Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

Paying the Price. (Radio History)

Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

Paying the Price. (Radio History)

Article excerpt

(Editor's note: Information for this article was provided by the St. Louis Media Archives at the St. Louis Public Library.)

Sometimes it's hard to imagine life in the "old" days, especially when those who have firsthand knowledge are no longer around. Such is the case when it comes to remembering St. Louis' first black disc jockey.

Wiley Price Jr. got his first radio job in 1944 at WTMV, then a local powerhouse station with studios in the Broadview Hotel in East St. Louis. He was 31 years old. The country was at war and African Americans were considered second-class citizens. What would possess a radio station to hire an African American and put him on the air into a high-profile job?

Even though WTMV was only operating with a 250 watt output at 1490 Kc., the station had an excellent reputation for news, sports and entertainment in the region. It once boasted in a promotional article that 35 of its people had graduated to "big time" radio within a five-year period.

In the 1940s and '50s, a person could carve out a radio career by being a savvy self-promoter. Station owners were always interested if money could be made, so many announcers would buy their own time in hour-long blocks and then sell ads on their programs. Wiley Price III says, "My father could talk his way into anything." But talk wasn't always enough. According to radio veteran and historian Bernie Hayes, an African American announcer would "have to convince management that he was articulate and that he could pay for the time."

Once Price had made his case to WTMV management, he was given a late night air slot. To his listeners, he became known as "Mrs. Price's Boy Wiley." His radio shows were a mixture of gospel and rhythm & blues music, with gospel artists often performing live in the studio. His on-air approach was smooth and intelligent, according to the late deejay Roscoe McCrary, who would have his own program on WTMV in 1951. …

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