Thursday, July 28, 2011


Some claim that WLOK 1340AM in Memphis was the second radio station in the Memphis area to air black programming. That's a little dubious, but when it was purchased in 1977 by Art Gilliam's company Gilliam Communications, it certifiably became the first black owned radio station in Memphis. The gap between those two dates is certainly worth talking about. There was even a documentary released about WLOK-AM in 2002. More here.

If you read the version on their website, the 1,000 watt  WLOK-AM rose to prominence in the decline of WDIA-AM in the late 1950s. The truth is that WLOK adopted it's all-black format on June 18, 1954. But that is the same year that WDIA bumped up the power from 50k watts daytime / 5k nighttime. They covered such a large area there was no real competition. WLOK was a local Memphis station, and they made the best of it.

And another side note, they still under the calls WBCR until 1956, and on the 1480 frequency until 1963.  (It's engineering piffle to an anthropologist, but this is Arcane Radio Trivia. We use real numbers here.)  The truth is that WLOK didn't over-take WDIA in ratings until the mid 1960s. DJ's like Dick "Cane" Cole were tied to artists like Rufus Thomas through alliances with WLOK. members of their bands worked at it's record store. (That odd WLOK logo below is for a football a franchise which operated in 1974 and 1975.)

Their other claim is more certifiable "The station and its personalities were a major source of musical support and information during the trying early '60s, the sanitation-worker strikes and the murder of Dr. King." The studios of WLOK were only a few blocks away from the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Their ties were cultural and political, and they were certainly involved as a local news source.  But, King never set foot in their radio station. [Source]  Their relationship with Jesse Jackson was much tighter. His organization, Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) broadcast it's meetings live on WLOK starting in 1972.  It probably helped that a few of the founding members of the Operation PUSH were DJs at WLOK. Operation PUSH continues to air today and is the longest-running show on the station. The organization became Rainbow Push in 1996 when the National Rainbow Coalition merged with PUSH.  strangely on their modern website the 1380 WAOK-AM  logo is shown on the front page with no mention of WLOK.

Another notable WLOK DJ was Hunky Dory. I should first note that "Hunky Dory" was actually a couple different DJs, much as Poppa Stoppa was. The Hunky Dory Show was a trademark of the station. Ruben Washington played the role first and Roland Porter took over in 1964. It was programs like these and their connection to Stax records that kept their programming hot.  The co-owner of Stax, Al Bell, even had his own show. They were fully immersed in the Memphis sound. But the Soul sound didn't last forever. WLOK-AM dropped the soul, and the rock n' roll and went all gospel in the mid 1980s. In 1997 the station was recognized by the Tennessee Historical Commission as a Historical Landmark.