Black Radio’s Commitment to the Black Community
By: Angela Greene
Throughout history, Black people both in the Africa and America have has always had a way of communicating messages within our community. It is a fact that African women braided seeds into their hair in patterns to convey messages to each other about escape routes in case slavecatchers caught them. That tradition traveled through the middle passage with those caught and brought to America as slaves. Those same braided messages were used in America by slaves who planned their escape to freedom.
Generations later and much more recently, by 1949, the first Black radio station, WERD in Atlanta, Georgia’s Sweet Auburn district went live, and you can best believe they broadcast information that was specific to our community.
At the height of the Civil Rights movement, Blacks had to be a bit more discreet in their manner of conveying messages out of fear that the churches where they met for mass meetings to disseminate information would be bombed. Despite the constant threats of violence, Blacks found a way to communicate with our neighbors on both sides of the railroad tracks about marches, rallies, sit-ins, and protest that were taking place, and of course the ever-present threats of violence to us and our community.
After the Civil Rights movement, we slowly began to see more faces on television that looked like ours and hear voices on other radio stations that sounded like someone we might know. The mainstream media was reluctant, and some people might argue is still reluctant to add us to their talent pools.
By the 1980s, Black Entertainment Television (BET) became popular for airing Black News, Black Music Videos, and Black Movies we might not otherwise see. We were evolving in our methods to communicate with our community.
Now there are several Black television networks like Aspire, Fuse, and TV ONE, and just as few Black-owned radio stations like the once WERD, we still recognize the value of having our broadcast told from our perspective.
These days there are countless white-owned radio conglomerates that cater to Black audiences with Black personalities. For us, this connection to our community is important, to hear news told with passion from the Black perspective.
As a longtime radio broadcaster, I do not think I fully understood the power and value of telling our own stories until I began working at a Black radio station with a rich history of serving the Black community. WAOK, is a White-owned, Black radio station that has served the Atlanta community for over 50 years. Although the ownership and format has changed several times, the focus on the Black community has remained. WAOK is well-known for its continuous service to
the Black community. The news and information we share today is just as important as it was over 50 years ago.
There is a powerful bond between a Black radio or television station and the audience it serves, because we know that we can trust the information that we receive, and we know that what we share is always to benefit the greatest good of the Black community.
One of the greatest powers of Black media and the Black community is its ability to create change or a call to action, which are both crucial.
Such as when immigrants open stores in the heart of our community and then turn around and disrespect the very people who patronize their stores. Or when white police officer’s frequent Black neighborhoods to make illegal arrest of Black people for being Black simply to harass them to meet their quotas.
You will not hear those same stories told with the same depth and the same breath as they are from the mouths of Black reporters on Black radio and televisions stations who realize the stories, they tell could easily be about themselves.
The Black community has always been a powerful community no matter how hard others have tried to diminish us and our value.
For example, the power, the responsibility, and the allegiance of the Black community was on full display during Ahmaud Arbery’s trial when White defense attorney Kevin Gough announced in court, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here.”
What followed was a call to action to all Black pastors within earshot to descend on Brunswick, Georgia just as they did during the old Civil Rights movement because presently, we are in a new Civil Rights movement. That was the power and strength of community, the Black community.
The point is the Black community has always had a responsibility to itself to share news and information for our betterment and survival. Whether we communicate on a white-owned radio or television station that supports a Black format or a Black-owned station that undoubtedly caters to its community, our messages told to us, by us is part of a legacy of supporting and sharing with our Black community whether it is in Africa, America, or beyond.