Friday, September 20, 2013

The all-Black Airstaff at WMRY

 The date is up for debate but some sources claim that the New Orleans radio station 600 WMRY may have had an all Black on air staff. I read a web reference that claimed that it was the year 1949, the book Perspectives of Black Popular Culture by Harry B. Shaw dates it to 1950. If it was true, it was almost certainly the first. Louisiana's own Off Beat Magazine refers to it as having an integrated air-staff. I find that claim more plausible be the date 1949 or 1950. But in April of 1953, Jet magazine claimed they had "all-negro announcers;" so I file this as plausible.

It was probably the success of black-oriented programming at KOWL-AM in Los Angeles and WDIA-AM in Memphis in 1948, and WERD-AM in Atlanta which inspired the white management of WMRY to try a R&B format and begin hiring black DJs. Other stations made the flip but didn't hire an all black air staff, stations like WEFC-AM in 1952 in Miami, WCIN-AM in Cincinnati in 1953, and New York City's WNJR-AM in 1954.

One the early hires at WMRY was Tex Stephens. He had a R&B program at 1230 WJBW-AM which broadcast from the Gladstone Hotel. On air he was "Mr. Cool."  The station was all-white and he broadcast from Hayes' Chicken Shack. He moved to WMRY in 1949 and started the show “Tipping With Tex.” More here and here. Later they even hired Vernon Winslow Dr Daddy-O himself.  In 1950 they also hired James Booker at the age of 11 to play piano on a gospel program. (This was long before he had the limp and the eye patch.) That is not to ignore Larry McKinley Ernie-the-Whip Bringier, Delores Estelle or Laura Lane. Each of them will have their own post eventually. The line up in that era was amazing.

The radio landscape began to change around WMRY. The station 800 WBOK-AM signed on in 1951, as the second integration station in New Orleans. In 1957, the station moved from the Louisiana Life Insurance Building on Dryades Street, to Tulane Avenue, where it stayed until the 1980s. In 1958, 600 AM changed calls from WMRY to WYFE, and the juice increased to 1000 watts but still as a day timer. But the R&B format moved to the 1000 watt 24/hr station 940 WYLD-AM.Previously it was WTPS-AM a station owned by the Time-Picayune Newspaper and Mutual affiliate. Today 940 WYLD-AM is a gospel station and 98.5 WYLD-FM is an Urban Contemporary station. Both are owned by Clear Channel. Sigh.