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Radio Journalism and Civil Rights


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Radio Journalism and Civil Rights



Guest being interviewed on live radio talk show, Johannesburg, South Africa, September 03, 2010 (Shutter Stock)

The first radio stations that targeted all of their programming toward African Americans in Chicago and New Orleans disseminated different types and quality of journalism during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950-1960s. This essay compares news, commentary, and socio-political justice programming broadcast via Chicago radio station WVON 1450 AM, “the Voice of the Negro,” and New Orleans’s WYLD 940 AM. It also presents reasons for the differences. The period covered is 1957 to 1970. WYLD began in 1957, WVON launched in 1963, and WVON’s founders sold the station in 1970.

Radio remains important to African Americans because Black people, more than white people, obtain greater utility from the medium. Black people rely on Black-focused radio to fulfill their information and entertainment needs that television does not satisfy. Radio with an African American emphasis provides news about Black-specific issues and events, music that resonates with their tastes, air personalities who host community programs, and commentary that builds community. Market research demonstrates that radio is one of the strongest media to reach African Americans.

This essay illuminates the factors that contributed to the differences in journalism quantity and quality at the WVON and WYLD. Among factors were the: size of the audience, opportunities for gainful employment, behavior of management toward Black people, and the qualifications of the news staff. Quality journalism means a content creator’s dissemination of a newsworthy message that is original, provides critical information, and focuses on the local community, according to Philip M. Napoli, et al., in “Local Journalism and the Information Needs of Local Communities.”

One determinant of quality arises from the size of the target population. In 1960, Black people in Chicago comprised 837,656 residents representing 24 percent of a total of 3,550,404 Chicagoans. There were more African Americans living in Chicago in 1960 than the total population…



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