are few things that rankle persons of a certain age more than
to suspect that the great events of their youth have been
devalued to mere nostalgia. Therefore, it was with mixed emotions
that we read journalist Todd Burroughs' response to our May
29 commentary, "Who Killed
Black Radio News?"
noted that African American radio ownership increased from
just 30 stations in 1976, to over 220, today, in a process
that devastated small owners and vastly increased the holdings
of successful Black and white consolidators.
singled out 66-station, Black-owned Radio One, the seventh-largest
radio chain, as the most egregious perpetrator in the near-extinction
of local news. For example, Radio One dominates the Black
radio market in Washington, DC, with four stations, yet employs
no local newspersons. Thirty years ago, when 's
publishers were radio newsmen in DC, three Black-oriented
stations fielded 21 reporters.
of the gains made by African Americans during the heyday of
Black radio cannot be duplicated today," we wrote, "due
to the duplicity of those entrepreneurs who cashed in the
people's collective chips for their own benefit."
called for direct action to compel radio owners - of whatever
race - to serve the news needs of the Black community.
a poignant and beautifully written June
5 letter, 35-year-old journalist Todd Burroughs recalled
the Black radio of his childhood in Newark, New Jersey. Burroughs
later became a scholar on the subject, documenting the rise
and decline of Black news/talk formats. "An active journalist
for nearly 20 years, I haven't seen a Black commercial radio
newscaster at a press conference since 1986," said Burroughs,
who lives in Washington. He continued:
this era return? I don't think so; at least not in the same
way. Too many Black broadcast consumers in America's chocolate
cities are very comfortable with Tom Joyner's nationally
syndicated "infotainment" model, etc., local television
newscasts with Black anchors, two Black cable television
newscasts ("BET News" and "MBC News"),
PBS-TV's "Tony Brown's Journal," NPR's "The
Tavis Smiley Show" and the syndicated television program
Co-publisher Glen] Ford helped create, "America's Black
Forum." In addition, local and national Black organizations
and Black leaders who used to depend on Black media have
now developed their own communication networks and forums.
(Which, I think, is a BIG reason why the Black community
outcry against Black media's de-volution is so small.) And
those my age and younger, used to getting its news from
the Internet and comedy monologues, won't remember it being
any other way ....
a 20th century traditionalist trying to adjust to the 21st
century. The forums we now mourn were new once. So we can
at least try to be optimistic and adjust to the fact that
mass media spaces are fluid constructs.
the same time, though, it could easily be argued that Black
America is comfortable with the current media environment
because it has been trained in a way that puts Pavlov's
dog to shame. I know of no evidence that would make me disagree
with that assessment.
Burroughs, we realized, was not consigning local Black radio
news to the mists of times gone by, but he does question whether
there is a popular or organizational demand for radio
journalism that serves the Black community on a regularly
scheduled basis. It is a valid question - one that we believe
is, however, largely irrelevant.
has never been a ratings winner on anybody's radio. Thirty
years ago, Black grassroots organizations did demand
that their struggles and achievements receive news coverage
on Black-oriented radio. A more public-friendly Federal Communications
Commission sought to accommodate the opinions of vocal elements
of the community, although never to the point of denying license
renewal to a station on the basis of poor community relations.
These two factors - with grassroots activism by far the more
crucial - created a climate in which stations competed with
one another to do the best news job they could, while wishing
for the day when they could dispense with it, altogether.
erodes competition, and the FCC became a non-factor - a servant
of the owners. In many large markets, those owners were Black.
Chains like Radio One gradually eliminated news from the mix,
passing off syndicated or local talk, instead, and pretending
that morning disc jockeys could double as news people. In
the process, the local Washington Black radio press corps
plummeted from 21 in 1973 to just four newspersons at two
stations, today. Black radio across America is mostly a local
Burroughs is partly right, in that the broad listening public
has been conditioned to expect what they presently get out
of Black radio. Those of us with backgrounds in marketing
find that totally unsurprising - we rely on Pavlovian responses
as a matter of course. Burroughs' assessment of "national
and local Black organizations and Black leaders" also
holds up, if he means the household names and comfortable
organizations that have " developed their own communication
networks and forums." Many of these organizations were
also around during the times of turbulence, however, and played
little or no role in pressuring Black radio to provide adequate
news coverage. Their concerns were always focused on the cosmetics
aspects of television and the prestige jobs at major daily
newspapers. Not being mass organizations or popular leaders,
they had only occasional uses for media that reached masses
of Black people - Black radio.
activists, on the other hand, wanted to fire up their neighbors
and change the political complexion of the community. They
confronted social disparities and injustice, and engaged in
community-building. Their political consciousness evolved
along the same arc as Black radio, itself, and they could
never have achieved their many small and large victories,
without it. It did not matter whether or not the ratings showed
that most people would prefer the flow of music on the radio
not be interrupted for a few minutes once an hour. The people
needed local Black news, whether they wanted it or
not, and activists - locked in a symbiotic relationship with
Black radio reporters - made sure that they got it. Black
politics and reporting thrived, until the monopolists of both
races severed the radio connection, with the complicity of
the corporate-dominated FCC.
firmly believes that the near-death of Black radio news has
been a major factor in the erosion of Black political organization,
nationwide. All struggles have local beginnings, and effective
activism requires a learned set of skills as well as replicable
models of work. A professional-oriented NAACP chapter is most
likely quite capable of sending out social/networking invitations
to a select list of upwardly mobile folks without the assistance
of Black radio. In any event, that's not news (although it
might be suited to some afternoon talk radio chatter.) But
police brutality, garbage in the streets, unaccountable local
politicians, double-dealing power brokers, hyper-active drug
markets, local labor grievances and racial discrimination
in all its forms - these are matters that can only be addressed
and organized around with the active cooperation of news organizations.
if there is to be a return to the days of vibrant activism,
those organizations that seek change must empower themselves
by compelling local Black radio to methodically cover community
actions, grievances, celebrations, and whatever else is fit
for public consumption. Popular preferences are both irrelevant
and grotesquely uninformed. Remember, Burroughs hasn't
"seen a Black commercial radio newscaster at a press
conference since 1986." That is testimony to an ongoing
crime against Black people.
Luther King didn't hold a referendum before every march. Malcolm
didn't wait for a poll to tell him when to speak like a man.
Harriett Tubman didn't survey the slaves on their attitude
is understandable that the long slide to Black non-news radio
has left many younger activists and potential leaders without
a guide to reaching masses of people through the airwaves.
They no longer have a model from which to learn and, consequently,
they work unnecessarily hard performing organizing tasks that
regular news coverage would easily facilitate, setting the
stage for new and even more productive areas of struggle.
Yet consolidated radio is in many ways more vulnerable to
community pressure than yesterday's "stand-alone"
stations. There are many ways to make a non-news regime more
costly to the owner than providing the coverage that is necessary
for the political health of the community.
discussion is not about nostalgia and mourning things that
have been lost. It is about what we are losing every day that
we do not act to take back Black radio.
Fallin is a quintessential community activist who often finds
her political projects boycotted by local radio. She responded
don't know if black people have been conditioned like Palov's
Dog or if we are paralyzed by fear. I sense a deep, overwhelming
fear in my people. Black folks are afraid to take a stand
or speak out. And those that do speak out are criticized
for speaking up. Case in point, we have a local talk show
here in Huntsville, Alabama that comes on Monday thru Friday
from 5-6 PM CST. I call in everyday. If I must say so myself,
I am articulate and informed about current events and politics.
I was supposed to be the guest host for two weeks while
the regular host went on vacation. After four days of on
the job training I was let go. It must have been something
I said. I believe that someone applied pressure to the station
owner and got me fired. Lately a small group of anonymous
callers have been criticizing my outspokenness, in other
words, "shut up before you really make the white folks
mad at us." I think that black folks are afraid to
speak up and speak out. Maybe we have been trained to shut
up and be quiet or we'll end up like Malcolm and Martin.
Maybe they did kill the dream when they killed the dreamer.
Piltz is a wry writer from Austin, Texas who cuts the opposition
long, deep and unexpectedly. Piltz places the FCC media giveaway
in generational context, then doubles up with a non-sexual
not ironic but appropriate that this FCC-corporate power
grab can be accurately characterized as a slaughter of the
democratic process, since the man in charge of it, Michael
Powell, is the son of the man who was put in charge of covering
up the My Lai Massacre as well as many others at the time.
More of The Light Man's Burden, I suppose.
down with dogs
Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a pure corporate bribery
machine that has embedded itself deep in the bowels of the
Democratic Party (see this week's Cover
Story), advises members to curb their comments on "divisive"
subjects like affirmative action. Nevertheless, the DLC has
mounted an aggressive Black recruitment drive, luring ambitious
office seekers into its ranks with offers of campaign financing.
Politicians with previously respectable progressive credentials
are winding up on the DLC/New Democrats membership list. One
of these, Illinois Black State Senator Barack Obama, is currently
vying for a U.S. Senate seat.
associate editor Bruce A. Dixon's concerns
were encapsulated in the title of his June 5 commentary, "In
Search of the Real Barack Obama: Can a Black Senate candidate
resist the DLC?"
are definitely multiple voices in Obama's ear right now.
On the one hand, there are the DLC/New Democrats, the right
wing corporate funded arm of the Democratic Party. Their
consistent advice is to shut up and support the president's
war at home and abroad, to get away from the concerns of
"special interests" like minorities, working Americans,
environmentalists and the uninsured, and peel off some not-too-conservative
Republican swing votes. Their champion is Connecticut Senator
Joseph Lieberman, the most rightwing of the Democratic candidates
the other hand, there is Barack Obama's Democratic base
- African Americans, who don't support the war, and other
Democratic voters who don't support President Bush. In fact,
according to the Gallup and Zogby polls the most strongly
held common issue among those opposed to the president is
opposition to the war. Should Obama fail to vigorously attack
the party of war and corporate plunder he will lose the
opportunity to energize and expand his base. The crusade
will be smothered in its crib - the DLC's proven formula
knew Obama during the law professor's days as a top notch,
progressive political organizer. So did fellow Chicagoan Brian
Banks, who sent a letter that only folks from the Windy City
can fully appreciate.
impressive, very through writing, a perfect expression of
all the time you've spent networking, being an activist.
New Democrats/DLC influence is supreme at the moment, in
Illinois politics - Blagojevich, Obama, Daley, Hynes, Jackson
(?) Lisa Madigan (?), Pappas, Hamos, et al - all the brightest
most visible stars of the party, have linkages to/through
the same consultants who brought you Daley/DLC/Clinton.
Developing a different political gravity, in Illinois and
the nation, requires building an alternative infrastructure,
that can link war activists with community activists concerned
about local jobs, economic development, safety, education
issues. Good piece, bro.
took as a very bad omen the deletion of a rousing, October
anti-war speech from Obama's campaign website. Here's a sample:
don't oppose all wars ... What I am opposed to is a dumb
war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed
to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz
and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration
to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats,
irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships
I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl
Roves to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise
in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income ... to
distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that
has just gone thru the worst month since the Great Depression.
what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based
not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics
concluded that the speech "vanished" from the website
at the advice of DLC-commissioned consultants. A few days
after publication of Dixon's piece, he heard from an irate
read your searing article you Obama basher! And I found
out that he did not remove it from his website. It's here:
Dixon was surprised - yet pleased to respond.
story had disappeared from the Obama web site some time
around the end of March or early April, and has only reappeared
in the last three days.
are happy to discover that last week's article on Illinois'
Barack Obama, an African American candidate for the US Senate
in next year's primary has apparently prompted his campaign
to courageously restore the link to his antiwar speech of
October 30, 2202. We think this is good news and hope that
it still reflects candidate Obama's views.
and while we have the candidate's ear there are the little
matters of the PATRIOT Act and its successor which threaten
to strip citizens of constitutional rights and citizenship
itself. Secret detentions, summary deportations and the
like have thus far elicited no detectable response from
the man who would be the first black US Senator of the new
century, although he is a professor of constitutional law
at the University
of Chicago. We remain optimistic, though a little impatient,
and fully expect these defects to be remedied soon, too.
Ron Gerughty, a lifelong activist and educator, believes the
Democratic Party has become hopeless corrupted by the DLC.
article by Bruce Dixon on Barack Obama nails the dilemma
- the DLCs control of the Democratic Party and its corruption
of the principles and morals of those who call themselves
Democrats. It's just another reason why you cannot effectively
gain a rightful voice in the Party. I still believe that
the best way to go is to create another political party,
unless of course you can stage a coup and throw out the
suspect that political cartoonist Khalil Bendib has become
insufferable, showered as he is by praise for his artistry
in these pages. Fortunately, the publishers of
are a safe distance and several mountain ranges removed from
Bendib's all-consuming aura. We fear that well-intentioned
readers like Evelyn risk inflating beyond human proportion
the man we once knew simply as Khalil.
a short note to say congratulations - you are doing a great
job! A special note of appreciation to Khalil Bendib - he
is a great cartoonist who does wonderful interpretations
of politicians and news stories. It is a pity his work is
not printed in major newspapers throughout the US so that
more people can see how talented he is. Finally, please
ignore the usual fools who try to dictate to you what your
views should be. Keep up the good work!