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Urban radio has been a powerful tool to inform and highlight members of the African-American community for decades. However, we did not see the creation of a black-owned radio station until 1949 with businessman Jesse B. Blayton’s purchase of WERD.
Jesse B. Blayton Sr. was born on December 6, 1897, in Fallis, Oklahoma. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Blayton studied at the Walton School of Chicago and the University of Chicago. He moved to Atlanta in 1922 and became Georgia’s first African-American Certified Public Accountant six years later.
He spent the first portion of his career working in banking and teaching at Atlanta University before entering the world of media. One of his most important achievements was aiding in the establishment of the Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association and later served as its president. He helped to provide millions of dollars in loans to black businesses over the years.
Despite having no experience in radio, Blayton managed to acquire the Atlanta radio station, WERD, in 1949. Other black entrepreneurs made attempts to purchase radio stations in the past but were unsuccessful in their pursuits. Blayton brought the 1000-watt station from a white family and hired his son Jesse Jr to be the new manager and Ken Knight to be the program director.
The station was home to many notable announcers, including Jack Gibson. WERD’s “black appeal” format was successful in resonating with its African-American listeners. WERD could be enjoyed in 14 counties and provided news, music, and community service to Atlanta residents. When Blayton first purchased the station, it was failing, but under his direction, revenue soared and displayed the profitability that urban radio had to offer.
Blayton also purchased a second AM radio station, KREL, located in Texas. KREL did not prove to be as lucrative so Blayton sold the station by 1958. During the 1960s, the WERD station shared building space with organizers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and provided a platform for civil rights activists to make their voices heard. This also helped to further differentiate WERD from its counterparts,
Jesse Blayton sold WERD in 1968, but he remained active in community organizations such as UNCF and the Atlanta Urban League until his death on September 7, 1977. Blayton was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995 for his contributions.