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Posts from the ‘Black-Owned Radio’ Category

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).




Media and the Movement has been working hard for several years to locate rare recordings from activist radio stations that are in need of digital reproduction. Radio recordings, particularly from noncommercial and African American stations, have generally been poorly documented and preserved. If the recordings exist at all, they’re usually on outdated formats such as reel-to-reel tapes, sitting in former radio announcers’ garages, attics, and basements. In the course of our project, we’ve come across a number of recordings that interviewees wish to preserve but can’t even listen to because they don’t own reel-to-reel players.

We’re proud to say that we’ve just completed a pilot project of digitizing our first batch of recordings, with the help of George Blood L.P., a crack outfit of audio and video engineers and preservationists based in Philadelphia.

These recordings came from WVSP, the activist radio station in Warrenton, North Carolina that we’ve written about extensively on this site. We’d like to give you a sample with an audio clip from WVSP from 1982 that shows off the station’s distinctive  blend of jazz, blues, soul music, and progressive political commentary.  The interview is with none other than Anne Braden, the famed activist from Louisville, Kentucky who devoted her life to the struggle for racial equality, peace, and workers’ rights from the 1950s to the 2000s.  This is a world re-premiere of audio that’s been sitting for decades in the home of WVSP’s Valeria Lee, so give it a listen!



WAFR Radio's Staff, 1973

WAFR’s Staff, 1973

We just wrote a story for The Durham News section of the News and Observer on the history of activist media in the Research Triangle in the 1970s.  Topics included WAFR, the country’s first Black Power community radio station, and WVSP, the country’s first black rural community radio station, as well as WSHA, WDBS, The Protean Radish, The North Carolina AnvilSouthern Exposure, and Africa News Service.  The piece was published as part of a larger series highlighting work by board and committee members of the Museum of Durham History.

Check it out here.

WVSP Staff, 1977

WVSP’s Staff, 1977

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.



This is part two of our series on WVOE-AM.

Annie Mae Williamson is ninety-four years old. She has been hosting The Women’s Program five-days-a-week on WVOE-AM in Chadbourn, North Carolina, ever since Ted. Reynolds knocked on her door in 1962. Mr. Reynolds, a founder of WVOE (“The Voice of Ebony”), marched right up to Annie Mae Williamson’s home one day over fifty years ago to propose that she pioneer a segment for women on the newly founded black-owned station, only the fifth of its kind in America. In an interview with Joshua Davis, Williamson describes that fateful day Mr. Reynolds approached her with his broadcasting opportunity.

AW: In 1962, when the radio station came on-air, Mr. Reynolds, which was the manager, he came to my home one day. He said, “Mrs. Williamson, I want to do a woman’s program, and I want you to host it.” I said, “Mr. Reynolds, I have no, you know, knowledge of—.” He said, “You can learn!” And so, that’s the way it started. I came on out, and he told me what he wanted me to do, and I just started from that. I learned. You know, as you go along, you learn.

JD: Why do you think he came to you, of all women in Chadbourn?

AW: Well, I guess somebody must have told him—Mr. Walls, I think, was here at the time. And evidently, he probably asked Mr. Walls. And at that time, I was in the church with Mr. Walls, and he knew my capability, I guess. He knew what I stood for.

In 1962 Ms. Williamson had already worked as a midwife for the Columbus County Health Department for sixteen years, and she was quite active in her local congregation. Half a century later, she still offers household hints and advice on health issues over the air, with as many as fifty calls from listeners in a single hour. You can tune into Annie Mae’s show from Monday through Friday from 11am to noon on 1590 on your AM Dial in the southeastern corner of North Carolina..

Click HERE to listen to an excerpt of an interview with Annie Mae Williamson conducted by Josh Davis.

WVOE–Chadbourn: The Voice of Ebony

WVOE Sign, Cropped

If for whatever reason you had the opportunity to pass through Chadbourn, North Carolina—located in rural Columbus County in the state’s southeastern corner, population 1,844 —you could quite possibly drive by the WVOE radio station without having any clue of its historical significance. You might not even know you were passing a radio station at all, since it’s easy to miss the antennae about fifty yards behind the station. WVOE is housed in a squat white cinderblock building about the size of a double-wide trailer, with a few staff members’ cars usually parked along a dirt driveway out front. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a less conspicuous building.

Yet  a sign in front of the building announcing “Music with a Message—WVOE—The Voice of Ebony” suggests that this is no typical radio station. Borrowing their name from a popular African American magazine founded in Chicago in 1945, T.M. “Ted” Reynolds and a group of local investors formed Ebony Enterprises in Chadbourn to launch their own radio station. On April 24, 1962, WVOE, the “Voice of Ebony” began broadcasting on 1590 on the AM dial.

The station’s current president and original Sunday gospel show announcer Willie Walls recalled WVOE’s initial impact in a recent interview.  In 1962, “blacks had just been turned loose more or less to freedom, and they wanted to be in the limelight of everything,” Walls argues.  “To own a black radio station here in Chadbourn—that was almost something unheard of.”

WVOE Building III

Actually, it wasn’t almost unheard of—it was entirely unheard of. WVOE was the first ever black-owned radio station in rural America, as well as North Carolina’s first black-owned radio station. In fact, WVOE was only the third ever black-owned radio station in the South and only the fifth-ever black-owned radio station in the entire United States. The first, by the way, was WERD, founded in Atlanta in 1948, followed by KPRS in Kansas City, WCHB in Detroit, and WEUP of Huntsville, Alabama.

Black-owned radio, in other words, reached Chadbourn, North Carolina long before it emerged in such major media markets and  black population centers as New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Oakland. Those cities and many others did have black-oriented radio stations, which targeted black listeners with music and deejay sets by African Americans.  Yet like Memphis’ WDIA, the country’s first black-oriented broadcaster, the vast majority of these stations were white-owned.

The number of black-owned radio stations slowly grew to fourteen by the end of the 1960s and then rose dramatically in the 1970s, due to increased calls for black community control of radio, as well as FCC policies that encouraged minority investors to establish stations. By 1995, African Americans owned 146 radio stations in the U.S., although that number has declined dramatically since the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 spurred massive consolidation of radio and television ownership.

But WVOE is still broadcasting today and is still owned by Ebony Enterprises.  Over fifty years after it went on the air, the station feeds its listeners a steady diet of soul, R&B, and gospel music with a healthy portion of inspirational and informational talk on the side.  WVOE doesn’t stream its broadcast online yet, but the next time you’re on I-95 passing over the SC-NC state line, switch to the AM dial and see if you can pick up the 1590 signal from Chadbourn.

Watch here at Media and the Movement in the coming weeks for more posts on the remarkable history of WVOE and the “Voice of Ebony” radio.

WVOE Ad Cropped

WVOE Advertisement in the 1965 edition of the trade journal Broadcasting Yearbook



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?


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


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