Thursday, September 18, 2014

First Black Female Radio DJ

When it comes to claims to historical firsts, I favor narrow claims over early claims.The earlier the claim the fewer print sources will be available to corroborate the claim. Furthermore, narrow claims are generally easier to confirm because of the delimited nature of the search. In short, narrow claims are more credible. Such is the case of Mary Dee Dudley the first female, African-American radio disc jockey. Her claim has so many references I consider it nearly indisputable. More here.

So I'll begin with the best evidence I have: her obituary printed in the Pittsburgh Press Newspaper March 18tg, 1964. The text plainly reads "is the first negro woman ever to have a daily radio show" It does not Plainly state that she is the first female, African-American radio disc jockey. But it's close. The Post-Gazette made a similar statement to Mary's title in October of 2013 describing that she " broke race and gender barriers..." In May of 1985 Ebony Jr. called her "the nations first black female DJ" and they put the year of that achievement as 1948.  The Pittsburgh History Journal agrees. More here. But my favorite source is an interview with her brother, Mal Goode with the Teaneck, NJ Public Library in 1984. [SOURCE]
"My sister, at that time, played records. She had a gospel program. They called it a gospel hour. No one was doing news on this program. She played records primarily and she, too, in no time, from 1948 until 1950, August of 48 until the beginning of 1950, she built a terrific following called the Mary D Program. Her name was Dudley, the Mary D Program and it became well known allover the country."
1948 was a key year as that was the year that 860 WHOD-AM signed on in Homestead, PA. It changed calls to WAMO-AM in 1956, where it eventually hosted the likes of Porky Chedwick. The station spend the better part of 5 decades at the heritage urban station of the Pittsburgh market. The station was sold to St. Joseph Ministries in 2009 and the calls flipped to WAOB-AM and the format has been religious talk ever since. But Dudley might have been OK with that.. she was hosting a gospel program after all.

She launched her daily 15-minute program “Movin’ Around” on WHOD.  The program was gradually expanded until it was two-hours long. In that format she brought in her brother Mal to do a new segment. He worked for the Courier News. Her fame and the rise of black oriented radio allowed her to interview now famous artists like Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, and Jackie Robinson.  She attracted national attention when Ebony magazine spotlighted her show.  In 1954 her show was expanded to four hours, She left the station in 1956 with the change to WAMO.  She then hosted a gospel program on WSID in Baltimore and another on WHAT which she continued until her death at the age of 51.