Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mister C

Carl Henson is almost too arcane to profile.  He was on the big 1450 WOL-AM used the on air name Mr. C I read of him first in he book Sounds in the Dark: All-Night Radio in American Life. Author Michael C. Keith mentioned him only in passing with a single sentence: "Also in town was "Mr. C. Carl Henson at the Big 1450.  He was really popular with the All-night crowd."  He in turn was quoting Rick Wright. (Rick in turn is just listed among the contributors as a scholar.)  A short article in the Washington Post in 1998 also made a passing reference. It was exactly the kind of thing that got me interested.
"The two black AM radio stations, WOL and WOOK, were driven by personality jocks-the Nighthawk, Sonny Jim Kelso, Mr. C., Soul Poppa the Be-boppa, Big Bill Haywood, Leon "The Lover" Isaacs and others-men who were almost as big as the stars whose music they played."
Mr. C  was first on 990 WANT-AM  in the 1950s.  That station signed on in 1951. It was a Rhythm and Blues station in Richmond. The calls reputedly were an acronym for "With All Negro Talent". In the 1960 edition of The Radio Yearbook they advertised "Most ears are tuned to Richmond's most popular independent station. Don't overlook the negro market." This was their demographic. The same issue advertised their specialty programming as including 84 hours of "negro" programming. Mr. C was in the right place at the right time. It wasn't the only all-black station, but it was the only all-black station in Richmond. Even nationally they were rare breed indeed. Ken Kelsey of WOL-AM wrote the following in a 1970 Billboard article:
"Many people say that R&B Music will fade out in a matter of time or end up being psychedelic or hard rock  I really cannot beleive this basically because R&B or black music has been here so long and has made such a dent in the record market that it will live for many, many, many  more years. They may change the name of it, but it will still be soul-country-church-music."
It was an insightful moment for the trade magazine. Today we have several formats targeting black audiences: Urban, Urban AC, Urban Oldies, Rhythmic oldies, and even the more recent "Hurban" stations have a signifigant African-American demo. There have even been urban oriented talk stations. Kelsey was dead right. But he was wrong about Rhythm & Blues. It was diluted into rock n' roll, and over time we've now come to call it all oldies. Nothing lasts forever.

Sadly that's  all I know about Carl Henson. He was on two different station both in the Virginia area, both in the 1950s. Where he came from and where he went... that remains a mystery.