Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Become a sustaining member and you could win a trip to Barbados!
Updates about new and special programming and changes to NHPR's program schedule.

Special Programming: Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was


Join NHPR on Saturday, June 12, from 6 to 7 p.m. for the first part of a six-part series Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was. First aired in 1996, the specials, from our partners at PRX, have a focus on the story of radio’s role in the 20th-century transformation of the African American community. Now, 25 years later, the specials have been reformatted into six hours of programming

Legendary singer and entertainer Lou Rawls, who passed away in 2006, served as the original host of the program; his narration still guides the program, but with the addition of new narration from original producer Jacquie Gales Webb. Through interviews, historical airchecks, comedy, drama, and music, the series reveals the remarkable correlation between milestones of Black radio programming and African American culture. Among other topics, the series explores the role of radio during the Great Migration of Blacks from the South, trailblazing Black DJs and stations, and Black radio during the civil rights movement.

The series tells the story through six episodes:

June 12, 6-7 p.m., Episode 1: In the Beginning and Pride & Enlightenment

The series opens by traveling to the 1920s to hear how Black Americans fought for space on radio airwaves. Then, we hear about programs in the 1940s that dramatized issues and concerns in the Black community.

June 19, 6-7 p.m., Episode 2: Jack Cooper & Al Benson and WDIA, The Goodwill Station

The second episode focuses on Jack Cooper's popular program in Chicago (debuted in 1929), where he helped to pioneer the DJ format and was the first to air news and sports coverage for Black audiences. Al Benson came to Chicago from Mississippi in the '30s and gave voice to the culture of the street. In the second part of the hour, we head to Memphis, Tennessee, where WDIA's earliest announcers included B.B. King. WDIA was the first station to have all-Black on-air talent.

June 26, 6-7 p.m., Episode 3: Rappers & Rhymers and Sounding Black

This episode delves into Black music from the 1940s onward, when legendary Black deejays created unique, ear-catching styles.

July 3, 6-7 p.m., Episode 4: A Woman's Touch and In Control

Episode four focuses on women – both on and off the air – and how they have had substantial roles in the development and power of Black radio, including African American station ownership.

July 10, 6-7 p.m., Episode 5: Civil Rights and Let's Have Church

This episode takes a look at the 50s and 60s, when Black DJs did more than just play music - they were among the first messengers of the civil rights movement. In the second half of the hour, we hear about the importance of religious broadcasting to the Black community.

July 17, 6-7 p.m., Episode 6: Music and More Music and Less Talk

In the first half of the hour of the last episode, we hear how African American musicians found more acceptance as major record companies recognized the crossover appeal of Black music. In the second half of the hour, we hear about how AM radio lost its popularity to FM and how big personalities survived and prospered.

NOTE: Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was, was hosted by Lou Rawls and produced for Radio Smithsonian in 1996, by Jacquie Gales Webb, with associate producers Sonja Williams and Lex Gillespie.

[These series will air in the spot previously occupied by To The Best of Our Knowledge, which listeners can still hear in the Best of Public Radio spot on Saturdays at 10 p.m.]

For details on all of NHPR’s on-air program schedule, click here.

To learn more about NHPR’s programs, click here.

Aytaj Ismayilova is NHPR’s digital membership associate. She worked as a marketing intern for CatchFire creative agency and as a public relations intern for a local Concord communications agency Louis Karno & Co Communication.
Related Content

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.