July 28, 2020

Black Radio in Washington, D.C. with Cathy Hughes, Bobby Bennett, and Sunny Jim Kelsey

Let's take a look back at Black Radio in the nation's capital. The population of the city was far different then than it is now. There's reason is was called Chocolate City. This video from the Harambee Program that aired on Channel 9 WTOP-TV features interviews with Cathy Hughes, then known as Catherine Liggins, the general manager of WHUR; Sunny Jim Kelsey, station manager of WOL; and The Mighty Burner Bobby Bennett of WOL. The program aired in 1978 takes a look at the status of Black Radio and how it served the community. This was when the disco era was in full bloom. Almost of utmost importance was the news department at each station and their ability to serve the Black community. There is an extensive interview with Herman Washington, the former news anchor at WHUR and WOL. There's a quick clip of Melvin Lindsey at WHUR as well. The program also features (WOOK-FM) OK 100 and their news efforts. The Daily Drum, a daily news and public affairs program that began in 1971 at 96.3 WHUR still airs at 7:00 P.M Monday through Friday on the Howard University owned station.

It's interesting to note that the recent launch of iHeartMedia's Black Information Network seem to signal that things have come sort of full circle on how information is vital to the African American community. Black news programming has been pretty much absent from Black radio for the last 30-40 years in most American cities. But in the 50's, 60's, and 70's it was the backbone of Black radio. Simply because it was the only source of news and information for the Black community. Black stations across the country had news departments. Since that time Black radio evolved into Urban radio and more of emphasis was placed on music programming, no news reports, and de-emphasizing the on air personality or dee-jay.

Within two years of this program disco music was pretty much done and AM radio was done as a primary source of music programming for African American audiences. The day of the rapping high energy DeeJay was over as well. FM was becoming king. It was cool to listen to FM Stereo. In 1980 Cathy Hughes with her husband Dewey Hughes purchased 1450 WOL radio which became the foundation for Urban ONE, Inc., Radio ONE, and TV ONE. Hughes' WOL became a News and Talk formatted station. Also in the D.C. market was Donnie Simpson, at NBC owned 93.9 WKYS known as "Kiss" 93KYS. Maybe 'KYS wasn't considered to be a Black radio station or a source of news for the Black community, therefore was not included in the program. D.C. radio and TV icon Petey Greene was no longer at WOL during the filming of this program. Petey Greene's Washington began airing on Channel 20 (WDCA-TV) in 1976.

Unfortunately the part two to this program is not available.

Featured prominently in the program is Sunny Jim Kelsey and The Mighty Burner Bobby Bennett.

Below is a Sunny Jim Kelsey 1968 aircheck below: Kelsey who became the general manager at WOL was one of the leading personalities in D.C. as the morning man. Kelsey passed away in 1999.

Black radio was SO MUCH DIFFERENT then. Kelsey calls a caller dumb for missing out on $40.00! This is so not PC. That would not go out over the air today. That would be a lawsuit waiting to happen! Back in the day they gave out caller's address over the air also. In this Christmas Whispering Santa promo a caller guessed Bob Terry, the night host at WOL known as The Nighthawk as the answer.

Here's more on Kelsey and Cathy Hughes in the Washington Post. Industry folks note WOL lineup included "The Doctor" Jerry Boulding and Carroll Hynson "Mr. C.", now the Saturday morning host at WHUR.

Here's a clip of Bobby Bennett from the early 2000's. He is a well known personality in Black radio for the concert promotion/commercials he did in many cities across the country. Even if you never knew who did them you've heard his voice in your city if you spent anytime listening to urban radio over the last 25 years. He also worked on SiriusXM Soul Town. The Mighty Burner passed away in 2015. At the end of this clip is 'Moonman' who is currently heard on WOL on Saturday nights.

1 comment:

  1. FUNtastic! Great info. Miss ole school radio. Honored to have been a part of the story of Black Radio in what is now called "the DMV!"


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