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WERD Was America’s First Black-Owned Radio Station

Broadcaster at WERD radio station

In 1949, bank president and professor Jesse B. Blayton purchased a radio station for the price of $50,000. With the acquisition, the 1,000 watt-powered WERD officially became the country’s first African American-owned and operated station, and an important element of the burgeoning civil rights movement in Atlanta.
Blayton would later hire his son, Jesse Jr., to serve as station manager, as well as popular Atlanta DJ Jack Gibson in 1951, and WERD would become a fixture for black-centric programming.

The station was also famously housed in the same building as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and naturally became a platform for SCLC founder and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gibson described an arrangement wherein Dr. King would strike the first-floor ceiling with a broomstick when he wished to make an announcement over the airwaves, prompting Gibson to lower a microphone through a window from the second floor to one below, which would be used to broadcast the message.

Gibson — often credited as an influential voice in the popularization of hip-hop music — would be inducted into the Black Radio Hall of Fame in 1989. Blayton Sr. remained owner of the station until 1968, though he would continue his community involvement until his passing in September of 1977.

He was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.