Radio isn’t what it was back in the 50s and 60s. Today you have so many different options from terrestrial radio to Apple Music, online radio, podcasts, and downloadable stations like TuneIn and iHeart.
Celebrating Black History Month, Urban Media Today will profile the Civil Rights Movement and how it crossed paths with the first black-owned radio station in the US.
Article retrieved from CNN.com and written by Yasmin Amer
The building was home to the first black-owned radio station in the United States — WERD — and it was the medium that King used to broadcast his Sunday sermons then, later, announcements of his civil rights marches. The station was a fixture of Atlanta’s African-American community. It offered a rare public venue for black jazz and blues performers during the Jim Crow era, and amplified the voices of King and other African-American leaders as they encouraged black citizens to vote.
In the decades that followed the tumultuous 1950s and ’60, the building that had been WERD went through the incarnations of any professional building in a changing city, finally serving its community as a hair salon during the 1980s and ’90s. That — a hair salon — was what hairdresser Ricci de Forest thought he was getting when he signed a lease in 2004.
What he knew, though, was that it was not just any hair salon; it was one of only two “Madam C.J. Walker” hair salons left in the country. Named for an African-American beauty pioneer who made a fortune from licensing her salon chain and selling beauty products in the early 20th century, the salon and the building housing it had the appeal of that historical niche.
“I wanted to attach her legacy to my business,” says history buff de Forest.
It wasn’t until about two years later that he discovered his new salon had a much broader and deeper place in African-American history, as the birthplace of WERD and as the amplifier of King’s words to a community and to a nation.
The discovery was met with a sense of jubilation mixed with disappointment. De Forest didn’t understand why space hadn’t been preserved in the years before he came to Atlanta from Cleveland.
“The burden of the responsibility hit me like a sucker punch. This is a heavy responsibility,” he says.
In 1949, Atlanta University Professor Jesse B. Blayton Sr. bought WERD for $50,000. Although it was only allowed to operate from sunrise to sunset and was allocated limited frequency power, it quickly became a staple to Atlanta’s black community.