Encyclopedia of African American Business History

By Juliet E. K. Walker | Go to book overview

R

RADIO ENTERPRISES. African American ownership of broadcast radio stations has increased greatly during the last 25 years. In 1970, blacks owned fewer than 20 stations; in 1990, over 200 stations were black owned. Facing competition from other media outlets such as cable and satellite television networks, the radio industry in general has turned to the development of niche markets and consolidation in order to remain profitable. Accordingly, successful contemporary black radio owners target specific segments of the broadcast audience and seek to expand their holdings.

African Americans have made important contributions to commercial radio since its earliest days, especially as disc jockeys (DJs). Before the early 1960s, DJs determined playlists, thus giving them control of their own shows. During the 1930s and 1940s, several black DJs developed shows aimed at black audiences. Chicago’s Jack L. Cooper introduced The All Negro Hour in 1929; Al Benson, also of Chicago, had a show aired on several stations. Cooper owned his own studio and oversaw the work of a team of DJs and writers. By 1949, he was a millionaire. During the 1940s, black DJs with their own shows appeared in several other cities. The success of Cooper and Benson did not result in the widespread appearance of black DJs until the 1950s, though. In 1947, there were only 16 black DJs among the 3,000 DJs in the industry, but by the mid-1950s, over 500 black DJs were working in commercial radio.

From a business standpoint, the early work of black DJs effectively made them the equivalent of contemporary program directors and sales managers. By choosing the music to be played on their shows, black DJs defined and maintained the ‘‘Negro Appeal’’ format. The first black DJs also secured advertising

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