Monday, September 27, 2010

The First Black Radio Announcer (Part 1)

The first black radio station owner was Jesse B. Blayton Sr. in 1949. But he was not the first black man in the radio industry by any stretch. A lot of the obvious answers are wrong. While Vernon Winslow was on WMJR-AM, he was programming, never on the mic. He didn't announce until he was on air in New Orleans as Dr Daddy-O in 1950. The earliest all-black program I have ever found that was "A Harlem Family" which aired on on WMCA in 1935.  But the earliest black radio announcer is usually credited to one of two credible contenders: Joe Bostic Sr. or Jack Cooper.  You've probably never heard either name. But both of them were radio announcers before Jackie Robinson was a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. More here.

Bostic is mostly remembered for his sports broadcasting. In 1947, he became the first black to be licensed as a ringside announcer.  In 1972 he became the main ringside boxing announcer for Madison Square Garden. But before all that he did radio.  He was born in March 21st 1908 in Mt. Holly, New Jersey.  His parents did right by him and sent him to college.  He had to pay his own way so he boxed under an assumed name to make money.  He had won letters in boxing at Atlantic City High School. After he graduated from Morgan State University, in Baltimore Maryland he stopped getting punched in the head and started DJ'ing a gospel program at WCBM-AM in Baltimore. He was the first black announcer at the station.

He wrote for a black newspaper the Baltimore Afro-American. After he married in 1930 he relocated his new family to New york so he could go to Columbia University gad school.  On the side he began to announce baseball games for the negro league games. It was how he began to segue into his sports career.  But The Encyclopedia of American gospel music calls him "The Dean of Gospel Disk Jockeys." Where does that fit in?  In 1937 he started hosting a program on WMCA-AM called Tales From Harlem. In 1939 he crossed the street to become host talent shows on WNCW-AM. (They became WLIB-AM in 1942.) In the book The Golden Age of Gospel, Horace Clarence Boyer got the WNCW call letters wrong, noting it as WCMW but he boldly described Bostic in the following words:
"...New York City's Joe Bostic could ensure a career by playing and commenting on certain recordings. While other DJ's ruled the South,  Joe Bostic ruled New York City."
He stayed at WLIB until 1963 having started another gospel program the Gospel Train in 1959. But he was slowly spending more and more of his productive time promoting gospel music. He continued to work in radio and gospel promotion into the 1970s. He even became the first black man to book a show at Carnegie hall.  That is a lot of firsts for one man.  He died in 1988. More here. George L. Hiss wrote the definitive book on him: The Joe Bostic Story: First Black American Radio Announcer. But definitively George L. Hiss is wrong.

...Continued in Part 2!