Review of Black Radio: An American History

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Merits Anih
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Review of Black Radio: An American History

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[Following is an official review of "Black Radio: An American History" by J Thomas Smith.]
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5 out of 5 stars
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I remember when my grandfather told us about how they listened to games on the radio. He told us that some people would even visit just to listen to their favorite games together. I remember being marveled and excited at how fortunate we are to enjoy the visuals now on television. Black Radio: An American History started from the early years of radio. There was a time when radio was the dominant means of technological entertainment until the 1950s, when television started taking over. Then, some radio stations went into recession as playing music became their major program. But, as we know, innovation never dies. People will always be innovative. Music stations still devised a way to stay in business and increase their profitability. The author went through the history of radio as a whole, the movement from AM to FM, the history of Black radio, how Payola (pay for play) impacted radio, and how streaming services affected independent promoters. This book also illuminates how Black music indelibly shaped and energized the civil rights movement. The history-making influence of genres born in the Black community, from blues and jazz to hip-hop and rap, is also analyzed. By profiling pioneering African-American radio personalities and executives, the author reveals how Black radio laid the groundwork for today's artists.

The rise of radio stations tailored to African-American listeners in the mid-20th century became a powerful platform for advancing civil rights and instilling cultural pride. Black disc jockeys at these stations championed Black music genres and connected directly with local Black communities. Their prominence on the airwaves helped drive the mainstream popularity of rhythm and blues, soul, and eventually hip-hop. WDIA in Memphis made history as the first radio station in the country to adopt programming targeted explicitly at African-American listeners. The pioneering Black-oriented format proved hugely popular. Because of their targeted audience, WDIA shattered revenue records, becoming the first radio station in Memphis to generate over $1 million in annual revenue. Through their tight song playlists and banter reflecting Black culture, quick-witted DJs like Jack Gibson, Al Benson, and Jack L. Cooper became household names.

J Thomas Smith tried to provide as many related images as possible, and it was one of the things I loved about the book. It made visualizing the early television and a whole lot of other things possible. I learned about people who made notable contributions to the beginning of Black radio: Pioneer Black Disk Jockeys such as Roland Bynum, Al Bell, Jerry Boulding, Wash Allen, etc. These people were very pertinent to bringing radio "home," and they should be known. I value this book because one of its purposes is to ensure that history is not forgotten. If we don't tell our stories, they will be lost. Surprisingly, I didn't know many people mentioned, which is why I am happy and count myself lucky that I encountered this book. It was also good to learn about WDIA's contributions to society, such as when WDIA helped raise money to build the National Civil Rights Museum after Chuck Scruggs became the station's first Black manager and vice president in 1972.

In this book, the author talks about BRE magazine and its historical significance in the African-American music industry. By celebrating Black music culture and the visionaries behind its sounds, Black Radio Exclusive Magazine became a beloved institution in its own right—one that profoundly impacted the landscape of modern music. This book is written on many topics and subtopics for easy digestion. It was not hard for me to find anything at all. When I finished reading this book, there were other areas I wanted to reread, like the section about Jack L. Cooper and others. It wasn't hard to pinpoint those exact places because of the topics and subtopics. I love how the author dissected how technology, including AI, has affected radio as well as the future of black radio. It is my pleasure to rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is in the radio and entertainment industry. The author also discussed how music is promoted, and I think the knowledge will be valuable for those in the entertainment industry. To me, I would say this book is meant for educational purposes because it feels so. The only thing I disliked about it is that when the author talked about "Tools Used by Program Directors to Know Their Market," I expected him to actually mention and discuss such tools, but he just scratched the surface by saying things like "Computer programs monitor trends and radio listening patterns in specific markets." What are those computer programs? This is an area I'd love to be improved if the book is ever revised. It is, however, a minor negative aspect and did not affect my overall rating.

Black Radio: An American History
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