Friday, March 27, 2009

James Brown is the JB in WJBE

In November 1967 James Brown purchased 1430 WGYW-AM in Knoxville, TN. It was his first radio station and the validation of himself as a radioman. It was certainly not his intention to be a radio man, by all reports he was a bit of an absentee landlord. But he did change the call letters to WJBE to reflect his initials cementing the link forever. It was the start to "Brown Family Broadcasting."

In January of 1968 he changed the format of WJBE to Rhythm & Blues. It's new brand name was "Raw Soul." He bought more stations 1480 WRDW-AM in Augusta, GA; and 1360 WEBB-AM in Baltimore, MD. He was a big fan of radio, he was the ban that convinced Bob Bailey to found WZZA-AM in Tuscumbia, AL.

WEBB-AM also went the R&B route with DJs like Kitty Holdman Broady, Robert Dell Pinkney, and Rockin' Robin. Robin had been at WEBB in the 50s and left for WWIN-AM in 1967. He came back for the godfather of soul. It was after all now the first black-owned radio station in Baltimore.

Brown bought WRDW in his home town, Augusta GA in 1969. It was there he hired DJ Marion Cook who was still broadcasting in Augusta until 2003, almost 80 years old. On air he was known as "Mal your pal." In 1970 the murder of a black man by police at a Augusta jail set off riots. It was at WRDW that Brown took to the airwaves with the segregationist Governor Lester Maddox to cool out rioters. Rioters trusted Brown and the fires and looting stopped, the national guard got to home home. He sold off WGUS in the late 1970s. 1480 in Augusta is now WGUS and plays Southern Gospel these days under Beasley Broadcasting. The WRDW calls moved to 1630.The man that was all business in the 1960s was all booze and speed in the 1970s. By 1977 he was in debt and had racked up contempt of court charges in Baltimore. the station wasn't doing well and James wasn't covering the bills. WEBB went into receivership under the former owner Lean Back who sold it to Dorothy Brunson. She had been a controller at WWRL-AM in New York. WEBB stayed on air and black-owned.

His legacy lived on a couple decades longer though. His daughter continued to run Brown Family Broadcasting. She bought the CP for 94.7 WAAW-FM from bay Communications in Williston, SC. In 1995 it launched with a classic R&B format called "Boss." She sold it in 2002 and new owner Franky Neely changed the format to Gospel.

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