In 1948-49 white-owned WDIA in Memphis became the nation’s first all-black radio station. Its owners, Bert Ferguson and John R. Pepper, hired Nat D. Williams, the first publicly identified black disc jockey. The station aired black history segments and presented an open forum for discussion of black problems. The programming change proved successful, and the station soon grew to a major fifty-thousand-watt-station. It was the first Memphis station to gross a million dollars in a year. African Americans within its broadcast range considered WDIA as “their station.”

WDIA, known as the Starmaker Station, gave exposure to many local talents. Recording greats B. B. King and Rufus Thomas worked as disc jockeys, giving exposure to such regional blues stars as Little Milton and Junior Parker and local gospel groups like the Spirit of Memphis and the Southern Wonders. Bobby Blue Bland, Johnny Ace, and Roscoe Gordon even cut some of their first records in the WDIA studio. WDIA’s Teen-Town singer program recognized the talents of Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes. Also known as the Goodwill Station, WDIA held annual Goodwill and Starlight Revues before capacity crowds, with proceeds benefiting needy African American children.

WDIA found its niche in a segregated society, and with the integration of the broadcast industry during the 1960s, the station lost its unique character. A sale to Sonderling Broadcast Corporation in 1957 and Viacom in 1986 further altered the station by implementing uniform chain-programming.

Suggested Reading

Louis Cantor, Wheelin on Beale (1992)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title WDIA
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018