WURD 15th Anniversary Open Letter
Written by Sara Lomax-Reese on October 19, 2018
As we officially celebrate our 15-year anniversary, I have been reflecting on WURD’s evolution and our journey forward. As the only African American talk radio station in Pennsylvania – and one of the few remaining in the country – WURD is carrying on a unique and powerful legacy of conscious Black radio.
We are part of a continuum that dates back to 1927 when Floyd Joseph Calvin, a Pittsburgh Courier journalist, became the first Black radio talk show host. Two years later in Chicago, Jack L. Cooper debuted “The All-Negro Hour” on WSBC. In 1945 Nat King Cole became the first African American to have a radio variety show. Interestingly, the first station to be owned and operated by an African American was WERD, a 1,000-watt station purchased in 1949 by Jesse B. Blayton, a professor at Atlanta University. Philadelphia has its own claim to radio fame. In 1945, WHAT became the first U.S. radio station to hire a full-time Black announcer, the first to program a regular show hosted by a Black woman and the first station in the city to hire Black newscasters.
Ninety-one years after the first Black radio host, and 69-years after WERD signed on… a new WURD lives on. WURD Radio is the heir to this important legacy. But a lot has changed over the past 65 years. Today, less than three percent of full-power radio stations are African American owned. Beyond radio, though, the entire media landscape has shifted — dramatically.
Today we live in a crowded, noisy media world with 24-hour news cycles. Social media outlets like Facebook have disrupted “traditional” media by siphoning ad dollars and harvesting personal data, further compromising the survival of independent voices. And we can’t underestimate the impact of a president who is deeply racist, declaring war on the media. Within that context, independent Black-owned media is truly an endangered species.
Fifteen years ago, in 2002, Cody Anderson – radio veteran and former General Manager for WDAS and WHAT – approached my father, Walter P. Lomax Jr., M.D., to present a unique business opportunity: the purchase of 900AM-WURD. Cody reportedly said, “Doc, you may not be able to support everyone’s cause, but you can give them a voice.” That simple concept was the spark that led to WURD’s genesis.
Early on, my parents recognized that this was more than a business venture: it was an outgrowth of their political and social consciousness. They knew that without an outlet geared specifically to the Black community, we are too often caricatured in sound bites, exploited in sensational headlines and reduced to our lowest common denominator. There is limited acknowledgment of the complexity, diversity and beauty of our experience.
That is why WURD exists … and why we persist.
Over our 15-year lifespan, we have been at the forefront of the most important stories of our time, often sounding the alarm weeks before mainstream media. From voter ID laws to local and national police-involved shootings, WURD was reporting and discussing topics when others were not. Whether it’s gun violence, public education, the state of Black leadership, or the prison industrial complex, we are committed to discussing the complicated issues that disproportionately affect our community. Though the Black experience is not just about hardship, WURD regularly trumpets the success stories that won’t be told anywhere else, like showcasing brilliant young students, spotlighting our contributions to Philadelphia arts and culture, and making sure we use our airwaves to educate, inspire, and enlighten our listeners.
Since I took the helm in 2010, we have had our share of joy and pain. We have seen incredible growth, such as: expansion onto the FM dial (96.1FM); increased digital outreach through wurdradio.com and social media; a powerful exploration of community violence through the WURD On Violence initiative; the launch of our new environmental justice project; ecoWURD.com; expanded partnerships with major corporate and cultural organizations; lots of community events; and, of course, our growing forWURD membership movement.
However, we have also felt the heartbreak of losing some of our strong and passionate on-air luminaries too soon. We are deeply grateful that Reggie Bryant, Fatimah Ali, Rob Murray, and Dr. Frank Wyatt were a part of WURD’s unique blend of conversation and contemplation. And of course, we are still inspired and guided by our founder, Dr. Walter P. Lomax Jr.’s, vision and commitment.
There is much to be thankful for as we look back. I want to personally thank the staff – hosts, board operators, producers, sales, marketing, digital, IT, operations – for all that they do. They are often called to get up early and stay late to keep us on air.
We also have the most loyal, dedicated listening audience bar none – and I want to give a special shout out to our forWURD members. They show up at every seminar, event, and live broadcast ready for action. They are responsive, engaged, and passionate.
I am grateful to all of our community partners – corporate, political, philanthropic, and cultural. We have worked hard over the years to be the bridge that connects you to over 600,00 African Americans in this city through on-air dialogue, community events, and digital outreach. We appreciate all of these partnerships.
Fifteen Years is a great foundation upon which to build. We are proud of our past and excited about the future. So, stay tuned for some big plans during 2018/19. We hope that you will continue to grow with us into the next decade and beyond. Here’s to 15 more. #WURDis15