In 1974, Jim Robinson Founded WBMU, Asheville’s first black-owned radio station. Robinson had long sensed that African Americans in Asheville did not have a radio station attuned to their needs, and he worked for years to establish such a station. He finally found success in 1974, when WBMU (“Where Black Means Unity”) started broadcasting at 91.3 FM on the dial.
Listeners heard a mix of community content, like town council meetings broadcast live and in their entirety, and music, from the Dramatics to Herbie Mann to the Star of Bethlehem Youth Choir. Take a look at their program brochure:
In the early 1970s, Jim Robinson, armed with an education from the Elkins Institute of Broadcasting and the Taylor School of Broadcasting, showed up for an interview at an Asheville radio station. Here’s what happened next.
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The Carolina Times and a couple of pages in the white newspaper was devoted to black folks. I thought there should be more than that. I thought they should have their own information structure, except the two pages in whatever, the Tribune, whatever, and the one Carolina Times. So, I thought we should have our own information structure, and that was my reason for getting involved in radio.
~Ralph Williams, interview with Joshua Clark Davis, March 29, 2013
WBMU (“Where Black Means Unity”) was Asheville’s first black-run and black-oriented radio station. Founded by Jim Robinson in 1974, WBMU was intended to meet the needs of Asheville’s black community “with pride and unity.”
WBMU’s disc jockeys–or “personalities,” in Mr. Robinson’s formulation–captured the region’s attention from 6am to midnight every day, playing the soundtrack to North Carolina’s urban renewal. Look for an interview with Mr. Robinson to join our collection soon.
Donald Baker, among the first staff members at Durham’s WAFR radio–also known as Wave Africa–reflects on the freedom afforded by the station’s format in a 2010 interview with Joshua Clark Davis:
One morning during the week I played Aretha Franklin’s “Holy, Holy,” and it was off of her double album, it was a gospel album, it’s a double album. It was a live recording. And I followed it with John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme.” The thing about working at AFR is that you could experiment. And if you knew the music, if you knew much of the music: the R&B, the gospel, the jazz, you could mix. You could go a lot of places.
As historian William Barlow writes, “nothing else sounded remotely like WAFR on the Durham market.” (Voice Over, pg. 287) Mr. Baker’s interview will soon be available online via UNC’s Southern Historical Collection.
A newspaper advertisement for a WAFR fundraising marathon invoking Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper