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Remembering Some African American Talk Show Pioneers

| February 4, 2019

By Donna L. Halper
Lesley University
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.

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