By Kimberly Davis
Just as LL Cool J couldn’t live without his radio, neither, it seems, can African-Americans.
A new Arbitron study shows that radio reaches 94 percent of Blacks aged 12 years and older each week. The 2010 edition of Black Radio Today details black-listening behavior to 10 of the country’s most popular radio formats, including urban adult contemporary, urban contemporary, gospel, all news and all sports.
The 56-page report from the Columbia, Md.,-based company used data gathered from fall 2009 to paint a portrait of the relevance of the medium to the African-American community. In a world undergoing a major digital media transformation, radio is one of communication’s oldest mediums that continues to capture the attention and time of black Americans.
While many of the radio stations analyzed in the report aren’t owned by African-Americans, it is the personalities and programming that attract an African-American audience. The report showed tremendous gains among blacks in the all-sports format, an increase of 50 percent. Sports is also the top format among high-income African-American households. The top format among the 10 analyzed in the report was urban adult contemporary, which consumed 31 percent of black-radio listening.
That radio remains a vital part of black people’s lives is nothing new to those who understand the importance of oral tradition in African-American culture – the griots of West Africa delivered history as storytelling – and the connection blacks have felt with radio almost since its inception.
As the first electronic mass medium, radio has played an integral part in informing, entertaining and framing the lives of African-Americans. “Historically, radio is still the primary form of communication in the world,” said Davey D, a syndicated talk show host and hip-hop journalist. “And it’s a major jump-off point for us in the black community. That’s never changed.”
Davey D, who lives in the Bay Area and hosts the award-winning Hard Knock Radio show, said there’s a disconnect in terms of how blacks listen to radio today and how they understand radio’s history and relevance, particularly with regard to the popular modern shock jocks like Howard Stern and Don Imus. “We pioneered the format,” Davey D said of programs that are more personality-driven. Think Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, Jack the Rapper and Jack L. Cooper—pioneers who set the tone for the radio of today.
But there’s a larger purpose for radio in the African-American community, especially when it comes to providing information that isn’t always readily available in other media, said Chad Dion Lassiter, who co-hosts “Wise Talk” with Darin Toliver on WURD in Philadelphia. Lassiter said radio is a format that allows for more freedom to speak to different racial and ethnic communities about issues that are pertinent to them. Much like black newspapers, black radio “speaks back to the scars and suffering of our people.”
“Black radio is the voice of the people,” said Lassiter, who received a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work. “As a talk show host myself, I aim to inspire, unite, educate, and elevate.”