December 1, 2015

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3/20/00 "No Blacks Allowed"

I saw the sign, "No Blacks Allowed," and my heart sank. I just stood and stared, not believing that such a sign could still exist anywhere in America. It made my blood boil.
In 1980, I was collecting the required community ascertainment interviews to apply for a class "C" FM broadcast license in a small town south of New Orleans. After seeing that sign hanging over the door of a local eatery, I made it a point to seek out leaders in the black community. Local white officials warned me "not to be talkin’ to them people." They strongly suggested that I not mention their treatment of blacks in my report and added that, if I spoke to any of the blacks, I would be arrested and "maybe never heard from again."
My next interview was with a stately, gray-haired minister who tearfully told me that I was one of the few white men who had ever asked about the treatment of his people. He told me stories of recent beatings, oppression and murder, and described local business practices that were tantamount to modern-day slavery. We’ve all heard the stories of horrible treatment of blacks in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, but this happened in 1980.
The threats against me continued, so I made an appointment to see a local attorney. He strongly reinforced the stories and smilingly suggested that I leave town before I "end up with the gators and snakes."
When the FCC granted me the FM license, I built the station just outside that particular parish. I then focused a huge amount of public-affairs programming on the treatment of blacks in the community. That Radio station became a beacon too bright to be ignored. We kept it up until 60 Minutes did a story on the parish government, and those bigots were ousted.
It is always with great pride that I publish this particular issue of Radio Ink. And each year a few jerks will write nasty letters and cancel their subscriptions because we chose to recognize the accomplishments of notable African-Americans in Radio. I consider myself a fair man, so I’mplanning a special issue of Radio Ink for the exclusive purpose of publishing these letters and profiling their authors. So go ahead and send them in, guys. Be sure to include a picture.
Regardless of what you might prefer to believe, the simple truth is that it’s still much more difficult for African-Americans to compete in this business than it is for whites. Attitudes have not changed nearly enough; and we, as an industry, need to use the power of our media to help complete the necessary changes in attitude that were begun just a few years ago.
I have a question: Why are there not more African-Americans in leadership positions in major broadcast companies and trade organizations? Although there may no longer be a physical sign hanging over the door, I fear its message is still being heard.
Now what are we going to do about it?

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