Saturday, September 22, 2007

Black Radio Days

A post on the Mes Deaux Cents blog was the inspiration for this one. She talked about her love of radio and working in the business. It's generated a lot of comments from people like myself who fondly remember the pioneering deejays in their hometowns and got me thinking once again about that part of my childhood.

Radio, especially Black radio has a special place not only for me but in the hearts of our people. As someone who grew up around radio stations, cut a promo commercial for my dad's AM drive time show when I was in the first grade and another one years later, I saw that love firsthand.

Black radio entertained us, informed us, raised money, helped us get organized and gave us a voice. It's rightfully credited by no less than Dr. King and others with being the engine that powered the 50's and 60's Civil Rights Movement.

Because the deejay has an exalted place in our community. they were considered leaders and opinion makers. The movie Talk To Me, in which Don Cheadle depicted the life of legendary jock Ralph Waldo 'Petey' Greene who was on Washington DC's WOL-AM during the 60's and 70's, illustrates the ability of Black deejays to shape community public opinions. It was a power that J. Edgar Hoover and others were so afraid of they actually monitored many Black deejays from the late 60's through the mid 70's.

It's no accident that when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, the first victims of the rush to buy stations in many markets were Black ones. They were part of small radio station networks or had individual owners. When the Clear Channels with their megabucks started calling, they cashed out. If it weren't for Cathy Hughes and Radio One Inc, Black radio as we know it wouldn't exist.

The history of Black Radio is thankfully preserved on the Indiana University campus in its Archives of African-American Music & Culture. There is a section of it that covers Black radio that has not only my dad's memorabilia, but a collection of the late Jack Gibson's Mello Yello magazines and other legendary deejays as well. I'm planning on taking a trip up the road to the IU-Bloomington campus soon and checking out all that radio history.

But it was interesting having a ringside seat for all of that. I got to meet various peeps ranging from politicians to music business people. I got to see some really cool concerts, collect a vast array of promo tee-shirts and have a cutting edge record collection. One of the first concerts I was allowed to attend by myself was a Parliament-Funkadelic one in which Bootsy was part of the tour. I also kept up with the news and happenings in the business by reading my dad's Mello Yello's when he was done with them.

There was one summer I got to tag along for a Jackson 5 concert and actually meet the Jacksons. I have an autographed picture from that encounter of me and Michael Jackson that won me much cash in junior high and high school. ;)

During my sophomore year there was a KYOK Night at the Ice Capades at the Summit in which my brother and I were added to an ice skating race with KYOK's deejays. I spent a lot of weekends on the Galleria's ice rink and in the process learned how to ice skate quite well. I won, but my main concern during the whole thing was not only beating my brother, but not falling in front of 17,000 people because I would have definitely heard about it at school the next morning.

Thanks to Cathy Hughes and others, the traditions and proud history of Black radio have been preserved for the 21st Century. It's cool to know that the kids now growing up will get the same joys out of flipping on their radio and listening to broadcast content that reflects their culture as we did.

It's also comforting to know that Black radio will still be around to help us mobilize our people to fight for justice, as was proven by Thursday's events in Jena, LA as well.


Mes Deaux Cents said...

Hi Monica,

I enjoyed your post. Reading it made me wonder if we and other Black bloggers are becoming the "Black radio" of the new century.

So many Black bloggers have made such an impact bringing otherwise ignored issues to light, Dunbar Village, Jena6, Stepha Henry and so many other things.

The first radio station I ever worked was origionally started with less than $10,000. Something that was in reach of many people. Now obviously individuals can't afford to get a start in over the air radio. So maybe Blogging is the new radio?

Monica Roberts said...

You're right Ms. Deaux.
Originally I started my blog because I wanted a way to address issues I either didn't have enough space to cover in the monthly column, wanted a way to cover breaking news, and continue to hone my writing skills.

I discovered that I loved doing it. When I did a Google search on something unrelated a few months laer and discovered that one of my articles was on there, it got my attention and made me realize that a lot of people were paying attention to my 'little old blog'. So did the increasing number of people linking to my blog posts. I've also had the pleasure of making friends with a few bloggers that I hope to meet one day.

Yes, bloggers have a gift and a power that we need to use wisely and thoughtfully, as Dr. King mentined in that NARA speech I linked to. We influence opinion.

The Jena 6 issue is one that so called white 'A list bloggers' wouldn't touch. Race is another issue they're squeamish about. And as an African-American blogger who also happens to be transgender, I'm helping people understand that transgder peeps are far more complex than our Religious Right opponents make us out to be.

Black bloggers, like black radio, broaden the conversation.