By Donna L. Halper
Associate Professor of Media Studies
CAMBRIDGE, Mass — If you ask the average person to name a current black talk radio host, there are many to choose from. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, until the 1960s, African-American talkers found it nearly impossible to get on the air. Since it’s Black History Month, it’s a good time to remember a few of the pioneering black announcers who overcame the obstacles and carved out a niche for themselves.
But first, a little context. During the 1920s, radio’s formative decade, there were no call-in talk shows, nor did anyone expect them. For one thing, putting callers on the air would have been technologically challenging. For another, about 60% of Americans still didn’t have their own phone. But because radio was new, most people were happy to just “listen in.” When they wanted to contact a station, they generally sent postcards (if they wanted to praise an announcer or a program, there were special “applause cards” for that purpose); wealthier members of the audience phoned the station or sent telegrams.