Bob Law gives courts a history lesson on black radio
The Kings County Supreme Court hosted legendary radio personality Bob Law for a two-day Black History Month event discussing the death of black radio this past Tuesday and Wednesday.
Law, who is a longtime talk radio host and activist in New York City, gave a presentation on the importance and history of black radio on Tuesday, and then guests watched his documentary “Saying It Loud: Radio Giving Voice to Black America” on Wednesday.
“Black radio was a really important part of the Civil Rights Movement and of black history,” said Justice Deborah Dowling. “Even today it has its place. Even though it’s been pushed to the curb, maybe even off the curb. But it’s still relevant.”
The discussion and the documentary both focused on how black radio gave black musicians a start and opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. Without it, stars like Isaac Hayes and Sam Cook would have never gotten their start. By the time it had morphed into black talk radio, it became a conduit for the Civil Rights Movement.
“Issues that may not be of a major concern to the major radio stations were discussed on the smaller stations,” Dowling said. “Black radio stations never had the influence of the larger ones like WCBS, but they did in the black community. I thought his discussion was really interesting and on point. He mentioned the fact that because they were so effective, that might be why it was dismantled.”
Law claimed that the Million Man March on Washington, D.C. in 1995 likely never would have happened if not for black radio. Indeed, court clerk specialist Roderick Randall said that black radio inspired him to take part in the historic march.
“I grew up on black radio: the DJs, the talk shows, all of it,” said Randall, who was upset that he couldn’t find his Million Man March sweater for the event. “They were very influential for the community and was certainly the main reason for me having gone to the Million Man March.”
Unfortunately, today, black radio doesn’t exist like it used to. Randall said that WBAI is the only station that he knew of that represents traditional black radio. Law claimed in his documentary that it was railroaded by the larger radio stations and the advertising industry. The consolidation of modern radio may eventually be the final nail in the coffin.
“This was so important because not only black radio, but radio in general seems like a thing of the past,” Randall said. “That was the main reason to get him here, so that people who grew up on it could remember and so that there was a lesson to learn for the younger people.”
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