June 26, 2009

Black radio in Pittsburgh...The 1980s: issues of identity, profits

Larry Glasco, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh continues his series on Black radio and Pittsburgh's heritage station WAMO in the New Pittsburgh Courier. He can be reached at larryglasco@yahoo.com.

Eric St. James, a one time morning host morning show host, who delivered a dramatic on-air resignation saying, “I can no longer stand to see Blacks work against each other.”

The spirit of pride and militancy that characterized the late 1960s increased the desire for Black control of community institutions. In that spirit, in 1973 Ron Davenport Sr.’s Sheridan Broadcasting company and a group of Black businessmen, including Art Edmunds and Milton Washington, purchased WAMO, bringing for the first time Black ownership to Black radio in Pittsburgh.

Black control, however, did not mean smooth sailing for the station. Indeed, in the 1980s WAMO was buffeted by numerous challenges. The growing 800-pound television gorilla now included BET and MTV, which increasingly carried Black-themed music videos. Locally, mainstream local television and radio stations added African-American community affairs programming, depriving WAMO of another important near-monopoly. Generational issues also challenged WAMO’s control of its listening audience, with older listeners complaining about the unending dance music and teens complaining about too much “slow, sad, love stuff.” Religious-oriented listeners were dissatisfied with the programming mix, and in 1981 a group of disgruntled ministers took action by purchasing WFFM as an alternative to WAMO. Read More

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