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There are few things that rankle persons of a certain age more than to suspect that the great events of their youth have been devalued to mere nostalgia. Therefore, it was with mixed emotions that we read journalist Todd Burroughs' response to our May 29 commentary, "Who Killed Black Radio News?"

We noted that African American radio ownership increased from just 30 stations in 1976, to over 220, today, in a process that devastated small owners and vastly increased the holdings of successful Black and white consolidators. singled out 66-station, Black-owned Radio One, the seventh-largest radio chain, as the most egregious perpetrator in the near-extinction of local news. For example, Radio One dominates the Black radio market in Washington, DC, with four stations, yet employs no local newspersons. Thirty years ago, when 's publishers were radio newsmen in DC, three Black-oriented stations fielded 21 reporters.

"Many of the gains made by African Americans during the heyday of Black radio cannot be duplicated today," we wrote, "due to the duplicity of those entrepreneurs who cashed in the people's collective chips for their own benefit." called for direct action to compel radio owners - of whatever race - to serve the news needs of the Black community.

In a poignant and beautifully written June 5 letter, 35-year-old journalist Todd Burroughs recalled the Black radio of his childhood in Newark, New Jersey. Burroughs later became a scholar on the subject, documenting the rise and decline of Black news/talk formats. "An active journalist for nearly 20 years, I haven't seen a Black commercial radio newscaster at a press conference since 1986," said Burroughs, who lives in Washington. He continued:

Can this era return? I don't think so; at least not in the same way. Too many Black broadcast consumers in America's chocolate cities are very comfortable with Tom Joyner's nationally syndicated "infotainment" model, etc., local television newscasts with Black anchors, two Black cable television newscasts ("BET News" and "MBC News"), PBS-TV's "Tony Brown's Journal," NPR's "The Tavis Smiley Show" and the syndicated television program [ Co-publisher Glen] Ford helped create, "America's Black Forum." In addition, local and national Black organizations and Black leaders who used to depend on Black media have now developed their own communication networks and forums. (Which, I think, is a BIG reason why the Black community outcry against Black media's de-volution is so small.) And those my age and younger, used to getting its news from the Internet and comedy monologues, won't remember it being any other way ....

I'm a 20th century traditionalist trying to adjust to the 21st century. The forums we now mourn were new once. So we can at least try to be optimistic and adjust to the fact that mass media spaces are fluid constructs.

At the same time, though, it could easily be argued that Black America is comfortable with the current media environment because it has been trained in a way that puts Pavlov's dog to shame. I know of no evidence that would make me disagree with that assessment.

Dr. Burroughs, we realized, was not consigning local Black radio news to the mists of times gone by, but he does question whether there is a popular or organizational demand for radio journalism that serves the Black community on a regularly scheduled basis. It is a valid question - one that we believe is, however, largely irrelevant.

News has never been a ratings winner on anybody's radio. Thirty years ago, Black grassroots organizations did demand that their struggles and achievements receive news coverage on Black-oriented radio. A more public-friendly Federal Communications Commission sought to accommodate the opinions of vocal elements of the community, although never to the point of denying license renewal to a station on the basis of poor community relations. These two factors - with grassroots activism by far the more crucial - created a climate in which stations competed with one another to do the best news job they could, while wishing for the day when they could dispense with it, altogether.

Consolidation erodes competition, and the FCC became a non-factor - a servant of the owners. In many large markets, those owners were Black. Chains like Radio One gradually eliminated news from the mix, passing off syndicated or local talk, instead, and pretending that morning disc jockeys could double as news people. In the process, the local Washington Black radio press corps plummeted from 21 in 1973 to just four newspersons at two stations, today. Black radio across America is mostly a local news wasteland.

Burroughs is partly right, in that the broad listening public has been conditioned to expect what they presently get out of Black radio. Those of us with backgrounds in marketing find that totally unsurprising - we rely on Pavlovian responses as a matter of course. Burroughs' assessment of "national and local Black organizations and Black leaders" also holds up, if he means the household names and comfortable organizations that have " developed their own communication networks and forums." Many of these organizations were also around during the times of turbulence, however, and played little or no role in pressuring Black radio to provide adequate news coverage. Their concerns were always focused on the cosmetics aspects of television and the prestige jobs at major daily newspapers. Not being mass organizations or popular leaders, they had only occasional uses for media that reached masses of Black people - Black radio.

Grassroots activists, on the other hand, wanted to fire up their neighbors and change the political complexion of the community. They confronted social disparities and injustice, and engaged in community-building. Their political consciousness evolved along the same arc as Black radio, itself, and they could never have achieved their many small and large victories, without it. It did not matter whether or not the ratings showed that most people would prefer the flow of music on the radio not be interrupted for a few minutes once an hour. The people needed local Black news, whether they wanted it or not, and activists - locked in a symbiotic relationship with Black radio reporters - made sure that they got it. Black politics and reporting thrived, until the monopolists of both races severed the radio connection, with the complicity of the corporate-dominated FCC.

firmly believes that the near-death of Black radio news has been a major factor in the erosion of Black political organization, nationwide. All struggles have local beginnings, and effective activism requires a learned set of skills as well as replicable models of work. A professional-oriented NAACP chapter is most likely quite capable of sending out social/networking invitations to a select list of upwardly mobile folks without the assistance of Black radio. In any event, that's not news (although it might be suited to some afternoon talk radio chatter.) But police brutality, garbage in the streets, unaccountable local politicians, double-dealing power brokers, hyper-active drug markets, local labor grievances and racial discrimination in all its forms - these are matters that can only be addressed and organized around with the active cooperation of news organizations.

Therefore, if there is to be a return to the days of vibrant activism, those organizations that seek change must empower themselves by compelling local Black radio to methodically cover community actions, grievances, celebrations, and whatever else is fit for public consumption. Popular preferences are both irrelevant and grotesquely uninformed. Remember, Burroughs hasn't "seen a Black commercial radio newscaster at a press conference since 1986." That is testimony to an ongoing crime against Black people.

Martin Luther King didn't hold a referendum before every march. Malcolm didn't wait for a poll to tell him when to speak like a man. Harriett Tubman didn't survey the slaves on their attitude towards runaways.

It is understandable that the long slide to Black non-news radio has left many younger activists and potential leaders without a guide to reaching masses of people through the airwaves. They no longer have a model from which to learn and, consequently, they work unnecessarily hard performing organizing tasks that regular news coverage would easily facilitate, setting the stage for new and even more productive areas of struggle. Yet consolidated radio is in many ways more vulnerable to community pressure than yesterday's "stand-alone" stations. There are many ways to make a non-news regime more costly to the owner than providing the coverage that is necessary for the political health of the community.

This discussion is not about nostalgia and mourning things that have been lost. It is about what we are losing every day that we do not act to take back Black radio.

Eddgra Fallin is a quintessential community activist who often finds her political projects boycotted by local radio. She responded to Burroughs.

I don't know if black people have been conditioned like Palov's Dog or if we are paralyzed by fear. I sense a deep, overwhelming fear in my people. Black folks are afraid to take a stand or speak out. And those that do speak out are criticized for speaking up. Case in point, we have a local talk show here in Huntsville, Alabama that comes on Monday thru Friday from 5-6 PM CST. I call in everyday. If I must say so myself, I am articulate and informed about current events and politics. I was supposed to be the guest host for two weeks while the regular host went on vacation. After four days of on the job training I was let go. It must have been something I said. I believe that someone applied pressure to the station owner and got me fired. Lately a small group of anonymous callers have been criticizing my outspokenness, in other words, "shut up before you really make the white folks mad at us." I think that black folks are afraid to speak up and speak out. Maybe we have been trained to shut up and be quiet or we'll end up like Malcolm and Martin. Maybe they did kill the dream when they killed the dreamer.

Larry Piltz is a wry writer from Austin, Texas who cuts the opposition long, deep and unexpectedly. Piltz places the FCC media giveaway in generational context, then doubles up with a non-sexual entendre.

It's not ironic but appropriate that this FCC-corporate power grab can be
accurately characterized as a slaughter of the democratic process, since the man in charge of it, Michael Powell, is the son of the man who was put in charge of covering up the My Lai Massacre as well as many others at the time. More of The Light Man's Burden, I suppose.

Laying down with dogs

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a pure corporate bribery machine that has embedded itself deep in the bowels of the Democratic Party (see this week's Cover Story), advises members to curb their comments on "divisive" subjects like affirmative action. Nevertheless, the DLC has mounted an aggressive Black recruitment drive, luring ambitious office seekers into its ranks with offers of campaign financing. Politicians with previously respectable progressive credentials are winding up on the DLC/New Democrats membership list. One of these, Illinois Black State Senator Barack Obama, is currently vying for a U.S. Senate seat.

associate editor Bruce A. Dixon's concerns were encapsulated in the title of his June 5 commentary, "In Search of the Real Barack Obama: Can a Black Senate candidate resist the DLC?"

There are definitely multiple voices in Obama's ear right now. On the one hand, there are the DLC/New Democrats, the right wing corporate funded arm of the Democratic Party. Their consistent advice is to shut up and support the president's war at home and abroad, to get away from the concerns of "special interests" like minorities, working Americans, environmentalists and the uninsured, and peel off some not-too-conservative Republican swing votes. Their champion is Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, the most rightwing of the Democratic candidates for President.

On the other hand, there is Barack Obama's Democratic base - African Americans, who don't support the war, and other Democratic voters who don't support President Bush. In fact, according to the Gallup and Zogby polls the most strongly held common issue among those opposed to the president is opposition to the war. Should Obama fail to vigorously attack the party of war and corporate plunder he will lose the opportunity to energize and expand his base. The crusade will be smothered in its crib - the DLC's proven formula for failure.

Dixon knew Obama during the law professor's days as a top notch, progressive political organizer. So did fellow Chicagoan Brian Banks, who sent a letter that only folks from the Windy City can fully appreciate.

Very impressive, very through writing, a perfect expression of all the time you've spent networking, being an activist. New Democrats/DLC influence is supreme at the moment, in Illinois politics - Blagojevich, Obama, Daley, Hynes, Jackson (?) Lisa Madigan (?), Pappas, Hamos, et al - all the brightest most visible stars of the party, have linkages to/through the same consultants who brought you Daley/DLC/Clinton. Developing a different political gravity, in Illinois and the nation, requires building an alternative infrastructure, that can link war activists with community activists concerned about local jobs, economic development, safety, education issues. Good piece, bro.

Dixon took as a very bad omen the deletion of a rousing, October anti-war speech from Obama's campaign website. Here's a sample:

I don't oppose all wars ... What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Roves to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income ... to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone thru the worst month since the Great Depression.

That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics ....

Dixon concluded that the speech "vanished" from the website at the advice of DLC-commissioned consultants. A few days after publication of Dixon's piece, he heard from an irate Cheryl Matlock.

I read your searing article you Obama basher! And I found out that he did not remove it from his website. It's here:

Bruce Dixon was surprised - yet pleased to respond.

That story had disappeared from the Obama web site some time around the end of March or early April, and has only reappeared in the last three days.

We at are happy to discover that last week's article on Illinois' Barack Obama, an African American candidate for the US Senate in next year's primary has apparently prompted his campaign to courageously restore the link to his antiwar speech of October 30, 2202. We think this is good news and hope that it still reflects candidate Obama's views.

Oh, and while we have the candidate's ear there are the little matters of the PATRIOT Act and its successor which threaten to strip citizens of constitutional rights and citizenship itself. Secret detentions, summary deportations and the like have thus far elicited no detectable response from the man who would be the first black US Senator of the new century, although he is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago. We remain optimistic, though a little impatient, and fully expect these defects to be remedied soon, too.

Dr. Ron Gerughty, a lifelong activist and educator, believes the Democratic Party has become hopeless corrupted by the DLC.

The article by Bruce Dixon on Barack Obama nails the dilemma - the DLCs control of the Democratic Party and its corruption of the principles and morals of those who call themselves Democrats. It's just another reason why you cannot effectively gain a rightful voice in the Party. I still believe that the best way to go is to create another political party, unless of course you can stage a coup and throw out the DLC.

Cartoonus magnus

We suspect that political cartoonist Khalil Bendib has become insufferable, showered as he is by praise for his artistry in these pages. Fortunately, the publishers of are a safe distance and several mountain ranges removed from Bendib's all-consuming aura. We fear that well-intentioned readers like Evelyn risk inflating beyond human proportion the man we once knew simply as Khalil.

Just a short note to say congratulations - you are doing a great job! A special note of appreciation to Khalil Bendib - he is a great cartoonist who does wonderful interpretations of politicians and news stories. It is a pity his work is not printed in major newspapers throughout the US so that more people can see how talented he is. Finally, please ignore the usual fools who try to dictate to you what your views should be. Keep up the good work!

Mr. Bendib worked for many years in corporate media. He was far too good for them.

Keep writing.

gratefully acknowledges the following organizations for sending visitors our way during the past week:

Radio Left

Black Electorate

Democratic Underground

AfroCentric online

Liberal Oasis

The Mote

Smirking Chimp

Seeing Black

Black Planet

Fallout Shelter News

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