September 15, 2012

What's In A Name: African American, Black and Urban Radio

What's your take? African American or Black?

Talk Show Host Albert Butler of 900 AM WURD (...a Black talk radio station) recently appeared on the FOX Philadelphia morning program 'Good Day.' Each Thursday the show tackles topics in a series they call "Race in America." The topic this week was over the issue of what to call Americans, whose heritage, ethnicity, and culture are from people originally from the continent of Africa.

An interesting discussion especially given the fact that present day Africans, who have no connection to slavery do not call themselves 'African American' after they immigrate to the United States. The panel also discussed people from Caribbean or Afro-Latino cultures (Jamaicans and Dominicans) and Asians.

Now for whatever reason in the radio world "urban" is the term that has replaced "Black Radio." Although some may say that Black Radio, among them Radio One founder Cathy Hughes still exist. It doesn't.

Urban is the name that is used to describe the music format that mainly caters to African American audiences. Maybe some of it can be attributed to the late Frankie Crocker of 107.5 WBLS (New York) who is given credit for coining the term 'Urban Contemporary' to describe the format he implemented in the early 1970's to attract the variety of listeners in New York City. At the time the format also included many mainstream (white) artists like Hall and Oates and David Bowie besides contemporary R&B artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire and Disco artists like Chic. Crocker was even bold enough to include Frank Sinatra's 'New York, New York' as a staple to the format. The format caused many listeners to abandon their AM radio stations for music and caused many radio programmers to look towards FM as a new and attractive revenue source at the time.

Now urban minus the contemporary has evolved into meaning Black music or more succinctly to describe Hip Hop music stations. However stations that play Drake and Jay-Z along with Katy Perry and Justin Bieber aren't called Urban they're called Rhythmic, right?

Stay with us now...

However in literal terms, urban means city or an area characterized by having aspects of urbanization, with a large and diverse population as oppose to a suburban (under urban) or rural area. So somebody's got it wrong. As we see it there's a whole lot of folks, including those at news and sports stations, who are working in urban radio and don't even know it...

As cities change and re-gentrify over time, the radio term "urban" will change and evolve along with the word "African American" to describe people of color as well.

Check out the discussion below

Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29


  1. It is all about power. In radio you know who has it and who does not have it. So I guess using Black Radio was no pc. Hmmm...

  2. I think AfroAmerican is best. Don't really like African American. It's like Afro-Latino that was said in the video. Black people are not African like Jamaicans, Haiti, Trinidad or DR. We are the same because we been thru slavery and Africans have not. We are kind of the same except for our culture and language is different. When I think African that means people from Africa now not hundreds of years later.Check out the PBS show from Henry Luis Gates!


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