The Radio Station That Found Massive Success By Speaking Directly To Black People

WDIA radio station sign
Abeni Jones
March 19, 2020

In 1949, 40% of Memphis, TN was Black. Radio was king then, but NONE of Memphis’ six radio stations featured Black music or Black voices.

That changed forever once WDIA took a major gamble.


It started as a 30-minute segment that played blues, jazz, gospel, and commentary aimed at Black audiences. 

But the overwhelmingly-positive response was immediate, and WDIA blew up, becoming the most successful radio station in Memphis. It quickly became an all-Black radio station, and its impact on American culture was massive.

WDIA introduced countless artists who would go on to be major stars, such as B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, and Ike Turner. 

The station also spoke directly to the community, with “shout outs” and local news and commentary, making it an essential daily listen for Black Memphis.

The station even supported Civil Rights efforts and contributed to local charities to support low-income Black youth.

Countless radio stations around the country started following its model, and today, Black-led hip-hop and “urban” radio stations and podcasts dominate the scene - following in WDIA’s footsteps.

We don’t need the validation of white folks who ignore us anyway. When we get opportunities to excel and support each other, we TAKE them. Showing up for each other is what we do, and if anyone has doubts that Black-focused ventures can succeed, look at the history of WDIA!

We have a quick favor to ask:

PushBlack is a nonprofit dedicated to raising up Black voices. We are a small team but we have an outsized impact:

  • We reach tens of millions of people with our BLACK NEWS & HISTORY STORIES every year.
  • We fight for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM to protect our community.
  • We run VOTING CAMPAIGNS that reach over 10 million African-Americans across the country.

And as a nonprofit, we rely on small donations from subscribers like you.

With as little as $5 a month, you can help PushBlack raise up Black voices. It only takes a minute, so will you please ?

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