. The first video comes from Pittsburgh artist Jasiri X who interviewed folks just days after WAMO was sold. The second one is MLK vs the Radio.  Its an incredible speech given by Dr Martin Luther King where he talks about the significant role Black radio played during the Civil Rights Struggle. When you listen to King speak you can clearly understand that what has occurred with Black radio not doing the job is probably by design more so that accident.. . Powerful voices in the Black community through the Black church needed to be diminished
A few things to Ponder…
-Davey D- 
Black radio in Pittsburgh…Search for identity and profits
by Larry Glasco
For New Pittsburgh Courier
(Part one of a two-part series)

The sudden demise of WAMO radio may seem shocking to many, but the station’s trials and tribulations stem from a decades-long struggle to maintain a strong community identity that at the same time would attract sufficient White listeners (and advertisers) to survive and grow. During its “glory” years from the 1940s through the 1970s, Black radio in Pittsburgh emerged as one of the most powerful voices of the community, capturing and reflecting the music and culture of its residents as well as providing a forum where they could discuss public affairs and rally for racial justice. During that era, WAMO, as the flagship of Black radio, maintained listener loyalty and turned a decent profit. For a people steeped more in the oral than the written tradition, the case could be made that during those “glory” decades, WAMO was at least as important as Black Pittsburgh’s other media giant, the Courier.

Small crowd gathered at corner outside Studio Dee, WHOD radio station, Herron and Centre avenues, Hill District, Aug. 1, 1951.

In the 1980s, this successful cultural and economic model began to fall apart. BET and MTV offered music that competed successfully for young listeners, and older listeners tuned in to the Black-oriented public affairs programs offered by mainstream radio and TV stations. Disco, and later hip-hop, attracted increasing numbers of White listeners, which helped boost ratings and secure needed advertising revenue. But as WAMO reoriented its programming toward an “urban contemporary” format to attract more such cross-over listeners, it risked alienating Blacks, who worried that the station was losing its racial identity and historic role of voice of the community. The story of WAMO from the 1980s to the present is one of increasingly desperate efforts to find a programming formula that would maintain its racial base and at the same time expand its white listenership.

The Rise of Black Radio: 1948 through the 1970s

Man and WHOD disc jockey Mary Dee, standing in front of Western Electric broadcasting equipment in WHOD radio station, c. 1948-1956.

The story of Black radio in Pittsburgh begins in the late 1940s, not long after the end of WWII. The Courier’s “Double V” campaign for democracy abroad and racial democracy at home made Whites more amenable to racial change, and Blacks more insistent.

Reflecting this new mood, in August 1948, Roy Ferree, a young White navy man returned from the war imbued with the ideals of racial and ethnic democracy, and founded WHOD, a small, 250-watt multicultural station. Called the “Station of Nations,” WHOD aired the voices of Homestead’s immigrant, blue-collar residents.

Men including disc jockey Porky Chedwick on microphone, in WAMO broadcast booth, with Mary Lou Williams records on display, sandwich board identifying disc jockeys Sunny Jim Kelsey, Porky Chedwick, Bill Powell, Sir Walter (Raleigh), next to Breakfast Cheer coffee booth at trade show, c. 1956-1965.

Upon learning of WHOD, a young Pittsburgh gal fresh out of Pittsburgh’s St. Mann Radio School named Mary Dudley, the daughter of William Goode, owner of the Hill’s 24-hour pharmacy, approached Ferree about adding a Black voice to the broadcast. Ferree agreed to do so if she could find a sponsor, which she quickly did. On Aug. 1, 1948, when WHOD went on the air, Mary broke racial and gender barriers and became the nation’s first Black female disk jockey.

Mary’s show quickly gained an enthusiastic following. Despite some angry phone calls early on, 860 on the AM dial won many listeners as the novelty of a Polish, Italian, Croatian, Negro, German, Slavish, Grecian and Jewish program format appealed to many Pittsburghers. “Jewish Gems,” “Tony Ortale’s Italian Hour,” “Chester’s Polka Parade,” “Alex Avlon’s Grecian Melodies” and “Movin’ Around with Mary Dee” ultimately caused other stations to include ethnic and racial voices in their programs.

Woman, John “Sir Walter” Christian and Rev. Bill Powell at the WAMO microphone in an office with pennants for the Pittsburgh Branch NAACP and WAMO, c. 1956-1970.

Within six months “Movin’ Around” expanded from 15 minutes to an hour, and two years later to two hours. To help fill the show, Mary brought in her brother, Mal, to run a daily Courier news segment, which also gained popularity. Blacks responded enthusiastically to Mal’s war against police beatings, Jim Crow, poor housing and prejudiced politicians by phoning in their own tales of personal mistreatment. Mary Dee then added Toki Johnson and Hazel Garland to cover community and women’s issues; in this way she pioneered the basic format of Black radio—music, news and community affairs.

Mary Dee’s coverage of Black music was augmented by Porky Chedwick, a young White enthusiast of Black music. Chedwick had joined the station at its founding and, along with Mary Dee, helped make WHOD’s multi-ethnic programming and especially its Black-oriented programming, an enormous success.

The 1950s: Success, competition and the surprising origins of WAMO

Mary Dee’s success of the 1940s continued into the ’50s. She attracted even national attention when Ebony magazine spotlighted her show which, in addition to playing the latest records, uncovered local talent and interviewed national celebrities like Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe. In August 1951, “Studio Dee” opened at the corner of Herron and Centre avenues, where Mary broadcast behind a large window as young fans looked in and entreated her to play their requests. By mid-decade, her show grew to four hours, and “Studio D” moved down Centre Avenue into the Courier building, located across from the YMCA.

By mid-decade, however, WHOD was upstaged by a station that saw the market possibilities of an all-Black-format. In 1954 WILY, at 1080 on the AM dial, opened with a proclamation by Mayor David Lawrence and the enthusiastic support of the Courier and local Black leaders.

WILY’s lead deejay, Bill Powell, hailed from Nashville but quickly became a beloved local fixture. Powell and fellow deejay Lee Doris celebrated rural Black culture by, as the Courier phrased it, “dishing it out Southern style,” talking up “anything from chitterlin’s to neckbones” and employing a patter of “hep-cat talk.” The paper added the Black Pittsburghers who were not happy with this approach “and  raised their bushy eyebrows every time the two disc jockeys mispronounced a word,” need to recognized that WILY had become the second-highest rated Black radio station in the country.

By 1956, WILY’s all-Black format and 1,000-watt signal crippled WHOD and siphoned advertisers from its multi-cultural, 250-watt effort. The station’s desperate president, Leonard Walk told unhappy listeners, “We were in business to make money, not lose it,” and WHOD was losing money. In a controversial move that angered the Black community, Walk fired his Black staff and sold WHOD to a new station, WAMO, whose call letters referenced the city’s three rivers and whose programming, ironically, was country and western.

As a frustrated and angry Mary Dee left for Baltimore, WILY solidified its hold on local Black radio. Bill Powell sponsored a record hop featuring the Del Vikings and Deltones that drew more than 2,000 teenagers. In 1957 John Christian, known as “Sir Walter” as in “Sir Walter Raleigh, the gent with the (English) accent,” joined the station and also won a loyal following.

Despite outward appearances, WILY’s position was not secure, for there was a rapidly growing baby gorilla in town, called television. By the mid-1950s, television’s appeal caused many radio stations to scramble for listeners and advertisers, many by switching from “general market” broadcasting to “niche market” narrow-casting. WILY, however, did just the opposite, and in 1957 changed its call letters to WEEP and dropped its “Negro appeal” programming. Most Blacks were outraged, but others, who had objected to WILY’s focus on “hep talk” and sexually explicit rock-n-roll, considered its loss as good riddance.

WILY’s switch left Pittsburgh only briefly without a Black-oriented radio station, for in 1958 WAMO switched from country and western to what it termed a “New Sound” that focused exclusively on Black programming. The station brought in deejays Bill Powell, Sir Walter and Porky Chedwick, billed as the station’s “Big Three,” who catered to a wide range of musical tastes. Sir Walter’s hi-tone accent, impeccable manners and wake-up show featuring urbane, smooth tunes appealed to an older, more middle-class crowd; Bill Powell’s late morning/early afternoon mix of banter, pop tunes and R&B had broad appeal; Porky Chedwick’s anchor spot from 4 p.m. until sign-off appealed to younger listeners with the host’s zany monikers (“Pork-the-Tork, Daddio-of-the-Raddio, Platter-Pushin-Poppa, Boss with the Sauce”) and emphasis on rock-n-roll.

The 1960s: WAMO’s Glory Decade

The 1960s belonged to WAMO, as the station boosted its signal from 250- to 1,000- watts, built two large towers that carried its signal into Ohio and West Virginia, established an FM station for what it bragged was a “Double WAMO,” and by the middle of the decade began broadcasting 24 hours a day.

Mal Goode, the station’s news director, kept a large, loyal audience in Pittsburgh. Goode, as well as other newscasters on WAMO, held their own against mainstream competition because those stations failed to cover news developments with a perspective and thoroughness that informed the Black community.

Other station employees developed their own followings. The quirky deejay “Brother Love” programmed madcap “freakouts” that introduced Pittsburghers to cutting-edge underground, psychedelic rock by groups like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. The ever-popular Chedwick attracted legions of White as well as Black listeners, and in 1962 achieved fame when he sponsored a monster “Spectacular” at the Syria Mosque that brought in performers like Bo Diddley, the Drifters and Flamingos.

Bill Powell became the public face of WAMO and won the station deep public affection. Powell was active in the community, running for office, heading membership drives by civil rights organizations, and emceeing at banquets and community events. Such community involvement was encouraged by Leonard Wolk, former owner of WHOD, who plunged the station into community work and promoted NAACP voter registration and membership drives. One of the station’s biggest coups was a live broadcast of the massive 1961 Freedom Rally at Forbes Field that featured Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr. and Mahalia Jackson. Indeed, WAMO increasingly became the voice of Black Pittsburgh during the civil rights movement, both because of its dedication and because it filled a growing void. The void stemmed from the fact that during the 1960s the quality of Black Pittsburgh’s flagship newspaper, the Courier, declined to the point that it no longer provided comprehensive coverage of news affecting the Black community. As WAMO increasingly became the voice of the community, the station and its White manager, Leonard Walk, were applauded by community and civic leaders.


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An open letter to black radio from Tony MF Rock



An open letter to black radio from Tony MF Rock

June 17th, 2009 by Rodney Carmichael in Music news

Tony MF Rock (Anthony Durham) and contemporary MC Shy D pioneered Atlanta hip-hop in the ’80s via releases on Luther Campbell’s Luke Skyyywalker Records. Durham went on to play bass for the Atlanta rap-rock group El Pus and collaborate with Anthony David.

In this “open letter,” Tony Rock discusses the response of black-owned radio stations to the pay to play Performance Rights Act.

Lately black radio has been on a jihad, so to speak against bill HR 848. They’re distorting it as a bill to “get rid of black radio”, and sadly, most of their audience will not take to time to research it and find out what it actually is. Black radio, knowing that they have done the black community a disservice for the most part, has decided to fall back on the “brotherhood” crutch. Unfortunately, and predictably, black radio has made HR 848 an “us (black) vs. them (white)” issue, even going as far as to tell their listeners to call Senators and Congressmen and threaten their seats. I promise you, those that make those calls, will make damned fools out of themselves, but I digress. In a nutshell, HR 848 is simply a bill that will allow artists that perform on the records that are being played, to receive a royalty payment.

So, since people like Warren Ballentine, Michael Baisden, and others in black radio have decided to go with this “bill to get rid of black radio” nonsense, let’s play along, shall we? Black radio is “reaching out” to the same community that they have done a disservice to over the past 2 decades for help. They want us to save them. Why should we? Black radio, in its essence, was a medium to truly serve the community. Nowadays, not so much. You want us to save something that constantly bombards our children with music that denigrates women and living lawfully? Black radio was a place where talented local artists could be heard. The only local artists that get played in Atlanta are the ones who are making crap. It’s like the artists are trying to outdumb each other. Atlanta was the VERY last market to play India.Arie, and she’s from here, but unfortunately for her, her music was positive. There’s no room for that on black radio here in Atlanta!! Black radio in Atlanta doesn’t support local artists, unless they’re making music that makes the community look bad, or if they’ve gone elsewhere to achieve notoriety first.

Black radio used to be a place where you can learn something about your culture. Black people complain that they gave us the shortest month to celebrate Black History Month, and sadly, that’s a whole lot more than we get from black radio! Black radio will make you jump through hoops if you wanted to promote an event that helps the community, but they’ll gladly run promos 6 times a day for the “Miss Biggest Booty” contest at the local club next weekend. A few years ago, Hot 107.9 in Atlanta was doing a call in show teaching teens the correct way to have anal sex. Is that what you call “giving back to the community”? Really?! That’s what you want us to save?! You want us to save something that constantly markets malt liquor, predatory payday loans, unhealthy food, rent to own scams, and Pars Cars to us? You really think that crap is worth saving? When I was an artist back in the 80’s, my label turned to black radio for airplay, and they gave us alot of support…………$2500.00, a hooker, and 2 bags of cocaine later, and this happened on more than one occasion! Black radio also wants black artists to speak on their behalf. The same black artists that they were shaking down for payola, which still goes on today, but only now they force them to perform for free at the stations’ “Birthday Bash” concerts.

Do you honestly think, deep down inside that you deserve saving? There are some people willing to help you, and there are others that are willing to just let you wither away. To the ones that want to help, you need to ask black radio: What are you willing to do for the community, instead of to the community? — Tony MF Rock

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Davey D article

How Radio Continues to Dumb Down Blacks in Los Angeles


How Radio Continues to Dumb Down Blacks in Los Angeles

original article-may 05, 2006

One need only to look at the recent booting of John Salley of “The John Salley Block Party” on Radio One’s KKBT-FM (100.3) The Beat and the chosen replacement of Dallas based personality Tom Joyner, to see the crisis in black radio in Los Angeles.

In the nations second largest media market that is home to almost one million blacks, there is only one daily talk show that focuses on issues relevant to blacks in Los Angeles and unless youre up at 4:30 a.m., you miss it. And this is not a plug for the Front Page on KJLH, but it is what it is.

Please tell me that I am not the only black person in Los Angeles to notice the gradual yet progressive downward spiral of black radio into meaningless banter by obsolete personalities who are solely focused on their own lives and use four hours during morning drive time to tell you about it. And if its not the Chatty Kathy personalities then its the celebrity who has a new movie, television show, album, video, ring tone, sneaker, or whatever that just wont shut up.

Then theres the issue of community news, you know news about issues relevant to you and me. Well, thats just about disappeared too. If radio stations read news, its usually Associated Press or City News copy that wasnt written by us and usually doesnt pertain to us. How many black radio news reporters do you know of? Off the top of my head I can only come up with one, Jacquie Stephens.

Lets be clear here. There are only two black owned radio stations in Los Angeles, Stevie Wonders KJLH and Radio Ones KKBT.

KJLH gets a pass simply because they are home to the only daily black talk show in Los Angeles and they actually have a black reporter that goes out into the community to report our news. However, KJLH would do better by moving the Front Page into the Home Teams time slot and vice versa.

Radio Ones KKBT has been a constant disappointment for years. I didnt think they could go much lower after hiring Steve Harvey but then they hired John Salley and made a fool of me. It was a bad move to nix then KKBT personality Dominique DiPrima, but Da Poetess has been trying to hold it down over there for the community.

Consider this. Spanish language radio disc jockeys were the moving force behind the mass numbers of people in attendance at the pro immigration rallies and marches. They told their people where to go, when to be there, what to bring with them, and the people came.

When was the last time John Salley, Big Boy, or Cliff Winston told you to attend a rally in support of an issue that was important to blacks? My point exactly.

Illegal immigration is all everybody is talking about these days, everybody except you know who.

So imagine my own surprise when I found myself tuning in to KFI 640 AM of all stations to get briefed on the latest immigration news. Notoriously known for being Los Angeles conservative talk station, KFI has been the only station in Los Angeles to really address immigration in a language that I can understand, English. And even though I dont always agree with their points of view, I can appreciate a station that is actually willing to at least talk about the issue. It was KFI not a black radio station that first asked blacks how they felt about illegal immigration and had blacks call in to the station to voice their opinions. Go figure?

Someone reading this article is going say, Well, these stations play music. Their focus is not news. That may be true, but if its a black station, we should also be able get our news from them as well. I dont expect KFWB News 980 or KPCC 89.9 FM to do a special broadcast on community news specific to blacks, although it would be nice. I do however expect stations that cater to this community to address the issues that are important to us and provide us with comprehensive news that we can use to educate ourselves.

Who was voted off of American Idol the night before is irrelevant when we are in danger of losing a community like Leimert Park.

Somehow I just dont think a Dallas based radio personality who has no connection to the community is who we need on the airwaves in Los Angeles. Its just a hunch.

# # #

Kennedy Johnson is a black writer who lives somewhere in Los Angeles. Kennedy can be reached at

The State of Black Radio

An instrumental part of the immigrant rights supporters mobilization was the cooperation from Spanish language media. What is black and urban radio doing in Los Angeles to educate and mobilize blacks on the issues? Or should they be educating the community?

Confirmed panelists include radio pioneer Lee Bailey of, KJLH Public Affairs Director Jacquie Stephens, and 100.3 The Beat Community News Director Poetess. Invited guests include Eddie “El Piolin” Sotelo of Radio la Nueva.

Join the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable for a candid discussion on the state of black radio in Los Angeles Saturday, May 6, 2006 at 10 a.m. at the Lucy Florence Coffee House located at 3351 West 43rd Street in Leimert Park. For more information, please call (310) 672-2542.

Saturday, May 6 at 10:00 AM at the Lucy Florence Coffee House.

3351 West 43rd Street in Leimert Park Los Angeles
$5 donation
All Proceeds Benefit the Educational and Community Engagement work of the the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable
501C-3 Non-Profit
information, please call (310) 672-2542 or visit

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