I thought I would take this Throwback Thursday opportunity to also recognize Black History Month because A) it is February and B) I’m too lazy to create two separate posts. And since I am posting about achievements in Black History, I thought I would focus on my own industry – radio.
There have been some outstanding broadcast pioneers, trailblazers if you will, to come out of the black American experiment. The “black DJ” was an integral member of the black community since the late 1940’s. Not so much today given cross-over formats and corporate consolidation. But back in the day, there were some true gems in the business. Cats like Jack “The Rapper” Gibson, Rufus Thomas, and Jocko Henderson held daily parties in the studio and invited listeners in with their fast-talking, hip-talking lingo in the 1940’s and 50’s. But by the 1960’s, things began to change. The social conscience of black America gave the black DJ a platform from which he could speak directly to the community en masse, and with some authority. That’s when cat’s like Petey Greene changed the game.
Ralph Waldo Greene, Jr’s start in radio actually began in prison in the early 1960’s where he served some time as the prison DJ. The charismatic high school dropout manipulated his way to an early release in 1966. In the summer of ’66, Petey started his professional career as a DJ at WOL AM in Washington, DC with the Rappin’ With Peetey Greene show. Unlike the trailblazers before him, Petey broadened his repertoire beyond popular music and included controversial subjects like race and politics. And the people loved him for it. Loved him for “telling it like it is”. They loved him so much that his popularity elevated him to the television broadcast game. He won two Emmy’s for his Petey Greene’s Washington TV show. Petey had the gift of gab. He demonstrated how wit and charisma could move people to action, and in the case of the 1968 riots in Washington, DC, move people to inaction. The human voice, amplified by radio, encourages sodality and community. This is what he showed us. He demonstrated the power of voice and the power of radio. His life was chronicled in the film Talk To Me starring Don Cheadle. Worth a view if you haven’t seen it. And now…this moment in black history…is brought to you by Petey Greene: