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"Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was" 25th-anniversary edition - a 6-hour series

PRX/Radio Smithsonian

"Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was" is the story of radio’s role in the 20th-century transformation of the African American community. First aired in 1996, the specials have been reformatted into six hours for 2021. Original host Lou Rawls guides us, with new narration from original producer Jacquie Gales Webb. WRVO will air this six-part series every Sunday in February. Episodes will air from 7 - 9:00 p.m. on February 7 and 14. This will preempt "Big Picture Science" for those weeks. The remaining episodes will air on February 21 and 28.

Through interviews, historical airchecks, comedy, drama, and music, the series reveals the remarkable correlation between milestones of Black radio programming and African American culture. Among other topics, the series explores the role of radio during the great migration of Blacks from the South, trail-blazing Black DJs and stations, and Black radio during the Civil Rights movement.

Hour One: "In the Beginning" and "Pride & Enlightenment" (airs February 7 at 7 p.m.)

The series opens by traveling to the 1920s to hear how Black Americans fought for space on radio airwaves. Then, we hear about programs in the 1940s that dramatized issues and concerns in the Black community.

Hour Two: "Jack Cooper & Al Beson" and "WDIA, The Goodwill Station" (airs February 7 at 8 p.m.)

Jack Cooper's popular program in Chicago debuted in 1929; he helped pioneer the DJ format and was the first to air news and sports coverage for Black audiences. Al Benson came to Chicago from Mississippi in the '30s, and gave voice to the culture of the street. In the second part of the hour, we head to Memphis, Tennessee, where WDIA's earliest announcers included B.B. King. WDIA was the first station to have all-Black on-air talent.

Hour Three: "Rappers & Rhymers" and "Sounding Black" (airs February 14 at 7 p.m.)

From the 1940s onward, legendary Black deejays created unique, ear-catching styles.

Hour Four: "A Woman's Touch" and "In Control" (airs February 14 at 8 p.m.)

Women -- both on and off the air -- have had substantial roles in the development and power of Black radio, including African American station ownership.

Hour Five: "Civil Rights" and "Let's Have Church" (airs February 21 at 7 p.m.)

In the fifties and sixties, Black DJs did more than play music -- they were among the first messengers of the civil rights movement. In the second half of the hour, we hear about the importance of religious broadcasting to the Black community.

Hour Six: "Music" and "More Music and Less Talk" (airs February 28 at 7 p.m.)

In the first half of the hour, we hear how African American musicians found more acceptance as major record companies recognized the crossover appeal of Black music. In the second half of the hour, we hear about how AM radio lost its popularity to FM and how big personalities survived and prospered.