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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Giving Voice

Radio

Black radio has been a vital technological and social resource for African Americans. Its postwar contributions to freedom struggles evolved into its current status as a highly popular mass medium that extends the global influence of Black culture. It provides news, shapes opinion, bolsters a sense of community, and promotes Black music and entertainment. Black radio stations through their deejays are conduits for unique forms of African American creative verbal artistry.

Pioneering stations like WDIA in Memphis and WERD in Atlanta, as well as radio hosts like New York's "Jocko" (famous for his pre-rap ditties) and D.C.'s Petey Greene (who talked Black citizens through the 1968 riots) paved the way for contemporary stars such as Dallas-based Tom Joyner and American Urban Radio Networks host Bev Smith. These personalities and many others continue to foster a sense of Black identity. They shape and give voice to the always-changing urban Black vernacular, mobilize African Americans around political and cultural issues, and reach across geographic and racial boundaries to galvanize and engage broad communities of Americans.

Featured Participants

WPFW, Washington, D.C.
Pacifica Radio WPFW-FM is a community-radio outlet based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to be an accessible medium for traditionally under-represented groups. The station broadcasts a mix of public affairs, arts, and cultural programming.

The legendary jazz musician Slim Gaillard also worked as a radio disc jockey, sharing his own distinctive vocal style with thousands of avid listeners. Photo © Ted Williams/CORBIS.