In 1971, several young African Americans in Durham, North Carolina founded WAFR–the nation’s first ever public, community-based black radio station. WAFR catered to Durham’s black listeners with politically engaged, Black Power programming that included jazz, funk, African music, selected local and national news, and even an African American take on Sesame Street’s Children’s Radio Workshop, called the Community Radio Workshop, whose staff is seen in the photograph above. Key WAFR staffers included Robert Spruill, Obataiye Akinwole, Ralph Williams, Donald Baker, and Kwame and Mary McDonald. Although the station ceased broadcasting after just five years, it left an indelible influence on activist media in North Carolina for years to come.
In the coming year-and-a-half, the Media and the Movement site will share interviews, photographs, audio recordings, and commentary on the media outlets and activists that our project examines. Our preliminary work with WAFR of Durham, North Carolina and WVSP of Warrenton, North Carolina (both of which inspired the larger Media and the Movement project) gives us a perfect starting point for this undertaking.
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The information provided is great! I love Durham… I listened to the Doug Banks radio show recently and one of the answers pertained to the first owned and operated Black radio station in the U.S.
It listed WERD Atlanta. Is that correct?
Hello Ms. Stephens, and thank you for your post. You are correct that WERD in Atlanta was the first black-owned commercial radio station in the United States when it joined the airwaves in 1949. Over two decades later, in 1971, WAFR became the first ever community-based, non-commercial black-owned radio station in America. Thanks for your post, and stay tuned for more as we continue to add to the site.