Gary Byrd Has Hope for Future of Black Radio

Mary Alice Miller
By Mary Alice Miller February 27, 2014 14:54 Updated

Gary Byrd Has Hope for Future of Black Radio

Pg4garybyrd2On the same date of the announcement that WBLS and WLIB were sold (yet again), this time to Emmis Communications for $131 million, Gary Byrd spoke of the historical roots of Black radio and its legacy at Historic First Church of God in Christ in Crown Heights.

“The roots of Black radio in the 1960s, with the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, was a landscape that had been set up for the kind of explosion [in Buffalo] and all across the country – socially speaking – by how long we had been kept out. Radio was just one [example],” said Byrd. “The Golden Era of radio in the 1920s was a medium that kept all Black technicians out. As radio began to explode all across the country in terms of radio stations in different cities and the jobs [created] – engineering, sales, marketing – there were very few Black faces behind the scenes.”

But what they couldn’t stop during the 1920s and 30s was the talent of Black people, such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Paul Robeson, said Byrd. “Their talent was so compelling.”

Byrd explained that in that era (pre-television) if you were going to get any positive image of Black people at all, that image was going to come through radio. “But coon shows were all over the dial. The coon show was ‘their’ own concept and invention. They liked it so much that they had to teach Black people how to speak like the Black people ‘they’ were thinking about. If you couldn’t do the coon thing, you lost the job,” said Byrd. “Because it was radio, you couldn’t see the actor, so they started finding white actors who could make the coon sound that they liked and play the Black parts and distort the language and impressions of who we were as a people. The Black actor or actress couldn’t get a job playing a Black person.”

This atmosphere was at work decade by decade, Byrd said. But things were about to change.

Byrd said he was born in the year that Black-owned radio (WBRD) went on the air – 1949. Jack the Rapper (Jockey Jack Gibson, one of the original 13 nationally known disk jockeys) was among its personnel. Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference – led by Martin Luther King, Jr. – was downstairs from a Black-owned radio station. When MLK wanted to make his announcements to the city about different mobilizations that were happening, all Jack the Rapper had to do was take the microphone, put it on a long cord and drop it out the window down to King in his office.

“This gave Dr. King an understanding of what the general media in the 1940s and 50s didn’t know or understand – the power of Black radio,” said Byrd. “They had strategy, tactics, plans and communications. They used Black radio in different cities to help them mobilize.”

In 1967, Dr. King praised a group from the National Association of Radio Announcers and told them the Civil Rights Movement could not have made the progress that it was making without the help and support of Black radio.

Meanwhile, Jacko Henderson became famous by developing a style that was a precursor to rap and created the Hit Kit which promoted top 10 hits in a particular city introduced by the top Black DJ in that city. Ultimately, Jacko created a network of DJs across the country.

By the 1960s and 1970s, Black music companies and Black-owned radio “became the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement,” said Byrd. “You cannot hear message songs today and not hear the Civil Rights Movement,” which was then taken to the economic level with Black-owned record labels and music publishing and production to control the economics.

There was “the dynamic of radio and records and brothers and sisters who understood how to bring those two elements together to create economic power” that “on one level what looked like a Civil Rights Movement to change legislation for us to have rights to do various things also was the ability for us to have economic power as well,” said Byrd. “Black radio had – and still has today – the unique opportunity to be the device that ultimately was able to operate from what I like to call collective consciousness. You can play something or say something on Black radio and you are speaking to us simultaneously.”

Recalling a meeting he had with the late Percy Sutton, who owned  Inner City Broadcasting, Byrd said that Sutton told him he had the infrastructure, but he needed content. Byrd had the content.

 

According to Byrd, the future of Black radio is bright. With digital capabilities and smart phones, the sky’s the limit.

Gary Byrd Has Hope for Future of Black RadioBy Mary Alice MillerOn the same date of the announcement that WBLS and WLIB were sold (yet again), this time to Emmis Communications for $131 million, Gary Byrd spoke of the historical roots of Black radio and its legacy at Historic First Church of God in Christ in Crown Heights. “The roots of Black radio in the 1960s, with the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, was a landscape that had been set up for the kind of explosion [in Buffalo] and all across the country – socially speaking – by how long we had been kept out. Radio was just one [example],” said Byrd. “The Golden Era of radio in the 1920s was a medium that kept all Black technicians out. As radio began to explode all across the country in terms of radio stations in different cities and the jobs [created] – engineering, sales, marketing – there were very few Black faces behind the scenes.”But what they couldn’t stop during the 1920s and 30s was the talent of Black people, such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Paul Robeson, said Byrd. “Their talent was so compelling.” Byrd explained that in that era (pre-television) if you were going to get any positive image of Black people at all, that image was going to come through radio. “But coon shows were all over the dial. The coon show was ‘their’ own concept and invention. They liked it so much that they had to teach Black people how to speak like the Black people ‘they’ were thinking about. If you couldn’t do the coon thing, you lost the job,” said Byrd. “Because it was radio, you couldn’t see the actor, so they started finding white actors who could make the coon sound that they liked and play the Black parts and distort the language and impressions of who we were as a people. The Black actor or actress couldn’t get a job playing a Black person.”This atmosphere was at work decade by decade, Byrd said. But things were about to change. Byrd said he was born in the year that Black-owned radio (WBRD) went on the air – 1949. Jack the Rapper (Jockey Jack Gibson, one of the original 13 nationally known disk jockeys) was among its personnel. Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference – led by Martin Luther King, Jr. – was downstairs from a Black-owned radio station. When MLK wanted to make his announcements to the city about different mobilizations that were happening, all Jack the Rapper had to do was take the microphone, put it on a long cord and drop it out the window down to King in his office.“This gave Dr. King an understanding of what the general media in the 1940s and 50s didn’t know or understand – the power of Black radio,” said Byrd. “They had strategy, tactics, plans and communications. They used Black radio in different cities to help them mobilize.” In 1967, Dr. King praised a group from the National Association of Radio Announcers and told them the Civil Rights Movement could not have made the progress that it was making without the help and support of Black radio. Meanwhile, Jacko Henderson became famous by developing a style that was a precursor to rap and created the Hit Kit which promoted top 10 hits in a particular city introduced by the top Black DJ in that city. Ultimately, Jacko created a network of DJs across the country. By the 1960s and 1970s, Black music companies and Black-owned radio “became the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement,” said Byrd. “You cannot hear message songs today and not hear the Civil Rights Movement,” which was then taken to the economic level with Black-owned record labels and music publishing and production to control the economics.There was “the dynamic of radio and records and brothers and sisters who understood how to bring those two elements together to create economic power” that “on one level what looked like a Civil Rights Movement to change legislation for us to have rights to do various things also was the ability for us to have economic power as well,” said Byrd. “Black radio had – and still has today – the unique opportunity to be the device that ultimately was able to operate from what I like to call collective consciousness. You can play something or say something on Black radio and you are speaking to us simultaneously.”Recalling a meeting he had with the late Percy Sutton, who owned  Inner City Broadcasting, Byrd said that Sutton told him he had the infrastructure, but he needed content. Byrd had the content. According to Byrd, the future of Black radio is bright. With digital capabilities and smart phones, the sky’s the limit.

Mary Alice Miller
By Mary Alice Miller February 27, 2014 14:54 Updated
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet!

Let me tell You a sad story ! There are no comments yet, but You can be first one to comment this article.

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*