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Posts by Seth Kotch

History Repeats? Chicken Little and Policing in Minority Communities

In the “True Story of Chicken Little,” by Linda Holmes, Chicken Licken is struck by a police officer and sets off to report her injury to the king. Needless to say, the official version of events is a bit different than what really happened.

The story appeared in Toni Cade Bambara’s Tales and Stories for Black Folks (Doubleday, 1971).



WVSP 90.9 FM

WVSP Program schedule004We’ve written about WVSP on this blog before–it was the pioneering Warrenton station that mingled activism, journalism, and community development. But what did it play? Take a look.


Jeffrey Starkweather, born into a conservative Christian household in California, eventually made his way to Washington, D.C. where he worked as a staffer and organizer, developing the community-mindedness that would eventually take him to Pittsboro, North Carolina in the early 1970s. There, he took over the Chatham County Herald, a paper serving this fairly rural county in the North Carolina Piedmont.

Jeffrey Starkweather depicted in the header for his column, "Baaad News."

Jeffrey Starkweather depicted in the header for his column, “Baaad News.”

Starkweather quickly shocked county leaders by actually covering community issues and political proceedings, a standard journalistic practice not often employed before his arrival. The Herald was not an alternative paper. That is, it did not exist to provide an alternative source of journalism and information for a community already being served by a local media outlet. Chatham County residents read The News and Observer of Raleigh, as did many North Carolinians, but they did not have a local paper to call their own. Starkweather set out to provide one, covering sports, church gatherings, local events, and other local news as well as pursuing investigative reporting.

A photograph in an August 1978 issue of the Chatham County Herald indicates residents' concerns with the health effects of PCBs illegally dumped in the area.

A photograph in an August 1978 issue of the Chatham County Herald indicates residents’ concerns with the health effects of PCBs illegally dumped in the area.

Within just two years, the paper had won two major journalism awards for its investigative and community work. At the end of the 1970s, the Herald’s coverage of plans to deposit soil contaminated with PCBs in Chatham County successfully halted that effort (the contaminated soil was dumped in Warren County, the home of WVSP), demonstrating the power of local media in addressing and affecting policies and practices with local impact.

Starkweather’s desire was to use the Herald to shed light on the political process, thus contributing to the community’s civic health, but also to acknowledge the importance of the daily lives of Chatham County residents. He describes his philosophy here:

(Don’t see the audio player? Try Safari or Firefox. Or use the QR code below.)



From Mr. James E. Robinson’s personal collection. When he was seeking to form a relationship with NPR, they sent him a brochure introducing the network. Note on the last page there are two NPR affiliates in North Carolina: WFDD in Winston-Salem, and WAFR in Durham, a community oriented station founded and run by African Americans at and affiliated with North Carolina Central University.

What Is Public Radio?


Paul R. Pope, Jr. is a pioneer in broadcast media in North Carolina: among other firsts, he was the state’s first African American station manager at WJZY-TV in Charlotte and Capitol Broadcasting Corporation’s first African American Vice President. In this clip he remembers the rural Raleigh neighborhood in which he grew up, and the very concrete way in which the arrival of A.J. Fletcher’s WRAL-TV changed that neighborhood.

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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:

WBMU 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.

(Psst–these audio files are invisible in Chrome. Check it out using Safari or Firefox, or use the QR code below.)



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

Ralph Williams Picture


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.

An ad for a WAFR fundraising marathon connects the station to Freedom's Journal, the first African American newspaper

A newspaper advertisement for a WAFR fundraising marathon invoking Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper