The winds of change blew briskly – and profoundly – through WURD in 2018.
In case you missed it, this was a year marked by morning show shifts, the introduction of the all-women lineup – The Source (10am-1pm) — and the growth of our millennial focused show, The Lounge.. Yes: we got off to a pretty chaotic start (I’m still in therapy). But I am grateful to our amazing team led by General Manager, Monica Lewis. She continues providing steady leadership in turbulent times. A special acknowledgement to “Queen Kwasa” (Kwasa Mathis), our Wake Up With WURD morning show producer, who helped us navigate these abrupt and often rocky transitions with ease and grace.
Off air, we were busy creating powerful community events to bring our people together to share, debate and heal. (Shout out to Yashira Rivera, our energetic and oh so organized, event coordinator). We kicked off Black History Month with our WURD Speaks symposium in partnership with the Barnes Foundation to celebrate The Year of Dubois with a powerful panel discussion titled, “The Philadelphia Negro: Past and Present.” You may remember our Courageous Conversation convening in May at the African American Museum where we explored the idea of “Being While Black” as a response to the Starbucks controversy.
We invited our listeners to get healthy at the WURD Wellness Pavilion at the Park West Town Community Festival in June. And we celebrated our founder, Walter P. Lomax Jr., M.D., at a fantastic Founder’s Day celebration in August, punctuating our 8-week “Summer of Freedom” Library tour.
We continued growing our Family Business Collaborative which features locally owned family businesses — Brown’s ShopRite, Dietz and Watson, Herr’s, Amoros’o’s and Canada Dry — in partnership with WURD Radio, also a family-owned business, to create dynamic and fun events like the Big Game Hoagie Making Contest and Best BBQ contest at area Brown’s ShopRite stores.
On air, it was spirited debate, in-depth analysis and expanded coverage that actually influenced and impacted critical issues in the community we serve – locally and nationally. Our WURD on Violence initiative which was supported by the Lenfest Institute featured two community events titled Transmit/Transform where we brought information and resources to the North and Southwest communities, while hearing residents’ personal stories of violence and trauma. We believe this on air and in community project has played a part in gradually forcing city leaders to reexamine their response to rising violent crime in Philadelphia.
We launched ecoWURD (www.ecowurd.com) later in the year on the Civil platform where we focus on the intersection of race, income and the environment — one of the only media outlets in the nation reporting exclusively on environmental justice. In 2018, the WURD brand grew nationwide: we were the only Black-owned media outlet with end to end coverage of the midterm elections; and the massive traffic from our #WURDonSOTU “tweet-up” coverage on the president’s State of the Union outperformed the major national Black media outlets. We hosted a critically important panel discussion on Black mental health and trauma at this year’s Congressional Black Caucus, with nearly 12,000 viewers of our Facebook live stream of that event (an unprecedented WURD feat made possible by digital strategist Martin Pratt); and persistent solutions-based conversation and coverage on WURD regarding #BeingWhileBlack incidents is recognized as directly spurring African American state lawmakers in New York, Michigan and elsewhere to introduce or consider legislation that prosecutes people for falsely using 911 against innocent Black citizens. Our work has pushed WURD to spark, revive and shape local community controversies – from the police killing of David Jones to the racially-charged trial of Michael White; from community outrage over a proposed football stadium in North Philly to implementation of a parking ticket amnesty program and parking authority audit triggered by WURD coverage; from continued spotlight on gentrification to the condition of our public schools to the state of city finances.
We were the only Black-owned media outlet in the nation with dedicated on-site coverage provided by City Council LIVE host Vincent Thompson during the Bill Cosby trial, who provided analysis on national outlets. No other radio station in the region broadcasted President Obama’s 2018 campaign speech live from the Dell. We diligently covered, on social media and on-air, the funeral of Aretha Franklin. WURD is now known nationally for our expert political analysis, from the presence of Reality Check host Charles Ellison covering the chaos in the nation’s capital with appearances on national cable outlets and on syndicated radio shows throughout the country.
And who could forget the magnificent 15th Anniversary Celebration on October 6th at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts where we honored several stakeholders who have been critical to our success, with a special surprise tribute to my mother, Beverly Lomax, for being the die-hardest of the die-hard WURD supporters. A special performance by Sonia Sanchez and Toshi Reagon was followed by a powerful panel discussion with DeRay Mckesson, Marc Lamont Hill and Lorene Cary. And no one will ever forget the After Party hosted by our own Dr. Aaron Smith, who was in non-stop motion for two hours straight.
On the heels of our 15th, we jumped into fast and furious coverage of the mid-term elections where, I believe, WURD played a critical role in energizing, educating and encouraging our community to get out to vote. Indeed, Philadelphia alone experienced an all-time high of 52 percent voter turnout for a midterm – with 38 percent of that driven by Black voters. WURD’s non-stop, all-year election coverage clearly played a role in that.
Rounding out the year was an amazing Empowerment Experience featuring motivational guru, TV personality and former WURD host, Iyanla Vanzant. The Arch Street Meeting House overflowed with several hundred people who, shopped in the holiday marketplace, received health screenings and massages, and were fed essential soul food by Ms. Iyanla.
CLICK HERE for Photo Gallery from Empowerment Experience
Way behind the scenes, unseen and unheard, we had another important win in 2018. In September, the FCC granted us a waiver to expand our 96.1FM signal. To say this came as a surprise is an understatement. But through perseverance and patience, we were able to make this important enhancement. Big ups to Mike Thomas, Chief Operator, who worked with a team of engineers to get this done. Let us know if you can hear the difference.
This was a year to remember. But, in all honestly, as I reflect back, I am happy to say goodbye to 2018. It was a challenging and exhausting year. But I have grown personally, professionally and spiritually. And one thing that is abundantly clear: we have the most loyal, dedicated, best listeners and supporters on the planet. I am grateful to all of you – first time callers or every day callers; forWURD members; all of you who complain passionately and those that champion our every success; our advertisers and sponsors; event attendees; Facebook friends; Twitter trolls – the whole, diverse and dynamic WURD universe. I’ll take it all — the good, the bad, the sad and the beautiful.
We look ahead to 2019 with great excitement and anticipation. Keep an eye on the launch of WURD TV, more engagement on social media, some new programming, exciting community events (mark your calendar for February 1 for our first WURD Speaks event at the Barnes focused on gentrification), and some innovative partnerships with other independent Black media outlets around the country.
Thank you for riding with us throughout 2018. And get ready for a new and exciting New Year. Stay tuned!