Thursday, May 24, 2012

Floyd Brown wins

To say that in the mid-1960s racism was still a problem in radio would be a gross understatement. A black DJ had trouble getting work, and even more trouble getting paid fairly if he did. Floyd A. Brown had all those problems and overcame them to become the first African-American hired by a major network. More here.

Brown was born in Texas in 1930,and moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University in the 1947.  If you're wondering why he went all the way to Chicago for school,. please note that Northwestern was an integrated school ie not segregated. He worked as a porter at the Drake Hotel to pay for school. While in high school he'd considered becoming an engineer. In Chicago his daily commute to the Drake, he went past the the Radio Institute of Chicago. In 1951 he finally enrolled; he took classes in both engineering and announcing. 

He got a job that year at 1410 WRMN-AM in Elgin, IL as an engineer. But as is the case, engineers are often expected to step into any job when someone doesn't show up. Eventually he was promoted to chief engineer. He expected a raise, but the General Manager said no. The GM was exploited Brown's lack of career mobility to save money, maybe not because he was a racist, but at least because he was a greedy bastard. This pissed off Floyd Brown big time. In an interview in a 1999 Courier News interview he still had choice words to describe the incident:
 "...I was furious enough to strike out in anger... He did that because he knew I couldn't go anywhere because I was black. I got a lump in my throat so big I could hardly swallow. I went out because the tears were coming out. I sat there and I labored with it and I thought, 'I'll show those sons of bitches.'"
Brown left WRMN to help start up WYNR, a Chicago rock station but Brown didn't even like rock n' roll. it gave him a headache. What he liked was doubling his salary.  But knowing that, it's no surprise he in 1965 to go to WMAQ-AM. That was historical, that was when he became the first African-American hired by a major network because WMAQ was NBC.

Then WGN-AM called in 1971 and made Brown an offer for a Sunday jazz show. He held down that slot for more than a decade.He stayed with the station for almost thirty years. Floyd Brown did a number of different programs. h ehad an afternoon show that some aircheck lists even categorize inexplicably as 'country'.  In 1970 Billboard magazine listed his shift as weekdays 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM and 1:00 AM to 6:00 AM. and he was still doing that damn Saturday shift!  When was this guy sleeping?

From there he moved to WGN in 1971. He became a sports anchor for WGN-TV. But on 720 WGN-AM he also had a show Sunday nights 11:00 PM to Midnight focused on financial news and investments. That program was followed by his 2-hour jazz program. He interviewed jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton. I've never found an aircheck, but my gut feeling is that it was a bit more of a standards show than a jazz show.

In 1985 started as the host of WTTW-TV’s “30 Good Minutes" A PBS program on personal faith and inspiration. More here. When he finally retired in 1999 he was still doing a program Sunday and Monday nights on WGN and the program at WTTW. Still kicking today he dedicates his time to entrepreneurship and civic organizations.