Throughout much of the 20th century, African Americans engaged in the “Great Migration” moved from the rural South to points north, often urban centers. Their presence in cities from Memphis to Chicago and New York would have a profound impact on American culture in general, and on radio programming in particular.
African-American audiences were eager to hear music performed by African-American artists, particularly the new Rhythm and Blues sounds that had begun to emerge from earlier Blues and Jazz styles. In 1949, WDIA in Memphis hired a team of African-American disc jockeys and began gearing programming entirely toward African-American audiences, with R&B and Blues at its heart. In some cases, it was white disc jockeys who championed this music, playing it on radio stations that would bring together black and white audiences.
This lesson will focus on two of those DJs: Memphis’s Dewey Phillips, whose popular show “Red Hot and Blue” frequently featured music by African-American artists, and Los Angeles’s Hunter Hancock, widely regarded as the first DJ in the western part of the country to regularly play R&B on the air. Reaching both black and white audiences, these pioneering DJs played an integral role in bringing African-American music into the mainstream, a process that lay at the heart of the soon-to-come Rock and Roll revolution.