Harold “Hal” Jackson, co-founder of Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, one of the first Black-owned broadcasting companies and the parent company of WBLS in New York, and the first African American to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame died May 23 in a New York hospital. He was 96.
Paul Heine, senior editor at Inside Radio, a trade publication, said Jackson “was the godfather of Black radio.”
“His longevity and his breaking down the doors, breaking the color barrier, he really made it possible for African-Americans who followed him to work in the medium,” Heine told the Huffington Post.
Jackson began his career as a play-by-play sports announcer in Washington, D.C.– the first African American to announce action at a sporting event, calling the plays at the Negro League’s Homestead Grays baseball games.
After being told by a White radio station manager that “No n—– will ever go on this radio station,” he forged a scheme to get on the air by buying on-air time and working incognito through a White advertising agency.
The resulting 15-minute show, “The Bronze Review,” aired at 11 p.m. The show debuted with Jackson interviewing Mary McCleod Bethune, President Franklin Roosevelt’s director of Negro affairs. It became a widely listened to show in D.C.’s Black community.
In addition to the talk show and shows in which Black music—called “race records”—were broadcast over WINX in D.C., he also hosted shows over WOOK in Silver Spring, Md. WANN in Annapolis and WSID in Baltimore.
He also helped break down racial barriers in Washington, D.C., organizing picketing of a then-exclusive shopping area—Connecticut Avenue—to force retailers who would sell to Black customers but ban them from using dressing rooms or rest rooms.
But it was in New York City where he made his biggest mark. Beginning in 1954 with a job at WMCA, Jackson became one of the leading voices of popular Black music in New York City. He hosted music shows on several New York radio stations and, as host of concerts at a city amusement park, helped integrate a popular saltwater swimming pool.
He was forced out of commercial radio by the payola scandals of the 1960s when hundreds of disc jockeys were found to be taking money from record producers to highlight songs on the air but re-emerged in the 1970s as a broadcast executive, joining with investors to create Inner City Broadcasting.
Born in South Carolina, he grew up in D.C., graduating from Dunbar High School and attending Howard University.
His name became synonymous with urban radio in New York and he worked until a couple of weeks ago hosting a Sunday show on WBLS. “His energy was amazing,” said Deon Levingston, vice president and general manager at WBLS told the Huffington Post, adding that Jackson also continued to attend radio conventions.
“He didn’t need to do these things,” he said. “He was so passionate and so dedicated to the medium.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a statement, described Jackson as a “legend.”
“Hal was not only the first African-American voice on network radio or the first African-American play-by-play sports announcer,” Bloomberg said, “but an iconic legend who – during the Civil Rights movement – gave voice to the many who simply did not have one.”
The cause of death was not disclosed. Survivors include his fourth wife, Deborah Jackson, a daughter from his first marriage, Jane Jackson Harley of Washington; two children from his second marriage, Harold Jackson Jr. of Milwaukee and Jewell McCabe of New York; six grandchildren; and a great granddaughter.