Twenty or so years ago, I was talking with Jack Gibson, a black radio pioneer, and he was detailing the power black radio had developed.
It introduced whole styles of music – like, say, rock ‘n’ roll or, later, rap. It mobilized communities – as the Million Man March proved a couple of years later. Most important, Gibson said, it had become a megaphone for voices that still were too often ignored. “Jack the Rapper” died in 2000, but his words will be echoing through Washington, D.C., around noon today, when Barack Obama is scheduled to be sworn in as America’s 44th President.
Obama didn’t run as a “black” cand idate, and it was the efforts of many people and institutions that got him elected. But black radio was there, start to finish, in helping push America to this rather amazing moment in our history. Way back in the early days of the civil rights movement, black radio became one of the first forums where black voices were given a microphone and taken seriously. That role was reprised in this election during, for instance, the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright – even though black radio reflected a wide range of opinions on what was going down. When Jack Gibson signed on the air at the country’s first black-owned radio station in 1949, he was saying, “We can do this.” In 2008, we did.