Twenty-five years in the past, an authentic and first of its form 13-part radio collection on the historical past and rise of Black radio was launched on public radio. The radio particular and documentary was narrated by American file producer, singer, composer and actor Lou Rawls and produced by radio pioneers, Sonja Williams, Jacquie Gales-Webb and Lex Gillespie.
In mild of the twenty fifth anniversary of this manufacturing, PRX and the Smithsonian current “Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was.”
WHYY-FM will begin this collection Might 30 and it’ll run each Sunday at 2 p.m. by means of July 4. The collection can be a reformatted model of the unique tales that had been launched 25 years in the past and explored the function radio had on the transformation of the African-American neighborhood in the course of the twentieth century. A majority of the particular will air throughout June, which can also be Black Music Month.
“It’s a celebration of the creativity that African Individuals delivered to the radio broadcasting business. That has at all times been my intention for this collection as a result of it wasn’t being celebrated, nor was it being talked about,” collection co-producer Gales-Webb mentioned. “So I simply need folks to be taught and luxuriate in what they hear and keep in mind the affect these people made on our business.”
First airing in 1996, the collection took a deep look into the function of radio in the course of the nice migration of Blacks from the South, trailblazing Black DJs and stations and Black radio in the course of the civil rights motion.
The unique host, Lou Rawls, will proceed to information listeners by means of the reformatted model however with new narration from one of many authentic producers, Gales-Webb.
“I used to be working on the Smithsonian on the time, and it was a giant anniversary for radio. It was one thing just like the fiftieth anniversary of radio and all of those nationwide radio stars had been being celebrated and not one of the heroes that I grew up listening to had been being talked about,” mentioned Gales-Webb.
“I grew up in New York, and there was the WWRL Soul Brothers and it was Frankie Crocker and the 2 African American females that I heard on the air, Lamar Renee and Vy Higginsen, who impressed me to get into radio. And I talked with radio veteran from Washington D.C., Bobby Bennett, about it. He mentioned somebody actually must do a documentary documenting all the African-American heroes in radio and the way vital radio was within the lives of African Individuals on this nation.”
“And being on the Smithsonian, and having the chance to have the ability to pitch concepts. I pitched it to the Smithsonian and so they liked it. And we pitched it to the Company for Public Broadcasting who provided the funding for it. And thank God they did. It’s simply been a beautiful blessing to have the ability to have documented so many heroes which might be now not with us,” mentioned Gales-Webb.
With the help of Williams and Gillespie, the crew acquired all the suitable folks to take part.
“Sonja Williams and Lex Gillespie, who had been our professionals at what they do, had already been capable of make connections with so many legends, not solely in radio, but additionally within the music business,” mentioned Gales-Webb.
“It was very simple and lots of people, , simply acquired to activate the mic, activate the tape recorder and hook the microphone in and away they went,” mentioned Gillespie. “It took some monitoring down in some instances, however loads of instances folks had been very receptive and really open to being interviewed. And it was a matter of simply discovering them, however I keep in mind everybody being very keen to speak,” mentioned Gillespie.
“I do know a number of folks mentioned we’re so glad you’re doing this, I grew up in New York as nicely listening to radio and fell in love with radio and the music on the radio, but additionally the voices,” mentioned Williams.
“Vy Higginsen was somebody I listened to, Frankie Crocker was my idol. I imply, he was my man. I went as much as New York, and he was actually gracious, and he mentioned he’d love to speak about his profession and his imaginative and prescient for WPLS. I used to be so nervous that I used to be in the identical room with this man who had grown up listening to that I forgot to activate the tape recorder for the primary 10 or quarter-hour,” mentioned Williams.
“However he was cool and we went again over some stuff, so it was very easy. And other people had been actually gracious. Not solely gracious when it comes to interviews, however we needed to discover archival tape as nicely. A few of the collectors, individuals who really collected tapes of air checks from precise programming and programmers, they had been keen and capable of allow us to make copies of that in order that we may use it,” mentioned Williams.
The subsequent step was to present it a voice.
“We mentioned whose voice goes to tie all this collectively for us? We’re writing this glorious documentary, what voice actually suits? We had a number of concepts however Lou was one of many first, and he accepted. And we had been so thrilled as a result of Lou was only a beloved star. His voice was so wealthy. He had a lot historical past with the early DJs, the early music, the R & B music, the gospel music, ‘The Sound of Philadelphia.’ He simply tied into every little thing. And I believe he knew all people that we had been speaking about. That was very evident,” mentioned Gales-Webb.
PRX’s producers Se’period Spragley-Ricks and Genevieve Sponsler are the women behind the trendy manufacturing that may air on WHYY-FM this Sunday.
“The whole lot is essentially nonetheless intact. The primary purpose was to get the hours again out into the world for extra listeners however not change the content material. Understanding that stations, now 25 years later, usually tend to air hours and never half hours. So taking the 13 and a half hours, and mixing them into six one-hour specials,” Sponsler mentioned. “The purpose was to get as many stations in as attainable and we knew that hours could be extra seemingly to do this.
“Due to our relationship with the Smithsonian, we distribute one among their podcasts, we had been capable of get the wave information from the archives which was so superior. The Smithsonian was capable of finding the wave information within the archives after which from that, Se’period and I began fascinated about how we mix them collectively, the place we are able to put breaks for the station and IDs, however with out modifying.”
Spragley-Ricks mentioned the challenge goes past celebrating the Black radio heroes of the previous, it offers us a map for the longer term.
“We are able to’t affect our future if we don’t perceive our previous and these are some superb those who we’re carrying the torch ahead with,” she mentioned. “So I hope that you simply really perceive our historical past and the individuals who actually paved the best way for us to be right here on this business, and that we make impactful work, the best way the folks earlier than us, our ancestors, have executed, as they’re really timeless figures on this business.”
Gales-Webb mentioned she is pleased with the work she did on the challenge and is glad that her work has stood the take a look at of time.
“Listening again to it. 25 years later, it’s so related now. Once you take heed to what girls went by means of in radio broadcasting, what African Individuals went by means of in radio broadcasting to listen to it in 2021 is simply fascinating historical past a lot uncovered historical past is being introduced to us in 2021 and I’m simply so grateful that PRX and these two very proficient girls had been capable of put collectively the twenty fifth anniversary,” mentioned Gales-Webb.