Photo credits: Radio Hall of Fame
Jesse B. Blayton, Sr. was a pioneering African American entrepreneur of radio stations. On October 3, 1949, Blayton established WERD-AM in Atlanta, Georgia. This made him the first African American to own and manage a radio station in the United States.
Jesse Blayton was born on December 6, 1879, in Fallis, Oklahoma. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Chicago (Illinois) in 1922. He subsequently relocated to Atlanta, Georgia to begin a private business. Blayton passed the Georgia accounting test in 1928, becoming the state’s first black Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the nation’s fourth black CPA.
Blayton also taught accountancy at Atlanta University. He tried to motivate young African-Americans to seek jobs as accountants but failed miserably. Blayton later said that part of his recruitment challenges resulted from students’ beliefs that no white-owned accountancy companies would hire them and that his, the South’s sole black-owned firm, was small with few vacancies. Only seven other blacks had gotten accountancy qualifications in the United States in the 10 years after Blayton did.
He made history in 1949 by paying $50,000 for Atlanta’s 1,000-watt WERD radio station. Blayton turned the show’s emphasis to the area’s African-American community. WERD was a pioneer in transmitting “Negro appeal” music, airing unheard-of early styles of rhythm and blues. While WDIA, a black-owned station in Memphis, Tennessee, started airing in 1948, WERD was at the time the only black-owned station. By 1954, there were over 200 black-oriented radio stations. However, African Americans controlled just around a dozen.
Jesse Blayton, Jr., was appointed as the station’s first program director by Blayton Sr. Joe Howard, Roosevelt Johnson, Jimmy Winnington, and veteran “Jockey” Jack Gibson, who by the early 1950s had become one of Atlanta’s most popular radio personalities, were recruited by the younger Blayton. Gibson read pertinent black news on a daily basis and often performed on-air interviews with Atlanta University academics (and more similarly notable black leadership figures) to remark on the day’s top topics.
In the early 1950s, WERD set itself apart from other local radio stations by promoting the burgeoning civil rights movement. The station was positioned in the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge Building. This facility also hosted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) headquarters. It was undoubtedly advantageous. President of the SCLC, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., routinely paced upstairs to the WERD studio to broadcast public announcements on the SCLC’s endeavors.
When Jesse B. Blayton, Sr. retired from broadcasting in 1968, he managed to sell WERD, He passed away in Atlanta on September 7, 1977. In 1995, he became a Radio Hall of Fame inductee.
Reference: Manos, N. (2009, February 02). Jesse B. Blayton, Sr. (1879-1977). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/blayton-sr-jesse-b-1879-1977/