WDIA (1070 AM) is a radio station based in Memphis, Tennessee. Active since 1947, it soon became the first radio station in the United States that was programmed entirely for African Americans. It featured black radio personalities; its success in building an audience attracted radio advertisers suddenly aware of a "new" market among black listeners. The station had a strong influence on music, hiring musicians early in their careers, and playing their music to an audience that reached through the Mississippi Delta to the Gulf Coast.
|Broadcast area||Memphis, Tennessee|
|Branding||AM 1070 WDIA|
|Slogan||"The Heart & Soul of Memphis", previously "50,000 Watts of Goodwill"|
|Format||Urban oldies/classic soul|
|Owner||iHeartMedia, Inc. |
(iHM Licenses, LLC)
|KJMS, KWNW, WEGR, WHAL-FM, WHRK, WREC|
First air date
|June 7, 1947|
Call sign meaning
|DIAne, name of original owner's daughter|
We Did It Again (when owners also launched similar station in Jackson, Mississippi, after World War II)
|Power||50,000 watts day|
5,000 watts night
The station started the WDIA Goodwill Fund to help and empower black communities. Owned by iHeartMedia, Inc., the station's studios are located in Southeast Memphis, and the transmitter site is in North Memphis.
WDIA went on the air June 7, 1947, from studios on Union Avenue. The owners, John Pepper and Bert Ferguson, were both white, and the format was a mix of country and western and light pop, as well as "homemaker shows", network shows and block programming that included soap operas and classical music. The original frequency was 730 kHz. The station did not do well until Ferguson learned about "targeted programming" and realized there was one audience in Memphis no other radio station served. Half of the listeners who could hear WDIA's signal were African-American, and WDIA hired the first black disk jockey in the South.
Nat D. Williams, a syndicated columnist and high-school teacher, started Tan Town Jubilee in October 1948. This was one of the first radio programs in the United States to appeal to black listeners. WDIA soon became the number-2 station in Memphis. After a switch to all-black programming, WDIA became the city's top station. In June 1954 WDIA was licensed to increase its power from 250 to 50,000 watts, which meant moving to 1070 kHz. Its powerful signal reached the Mississippi Delta’s dense African-American population and was heard from the Missouri Bootheel to the Gulf Coast. WDIA reached 10% of the African-American population in United States.
Future WJLB strong jock, Martha Jean “The Queen” Steinberg became known as "Princess Premium Stuff." Ernest Brazzell gave crop advice, and Robert Thomas became a DJ named “Honeyboy” after he won a citywide amateur competition. Among other notable personalities were Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert, Theo "Bless My Bones" Wade, and Ford Nelson, who continued as of 2013 as an active gospel DJ on WDIA.
WDIA is known for its community efforts throughout the years. A.C. Williams, a former disc jockey for the station, helped create the Goodwill Fund in 1954, and the station's identification announcement became, “You’re Listening to 50,000 Watts of Goodwill, W-D-I-A Memphis.”. Originally, the fund provided transportation to school for disabled black children. Later the fund expanded to include college scholarships, establish boy clubs, provide 125 Little League Teams to Memphis and neighboring communities, and help provide low cost supplemental housing (Wilson). "We have raised over $900,000 over the years," A.C. Williams says.
Many music legends got their start by working at WDIA, including B.B. King and Rufus Thomas. Elvis Presley was greatly influenced by the station. B.B. King joined WDIA in early 1949. He had a daily 15-minute show, promoting first a patent medicine called Pep-Ti-Kon, and later Lucky Strike cigarettes, the first major advertiser for the station. The next year he took a DJ position on an afternoon show previously hosted by Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert. King credits his days on the station for building his audience and launching his career, describing the station as providing a sense of freedom.
Williams ended his show in 1972 following a stroke. Thomas continued to work at WDIA until he died in 2001. Bobby O'Jay became a popular host. The station's management had been mostly white. In 1972 Chuck Scruggs became its first black general manager and vice president, serving for 12 years. Scruggs played a major role in organizing the foundation and raising money to preserve the Lorraine Motel and found the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. In addition, he contributed to the redevelopment of Beale Street and Soulsville, USA.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the owners of WDIA also owned KDIA, a similarly formatted station in the San Francisco Bay Area. This callsign, however, is now assigned to an unrelated Christian-programmed station. In 1996 Clear Channel Communications bought WDIA.
- "WDIA". Africana: the encyclopedia of the African and African American experience. Vol. 5 (2nd ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 9780195170559.
|volume=has extra text (help)
- "WDIA, Sixth Memphis Station, Is Launched" (PDF). Broadcasting. June 16, 1947. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "Celebrating 65 Years of Goodwill & Good Times. The History of WDIA". Mywdia.com. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
- Guralnick, Peter (2016). Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316211307. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
- Radio Center: A Landmark of American Music. 2008. Radiocenterflats.com, Retrieved on 2009-03-12
- "706 Union Avenue Sessions". Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
- Cantor, Louis. Wheelin' on Beale: How WDIA-Memphis Became the Nation's First All-Black Radio Station and Created the Sound that Changed America, Pharos Books, 1992, 264 pages, ISBN 0-88687-633-8, ISBN 978-0-88687-633-3.
- The UnConsultant Blog. 50,000 Watts Of Goodwill
- "Celebrating 65 Years of Goodwill & Good Times." 1070 WDIA, N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013
- Fisher, Marc (2007). Something in the Air. Random House. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-375-50907-0.
- Kostelanetz, Richard, ed. (2005). The B.B. King Reader: 6 Decades of Commentary. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 5–6. ISBN 9780634099274.
- "TV host 'Mr Chuck' Scruggs Passes Away". Memphis: WHBQ-TV/Fox 13. 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2013-12-13.
- Williams, Nat D. (August 6, 1949). "Down on Beale". The Pittsburgh Courier.
- Defender Staff (June 24, 1961). "Wealth of Talent for Starlight Revue, July 1". Tri-State Defender.
- Cantor, Louis (1992). Wheelin' on Beale: How WDIA-Memphis Became the Nation's First All-Black Radio Station and Created the Sound that Changed America. Pharos Books. ISBN 978-0-88687-633-3.
- Gordon, Robert (1996). It Came from Memphis. Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 9780571198818.. Reprint 2001, ISBN 9780743410458.
- WDIA's official website.
- Sound Documentary on WDIA
- WDIA in the FCC's AM station database
- WDIA on Radio-Locator
- WDIA in Nielsen Audio's AM station database