Friday, August 18, 2006

Black Man Buys Radio Station

When black businessman Jesse B. Blayton Sr. purchased 860 WERD-AM in Atlanta in October of 1949, he became the first African-American owner of a radio station. There were already many black oriented radio stations in the south, they just had white owners. More here.

Blayton came in and replaced the all-white staff with black announcers. He installed his son J.B. Junior as GM, and imported a veteran Chicago DJ Jack Gibson to be the PD. It was Gibson who instituted a daily news broadcast, using information from Atlanta’s black newspaper, and he also brought in an Atlanta University professor to do news commentary. Paul E. X. Brown came over as a part time announcer from WEAS-AM and though he only worked there for six years, he kept a lot of souvenirs and has recently become the main source for airchecks from these early years.

Though they were only a 1,000 watt daytimer, Gibson became Atlanta's most popular DJ within 6 years. Martin Luther Kings Southern Christian Leadership Conference had offices in the same building. It has been said that King would bang on the ceiling with a broomstick when he wanted to make a public statement. But that sounds like crappola to me. By the late 1960s, the fulltime stations fulltime WAOK-AM and WIGO-AM had really whittled away their audience, and WERD was at the end of it's winning streak.

Blayton sold WERD-AM in 1968 and remained active in community affairs until his death. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. Today it has the calls WEAC-AM under Beasly and it runs a Gospel format. The original Price Masonic building on Auburn Avenue that once housed WERD still stands today. More here.