Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Early History Of African American Radio Disc Jockeys

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series on African American radio disc jockeys (DJs).

Part I presents excerpts from various books and other online sources about the early history of African American radio (Black radio).

The Addendum to Part I features biographical information about three African American disc jockeys from the 1930 through the 1960s.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II presents excerpts from various books and other online sources about the use of African American jive talk (Black jive talk) by pioneer Black radio DJs and White radio DJs and by other Black radio DJs.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III provides information about legendary Black DJ Frankie Crocker and includes some examples of his sayings. Part III also features two YouTube sound files of Frankie Crocker's shows.

The content of this post is presented for historical and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all the Black pioneer radio disc jockeys, thanks to other influential Black radio DJs in the United States, and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These excerpts are presented in no particular order. I've assigned numbers for referencing purposes only.
Most of these excerpts are transcribed from Google books. The transcriptions are given without footnotes or other citations excerpt for the book title, author, and page number (if given). No hyperlink is given for those transcriptions. However, a link is given for more information about that featured book.

Additional quotes from a number of these sources given below can be found in Part II of this pancocojams series.

Excerpt #1
From Only Connect: A Cultural History of Broadcasting in the United States By Michele Hilmes [Google books]

for information about this book and its author.

Page 174
"In the late 1940s, African Americans finally found a foothold on radio. A few programs and innovative entrepreneurs gave foretaste of things to come. As William Barlow describes in The Voice Over: The Making Of Black Radio (1999), urban radio pioneers like Jack L. Cooper and Al Benson built up their own radio empires in the 1930s and early 1940s by buying time on local radio stations like WGES, in Chicago, finding sponsors eager to sell to the black community, and playing music that they knew that community wanted to hear. In the early 1930s Cooper had originated a prototype of the disc jockey format on Chicago radio station WSBC. Because “race records”-recordings featuring black musicians playing black-oriented music-were not licensed by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), they provided a virtually free form of programming that, if the DJ owned a record store, could provide profits down the line. Cooper’s All Negro Hour became the first DJ program on the air, and he soon added other DJs playing different varieties of music as he built up his Chicago radio business.

Many other local broadcasters, black and white, would adopt some form of the record-based program. But it is Benson’s crucial addition of the distinctive, hip, jive-talking personality in 1945 that inspired the DJ format….Early black DJs prided themselves on their colorful verbal style- referred to as “rhymin’ and signifyin’”-which was also reflected in the unique names they used on air. WDIA’s staff included Maurice “Hot Rod” Hulbert, A. C. “Moohah” Williams, the Reverend Dwight “Gatemouth” Moore, and Jean “The Queen” Steinberg. America’s only black-owned station, WERD- Atlanta featured “Joltin” John Howard and “Jocky Jack” Gibson, and “Daddy-O” Daily held forth on WAIT -Chicago.

Soon the familiar process of cultural appropriation began to take place, as white DJs adopted the black style and personas on air. This process was assisted by an ASCAP decision to raise its radio fees, prompting the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to start its own music licensing bureau, called Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). To compete with the behemoth ASCAP, BMI began looking for new artists and styles to promote. In the right

Page 175
place at the right time was Alan “Moon Dog” Freed, who started out with a R&B program on Cleveland’s WJW in 1951. Adopting black street slang, playing black music, affecting a black accent, Freed was not the first racial ventriloquist to take to the airwaves (his ancestors can be found in Amos n Andy’s creators), but his “crossover” privilege as a white man would allow him to reach a national audience playing what he began calling rock ‘n’ roll music...

Another equally famous racial ventriloquist was Wolfman Jack on the border blaster XERF in Tijuana. Though he was actually Robert Smith from Brooklyn, New York, Wolfman Jack came to personify the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll in southern California (glorified forever in the movie American Graffiti). The Wolfman learned his technique from the black DJ John R. of WLAC-Nashville, who by that time ran a DJ school to teach white adherents how best to sound like black radio jocks. John R. was not the only one to adopt this tactic: Vernon Winslow of New Orleans trained a whole series of white men to take on his original “Poppa Stoppa” personality over WJMR. The station’s white owners would not allow the original Vernon on the air, but instead paid him to produce acceptable black-sounding white substitutes. Later, Winslow rose to fame himself as Doctor Daddy-O on rival WEZZ...

Excerpt #2
From Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties by Scott Saul
[Google book]

Click for more information about this book.

Page 39
"In New Orleans, white owned radio stations refused to hire a black DJ, but one station did hire Vernon Winslow, a black journalist and professor, to teach its DJs the art of jive and to write and direct a show called Jam, Jive, and Gumbo which had a black-sounding DJ nicknamed Poppa Stoppa. Once in the door, Winslow broke the larger barrier at New Orleans’ WJMR: a few years later, in 1949, he landed his own show as “Doctor Daddy-O” and remained on the air until the 1980s.

After nearly one million black southerners migrated to the North during World War II in search of factory work, the airwaves of cities such as Chicago and New York were thick with the banter of jive. In Chicago, Holmes “Daddy-O” Daylie, after serving as a bartender of the El Grotto Supper Club, became an announcer for the club’s radio in 1948. His bartending gig was then subsumed by a thirty-nine year carrier as one of Chicago’s most prominent black radio personalities, a DJ who addressed the programming abyss between the white pop favored on the radio and the R&B audience on the Southside.”...

Excerpt #3
From African Americans and US Popular Culture by Kevern Verney [Google Books]

Click for more information about this book.

Page 1952
“The rise of Bebop and Rhythm and Blues reflected a growing sense of racial and cultural pride among young African Americans in the 1940s….

Radio underwent a radical transformation as a result of the rise of television. Once the nation’s most popular form of entertainment, from the late 1940s radio audience collapsed…

In order to survive these setbacks radio stations were forced to undertake a rethink of their programming strategy...

An important consequence of that strategy was the emergence of black-appeal radio. Largely ignored by the major radio networks during the golden age of radio in the 1930s, stations now began to seek out black listeners. The reasons for this were commercial rather than more enlightened thinking. The continued migration of African Americans to urban centers in the north and on the west coast meant that many cities in the United States had a large black population living within a small geographical area. This made them an ideal target audience for local radio stations with a limited broadcasting radius.

Moreover, black Americans were one of the groups most likely to be won over by radio. In the 1940s many African Americans were unable to afford the cost of purchasing a television set, but over 90% of urban blacks and 70% of blacks in rural areas, had access to radio. Television entertainment programmes, filled with images of wholesome white families and presenters, also offered little to attract black viewers...

In 1948, the year that national network television was launched, WDIA in Memphis, Tennessee, a city with a 40 per cent black population, became the first radio station to capitalize on the importance of African American listeners. Moving to a black-appeal format the

Page 1953
stations white owners, John Pepper and Bert Ferguson, consciously targeted black audiences. By 1949 WDIA had risen from last to first place in radio ratings….The net profits of the station rose from under $2, 000 in 1948 to $100, 000 in 1957, when Pepper and Ferguson sold the station for $1 million dollars.
Other radio stations heeded the message….
In 1949 there were four radio stations in the United States wiih black-appeal formats. This rose to over 200 by 1954 and some 400 by 1956.

An obvious prerequisite of black-appeal radio was the hiring of more black presenters. Also important was the move to a disc jockey format. This was not only inexpensive, but allowed radio stations to win over black listeners by playing the new R&B records which were shunned by television and more conservative radio stations.

Black disc jockeys playing music by Rhythm and Blues artists became increasingly common across the United States during the 1950s. To give themselves a distinctive airtime identity they often adopted a flamboyant persona, with broadcasting names like “Daddie O’ Daylie” in Chicago, “Doctor Hep Cat” in Austin, Texas, and “Jocko Henderson” and “Lord Fauntleroy” in Philadelphia."...

From African American disc jockeys
"African American radio DJs emerged in the mid 1930s and late 1940s, mostly in cities with large black populations such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit. Jack L. Cooper was on the air 91⁄2 hours each week on Chicago's WCAP and is credited with being one of the first black radio announcers to broadcast gramophone records, including gospel music and jazz, using his own phonograph.[30]

Other prominent DJs included Al Benson on WGES in Chicago, who was the first popular disc jockey to play urban blues and use "black street slang" in his broadcasts, and Jesse "Spider" Burke on KXLW in Saint Louis, James Early on WROX (AM) in Clarkesdale, as well as Ramon Bruce on WHAT (AM) in Philadelphia. Most major U.S. cities operated a full-time rhythm and blues radio station, and as African Americans traveled the country they would spread the word of their favorite radio personalities.[31]"...

[Pancocojams' Editor's note:
I'm only showcasing the DJs who were featured in that article who were active from the 1930s through the 1960s.
From Top 20 Black Radio Jockeys Of All Time
Written By smokey fontaine, 2010
"Throughout American history, Black disc jockeys did more than just spin records. They were, for African-American listeners across the country, the important and influential voices and leaders of their communities.

Here are NewsOne’s top 20 Black radio jockeys of all time, picked for their pioneering spirit and influence.

[DJs who made their name before becoming radio personalities have been excluded, but honorable mentions must go to folks like Steve Harvey, Rickey Smiley, and Yolanda Adams].

"1) Jack L. Cooper
Widely considered to be the first African-American radio announcer, Jack L. Cooper’s “All Negro” radio show aired in the 1930s on Chicago’s WSBC. Cooper was succeeded in Black Chicago radio by very important air personalities like Al Benson — who brought the blues and jazz to Chicago on WGES — and his colleague Herb Kent, who made his mark after his move to WVON, where he was a strong voice for progress during the tumultuous Civil Rights movement.

2) Jack “The Rapper” Gibson
Gibson got his start on the very first Black owned radio station, Atlanta’s WERD, in 1949. Embodying the fast talking style for which he was named, Gibson also went on to create one of the first Black radio trades, “Jack The Rapper,” and the infamous Black music convention of the same name.

4) Jocko Henderson
A legendary disc jockey on the airwaves of Philadelphia and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, Douglas Wendell “Jocko” Henderson was a pioneer of the slick-talking, rapid-fire radio patter that influenced Black and White jockeys nationwide and laid a cultural foundation for “rap” music."

This concludes Part I of this three part series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comment, Dustin T.

    I'm glad I found this information via google search.