I wrote this commentary for an industry magazine back in 1995. Thought it should be dusted off to provoke some additional thought about why we are here, and in light of some recent commentary by Lee, Andre and coz.
Since this was written there has been significant changes in the landscape of radio in this nation. FCC rules which allowed monopoly buyouts; minority purchase options, etc. Radio One alone has sold more than 18 stations across the nation. And of course, we got XM and Sirius, now, XM/Sirius. There is currently no more than 6 Black talk radio programmes across the country which are nationally syndicated, serious talk and is not infotainment. It is a sad state of affairs indeed. Where do we get our information and who facilitates the processing of the information is so critical. State Farm now sponsors an ad about Kwanzaa, but there were no Kwanzaa on air celebrations to be found.
January 2, 2009
The BLACK COMMUNITY and the Building of a
Our Common Ground Communications, Inc.
Paualo Friere writes that oppression is any state or situation where an individual or group objectifies and exploits by making decision fro the other, prescribing another's consciousness and perception which hinders the "pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person . . . Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with man's ontological and historical vocation to be more human."
Discourse, debate and exchange of information in the African-American community is fragmentized, marginalized and in deep trouble. All of us would agree that when America completes the construction of the "information super highway" communication of information and feedback to that information will be more instantaneous and timely. The American public will not be getting new kinds of information, it will be receiving it along vehicles that are different and more direct. To many African-Americans it will simply mean that the distorted images about them will come more frequently and be passed on more effectively than ever before. There is evidence that this is true if we examine the first of the many lanes of the construction.
Every day, Monday through Friday, twenty-four million people come together in a meeting with a man named Rush Limbaugh. They talk and organize themselves on public air waves to "fight the power". This forum is called " talk radio". When Rush talks, America listens. From the Federal Reserve Bank to the Defense Department. The powerful in America understand ;the power of talk radio. What is said here has power politically and socially. The conservative right voice of the " Rush meeting" and its "mega ditto audience" was so powerful that what they had to say played a pivotal and significant role in what George Bush and Bill Clinton had to say about who they were as presidential candidates. Even today, the White House listens on a daily basis to ensure that they are safely inside the expectations of the American public. Rush Limbaugh, a neo-conservative is asked for his opinion from Somalia to Rwanda to welfare reform. His views are solicited in every major newspaper in the country. This includes guest editorials in the Wall Street Journal. The quiet revolution of talk radio happened as African Americans continued to listen to their local AM station blasting 2-Live Crew as a steady diet in the interest of serving their community. Even today, in the era of information, African Americans who want to participate in some debate or seek information about themselves must usually wait until Sunday at noon to get their hour a week of organizing. Much like the super structures of the 60's and 70's urban renewal, the information super highway is being built around the Black community. For the African-American community, there are far too many highway off ramps.
Black people in America continue to be subjected to humiliating, confusing, and hateful images, all of which lead to feelings of powerlessness in their interactions with others in our society as portrayed by the main stream media. Negative stereotypes about Blacks are easily found, and even easier accepted and tolerated all around us. These images, distorted or downright false reports of Blacks are portrayed in media, literature and cinema as lazy, irresponsible, violent panhandlers of government programs and community scams. Such stereotypic characterizations are sometimes the rationalization of people, both Black and white, who essentially feel that the Black presence in our society must be controlled. Some believe that such control is necessary to bar Black people from moving beyond the savage of global white supremacy. And, unfortunately, too many Black people do not seek information, have access to or understand basic and synthesized historical context of their history.
Talk radio has become one of few means in which American people give voice to the "man on the street". It is a primary source of Black consensus for politicians and other policy developers. It is the major thread in the development of public opinion. It's massive power has created political agendas, given life to formulating a Black perspective, whether it be Whitewater or other topics, not thought to have a racial perspective; and has altered the direction of policy development in viewing the health care plan for the nation. Most Americans seek and find the direction that welfare reform and the national crime bill will take, by turning on the radio to Rush or Stan or Gene. To know and understand the level at which African-Americans are marginalized and disenfranchised in the American though process you cannot listen to that brand of talk radio. It is not surprising that a Black community perspective is not included in the fray. Progressive talk radio is the pioneering lane on the information superhighway, and the Black community has only off ramps. As Black radio stations continue to blast music 24 hours a day, the rest of America talks and the African-American community voice is just some grey noise, very low volume grey, in the background
There are 236 Black-owned AM radio stations in America that serve African-American communities. Only 18 of them air a daily talk show of one hour or more. These shows provide communities to participate in the public debate. 226 of these stations provide some kind of weekly public affairs show of one hour or less each week. 168 of the stations provide news reporting focused on the national events and activities of the Black community. Nation-wide there are only two nationally syndicated radio talk show focused on the affairs and issues of African-Americans. These shows, however, do not get aired in major urban areas like Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Los Angeles.
African-Americans are constantly reminded of their glorious history steeped in the oral tradition. The Civil Rights Era was fostered out of community meetings held in a church on a nightly basis to seek information and consensus on the issues. Many would attribute the crisis that consume the Black community to the lost of the traditional meetings that assisted the community in seeking and implementing community solutions. As the Black community looks for ways in which to inclusive and comprehensive in its reconstruction, talk radio is a natural, culturally affirming tool. It can replace the lost of church and civic meetings and interaction which has served as the backbone of community development. Crime and the image of crime in our community deters attendance to evening community meetings. The absence of safe and reliable public transportation also contributes to the dilemma of community meeting attendance. Talk radio can be the town meetings, happening on a daily basis to inform, challenge and organize the community. When produced properly, in the interest of the community, every member of the community can have access to a African-American studies curriculum every day.
Bob Law, the 10 year veteran host of "Nighttalk with Bob Law" (WWRL, New York),a five hour nightly issues talk show, aired in 10 cities points out that "Talk radio is the university in the air for the whole community. It allows for posing crucial questions and issues that face our community everyday." In 1980, "Nighttalk" had syndication of more than 20 location. The reduction is an indication of high competition for advertising dollars in the Black radio market. National advertisers seem to prefer to advertise in music formats in the urban market. They are usually uninterested in advertisement that is not placed in music. It gives radio stations little incentive to air commercial talk programming. Law says that, " If white people are talking all day, every day- it means that Black people need to be talking twice as much as that.” The notion that we can reconstruct our communities without Black people understanding our problems in relationship to broader current events is a mistake. Black talk radio provides the community insight from their unique perspective and offers a forum for African-American voices and collaboration. Black talk radio provides an opportunity to put events and problems in a perspective that allows the the Black community to assess these problems in a proper matrix. The Black community often suffer from and is victimized by and is criticized for having only one or two voices to speak for us. Some kind of manipulated leadership structure of individuals whose priorities are shaped by self-vested interests. Talk radio changes that and provides a venue to dismantle it. Black talk radio must give voice to Black diversity and to our collective strengths. Talk radio is our opportunity to avoid the images and distractions that we know are harmful about who we are and the direction that we must take.
It is reported that seven million Black people listen to talk radio. The issues that they want to talk about are bread and butter issues, life and death and survival and salvation and redemption of their children and their community. The Rush Limbaugh programs on radio and the Jenny Jones type programs on television will not meet the needs of these listeners or the information needs of the Black community. In the entire country, Black comprise less than 10% of 1 % of the subscriptions to computer on-line services. Inner city computer services offered by public libraries and educational programs provide limited entrance to these services as well. The purpose of the "superhighway" is simply a means to more effective and timely communications in America's interaction with itself. If AAs do not have access to the data, to the exchange or to the input, how is it to benefit or change the African-American community? Where do we begin to ensure that we communicate with ourselves?
Who has given thought to how and where we access information ? An even more relevant question is who and what information for and about African-Americans will be placed in the technological wonder that will govern public discourse and debate in the 21st Century and beyond. If we are to take lessons as a community from history, there are two important factors that we need to underscore. The first is that until we find a way to bring consensus to our community issues, solutions will come far too late and be minimized by the lack of community support. The second is that, information is not valuable until it is shared and is relevantly processed. The information superhighway in America began with dialogue. People getting together and massaging their ideas and notions based upon a constant source of offered information-talk radio. This is where the Black superhighway must also begin. And for now, this is where the Black community begins its reconstruction.
1 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (New York, Continium,1982) : 40-41