One Radio Station's Role in the History of the Civil Rights and Peace Movements

  

       The actual telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is in the  DOCUMENTS  section.

        


Above: picture and original caption from a 1960 WDAS history and events book filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Dr. King, seen above in 1959 and 1960, here alone in the pulpit and with only one station covering him. 

WDAS was not only very quick to put Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio-  their offices became his offices.

Before the marches, before the speeches and the Nobel Peace Prize, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, before the tidal victories of political empowerment,  before...

             ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Along the lines of strong ties and links, the   DOCUMENTS   section has the thought provoking telelgram from Dr. King and a letter from Andy Young you may find interesting.

The bond between the religious community and WDAS was extraordinary.

By the mid-1950s, Portia Perry handled much of the station's 'Spirituals' programming and also hosted what we now commonly call 'talk shows.'


It was all very new then--including uniformly integrated schools...

Portia Perry   [with phone] interviewing Daisy Bates, NAACP hero of the 1957 Little Rock, Arkansas school desegregation battles.
Bates received all manner of support from WDAS Radio.
 
At the time of the Little Rock riots, WDAS Newsman Art Peters was flown to Arkansas for immediate live coverage. Upon his return, he produced numerous reports both on the air and at various church and community meetings.

On this 1958 visit to Philadelphia, Bates was in town accepting scholarship money donated by caring Philadelphians to benefit the first nine Black children attending the formerly all-White schools in Little Rock.

Twenty Years Later:    


Rev. William H. Gray III, U-S Congressman, first African-American to chair the U-S -_House Budget Committee, Minister Bright Hope Baptist Church with WDAS Vice --President and General Manager Bob Klein, Civil Rights icon Coretta Scott King, __and WDAS DJ/Activist Georgie Woods. The 1979 gathering marks Woods' and_ Klein's last gala charity fundraiser, this one, benefiting the Martin Luther King Center __________________________for Social Change._______________________

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 Over the years, some of the funds raised came from the WDAS Freedom Shows


Above: original page from the souvenir program for the1966 Freedom Show at the Civic Center.

The evening's playbill featured 19 acts in one night, including The Drifters, Don Covay, Kim Weston, Junior Walker and the Allstars, King Curtis, Johnny Nash, Edwin Starr, The 3 Degrees, The Intruders, The Mad Lads and Patii La Belle and the Blue Belles. But no matter how big the musical high points, WDAS News was always highlighted. The center of the page notes WDAS News had won 17 major awards by 1966, including their third Valley Forge Freedom Medal.

 
From Philadelphia Schools to the White House--
WDAS CEO Max Leon [front row, second from right] attends a Rose Garden briefing and speech to broadcasters by President Lyndon Johnson
Photo credit: United Press International Wire Service
        
[You'll note in these last two photos, both Jocko and Leon are using the "WDAS hand clasp" ]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
Among the extraordinary number of "firsts" WDAS Radio amassed, was the ARB suit. In 1971, they were the first and only Black station to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Black stations against ARB-Arbitron Industries, the broadcast ratings giant. They won a judgement proving ARB was systematically undercounting minority listeners in Philadelphia and across the country. Someone once asked WDAS lead attorney Frank Williams, Esquire why he kept insisting ARB was racist. The official WDAS reply was always, "It's racist if you're not undercounting the Whites..."
 
                          
Bob Klein at work circa 1967

  Also within the realm of 'firsts,' was their very progressive stand where women on the air were concerned. Radio's legendary 'all boys club' status is not only still spoken of today-in some places it still exists to this day. 

WDAS also led the way with the number of women on the air in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when compared to other stations.

        
One of their 'firsts' were the contributions of Bernice Thompson, seen here doing her weekday show,  Morning Time
 
Bernice Thompson's daughter, Juanita writes:
 
"My mother was the first African-American female disc jockey in Philadelphia Pennsylvania., having started at WDAS in 1952. She also held the position of Director of Women's Programs. ...Bernice was hired by Bob Klein on the recommendation of Randy Dixon who was a very famous WDAS DJ at the time."
Randy 'Record Mixin' Dixon [center] with Bernice Thompson
Photo credit: Juanita Thompson Collection
 
"One of the early influences in my mother's radio career was WDAS program director, Jerry Grove. ...After about twelve years, she left WDAS in 1962.  Her media presence included being a regular on The Mitch Thomas Show-Channel 12 and hosting The Bernice Thompson Show which aired on 
Channel 3."

Juanita "Jet" Thompson brings up another important point:
the influence WDAS had on the color of the television dial.
Her reference to the Mitch Thomas Show and her mother's show is profound because in those days, things we so different. First off, there weren't even that many television stations on the air, maybe three or four in a big city and the world they showed was White.
 
There was a moment of magic when the truly sensational Hazel Scott's first ever network show was on the air.
But that glory was cut short by the right-wing insanity of McCarthyism and the lock-steps taken by a rogue congressional committee wasting taxpayer dollars in search of boogiemen by a senator whose alcoholism was quite well known. Perhaps ubiquitous communists took the place of the traditional 'pink elephants' where he was concerned.
How ironic that just when Jim Crow was getting ready to leave-Joe McCarthy shows up. Paul Robeson's career was fully destroyed at this time. The only other ray of light flickering through those cathode-ray tubes was the Nat King Cole Show.      ©
 
But these were national shows.
Local shows of color were basically non-existent
.
 
To their credit, Channel 12 hired WDAS air personality Mitch Thomas, no doubt noting his great warmth and humor. It is believed he had the first television show hosted by an African American in the region-meaning Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
...Maybe Maryland for that matter.
 
The Bernice Thompson Show-circa '62 at Channel 3-Westinghouse Broadcasting- is an exceptionally early break-through for a major network affiliated TV station.
   
On the set-Bernice Thompson seated next to camera
Photo credit: Juanita Thompson Collection
 
In 1966 Kaiser Broadcasting tapped another WDAS star, the exceedingly charming John Bandy, for what is believed to be one of the first TV talk shows hosted by a Black man, but geared to attract a general market [read: White] audience. Georgie Woods also had two dance shows in the mid '60s on Channels 17 and 29. In the later 60s & 70s, WDAS-FM's Program Director Hy Lit also  had a very successful music and dance show syndicated out of Philadelphia's Kaiser Broadcasting. At one point, it was seen in six markets and featured what was then the newly developed album oriented artists, made famous on the revolutionary "Underground" or "Progressive Radio". WDAS-FM was one of the nation's first of those pioneering stations. WDAS Radio also gave WFIL-Channel 6 their first and Philadelphia's first Black anchor when they took Jimmy Carter out of the WDAS newsroom. 'DAS newsmen Ed Bradley and Carl Stubbs went to CBS and Walt Sanders went to Westinghouse and Dave Colman  into city government . At one point in the late 60s, the WDAS newsroom was so thoroughly raided by the general media,  Joe Rainey looked up and all his senior staffers were gone. This led to the hiring of the station's first Black female anchor, Sarah Moseley  along with Bob Perkins, Steve Schorr, Scotty Taylor, and Clay Dillon. 

After the premature death of Jim Klash, Bob Perkins  became WDAS News Director and took over the editorial reins as well. 
Continuing the legacy, Bob  amassed numerous prestigious awards for the news department.
He is seen here with Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp offering congratulations for another top prize for editorials from Associated Press.



That would have been enough-but Bob has outdone himself,  becoming equally famous for his extraordinary knowledge of Jazz, hosting current radio programs in the Philadelphia area, producing a documentary and garnering recognition in the Congressional Record for his contributions to the Art. 
 
Armstrong and Emmy award-winning Steve Schorr, now a Cox Communications Vice President for Governmental Affairs, also went on to make highly impressive strides in the world of television news and humanities. But not before making extraordinary contributions in the WDAS News Department.



Also clearly following in the freedom-fighting legacy of  Klash and Rainey; battling Rizzo's Raiders among his many accomplishments, Schorr, then Assistant News Director, also designed and implemented the wildly successful and multi-award winning Job Hunt program. Initiated at the height of a crippling recession, it is one of the most famous and effective examples of  Heart and activism in
WDAS Radio's heroic history.
 
This next photo is actually a map:
 
   
 First, apropos the discussion of 'television firsts':
the man on the left is Mal Goode, the first-ever  Black reporter on network TV- ABC News to be exact-1962, covering the United Nations.  Then, WDAS listeners heard him regularly in the 1970s and '80s as the U-N correspondent for NBN network news. He is also the brother of the lady standing next to him. Mary Dee, a Pittsburgh-to-Philadelphia [WHAT-AM] gospel radio personality who is the mother of Bonnie Dee, [not shown] who worked gospel and traffic at WDAS and Buddy Dee, known to music aficionados as record promotions man par excellence with Universal Distributors and Atlantic Records. And the lady in the hat is WDAS's Bernice Thompson who was a friend of Mary Dee.
[and we hope you got all those connections because there will be a quiz...]
 
 
 
Photo-shoot for newspaper ad, out-take circa 1969: 
Bob Klein [with cigar] and WDAS-AM jocks
Larry Daley, 'Mr. Freeze,' Georgie Woods, Butterball, Johnny-O and
Program Director, Jimmy Bishop
 

  Bob Klein

  WDAS Radio
1950-1979

Bob Klein began a career of extraordinary contributions to civil rights and broadcasting   history when musician, entrepreneur and father-in-law, Max M. Leon, made him general manager of Philadelphia’s WDAS Radio in 1951.
 

In its October 1957 issue, Broadcasting Magazine reported that at 25 years old, Klein was one of the youngest general managers ever named to head a major metropolitan station. From that unusual moment on, Bob Klein’s string of radio, music and civil rights innovations also rocked the history books.

 

He hired cutting edge disc jockeys who helped craft the Rhythm & Blues, signature sound of WDAS.  At the same time, he created a first class news operation to cover the blossoming, yet still highly controversial and dangerous, civil rights movement. He was general manager until 1979, a tenure spanning some of the most crucial years of United States’ social progress.

 

Klein’s list of hires literally became a 'Who’s Who'  in American Radio History:
Jocko Henderson, Jimmy Bishop, Louise Williams-'The Gospel Queen,' Georgie Woods, Hy Lit, Hal Jackson, 'Lord Fauntleroy'-John Bandy, Portia Perry, Harvey Holiday, Joe Rainey, Jim Klash, Joe Pyne, Ed Bradley, 'Sir Lancelot'-George Johnson, Jr., Joe 'Butterball' Tamburro, Dr. Perri Johnson, Wayne Joell, Ed Sciaky, Larry Daley, Bernice Thompson, Randy “Record Mixin’ Dixon, Mimi, Tony Brown and Michael Tearson lead a stellar array of nationally recognized, ‘Hall of Fame’ talent. 
   

Bob Klein's ground-breaking,  visionary creation of WDAS-FM’s revolutionary album oriented, multi- racial, R&B format became a staple in the industry. The "Progressive Soul" format he and Harvey Holiday pioneered was copied from city to city and is still heard today on conventional radio, satellite or piped in music at shopping malls and grocery stores.
 

He assembled an award-winning news department that set a standard of excellence for Black and White radio news, amassing scores of the most prestigious awards in the country and helped invent civil rights news coverage.

 

WDAS was also the broadcast home to both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Malcolm X, during their lifetimes. Very few stations can claim that kind of foresight and fairness. Klein not only put Dr. King on the air in Philadelphia, he devoted much of the station's financial and marketing resources to King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC] and produced the radio program "Dr. Martin Luther King Speaks" at the WDAS studios and helped it attain nationwide distribution.
 

 

WDAS staff suffered physical assaults and numerous threats of violence from both Black and White extremists. Under Klein’s guidance, nothing ever stopped the WDAS quest for justice and humanity.
 

State Representative Louise Williams Bishop and the Pennsylvania Legislature commended him for creating jobs for African Americans in radio, when white stations would not and for elevating the status of Black recording artists when 'Jim Crow' dominated the entertainment scene in the United States of America. 
 

The Congressional Record noted WDAS Charities raised hundreds of thousands of pre- 1980 dollars breathing life into hundreds of social organizations and sent 13 buses to the 1963 March on Washington.
 

In 1971, he was the first person to file and win a federal class action suit on behalf of all Black radio stations, proving the ARB ratings system was racist and systematically undercounted  Black listeners, nationwide.

 

Bob Klein’s commitment to social progress, civil rights and his close association with Dr. King, prompted this written testimonial from King confidant,
Ambassador Andrew Young:

 

…to our knowledge, there is no station in America that has worked harder, longer and with more dedication for Black people than WDAS in Philadelphia.”

                                                                                                                                   Copyright 2010

 
To see the Andy Young letter and more on  WDAS contributions to  Music, Broadcast and United States History--visit the  DOCUMENTS  section
 

   

 
[Apparently everyone knew that's Cecil Moore on the right.
Some might say the photo proves Cecil
was
the NAACP]

The WDAS commitment to education was unusually strong and way ahead of it's time. No one needed to ask WDAS to 'adopt-a-school.' They adopted an entire school system.

First of all, WDAS management was extremely concerned and aware of General Media hype and misinformation about the 'evil's' of Rock & Roll. And there was a legitimate concern about young people remaining in school. 'Drop-out rates' were becoming a problem and WDAS launched numerous programs in the Philadelphia School system and surrounding school districts to encourage students to 'Learn Baby Learn.' Disc jockeys and WDAS News personnel began a decades' long tradition of visiting the schools whether for music programs, history lectures, career days, or special assemblies. The station's immensely popular book cover program went on for years distributing hundreds of thousands of the highly coveted WDAS touchstones. They launched a campaign where the call letters were eventually redesigned and read:

WE Do Attend School

The tag line on the spine of this earlier rendition circa 1962 was:

 " WDAS - Your Freedom Station in Philadelphia "

   WDAS had two ball teams both named the WDAS ALLSTARS.

One basketball team, one softball team. [ Two-No waiting. ]       Their outreach took them on a decades-long, three-state tour of any playground, school, social club or organization. 
Over the years they really were all-stars between the air personnel and celebrities who played or coached. Here's possibly the first or second generation basketball team. It seems the guys had just finished playing when this was taken Jan. 6, 1966.

Left to right, back row: WDAS DJ Mitch Thomas and WDAS Newsman Ed Bradley, two as yet unidentified gentlemen and that's Weldon McDougal of Motown and Phila. International, on the  end.                                                                                                   Seated L to R-in uniforms: Rinny Roker-record promotions man, Billy Jackson-Producer Cameo Parkway Records, WDAS Program Director Jimmy Bishop and WDAS DJ Carl Helm.

WDAS  Radio also had an Education Director.
Mr. Chet Carmichael was a Philadelphia educator and liaison between the station and the Philadelphia school system. He had a weekly program,
Teen Talks
where student-guests joined the broadcast world bringing news and events of interest to the community. Below is a photo with its original 1960 caption from a program featuring students conducting a medical and human interest interview.

      

    From that educational scene back to Brown vs the Board of Education From the jailings and funerals, to  Montgomery and Selma 
From the Freedom Riders to the Freedom Shows
From that amazing mix of music and personalities changing the color and landscape of American radio, to the busloads of Philadelphians and 'DAS staffers
in the 1963 'March on Washington' ---
the WDAS volume of  innovation and caring stands alone.

                                                      

           

    ©opyright 2008-2010  Wynne Alexander
           Photos: Copyright Bob Klein Archive
                unless otherwise specified

            

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