October 3, 1941:
On this day, Jesse B. Blayton Sr. became the first black radio station owner and operator in the United States when he bought Atlanta radio station WERD in 1949.
Jesse Blayton was born in Fallis, Oklahoma, on December 6, 1879. He graduated from the University of Chicago (Illinois) in 1922 and then moved to Atlanta, Georgia to establish a private practice as an accountant. Blayton passed the Georgia accounting examination in 1928, becoming the state’s first black Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and only the fourth African American nationwide to hold the certification.
Blayton purchased WERD in 1949 for $50,000, making it the first radio station to be both owned and programmed by African-Americans. Its programming was oriented towards African-Americans, pioneering a new program format composed of mostly rhythm and blues music. WERD’s other programming included jazz and gospel music, as well as public service programs, educational shows, church services, radio plays, and community news. Jesse Blayton Jr. served as WERD’s program director and hired black employees such as the popular disc jockey and radio personality “Jockey Jack” Gibson. He felt that by hiring black employees and reaching a more African-American audience, WERD would keep money circulating within the community.
Blayton and his radio station publicized the civil rights movement by acting as an outlet for information about the movement and for speeches by prominent civil rights leaders. This included Martin Luther King Jr., whose Southern Christian Leadership Conference shared the same building as WERD. Dr. King often visited the studio to announce the activities of his organization. Blayton’s approach to the Civil Rights Movement was through the use of politics, and his conservative approach, which led to criticism and praise. In 1950 WERD was considered a milestone for civil rights in America.
WERD was so successful that in mid-1954 the Blaytons purchased an AM station, KREL in Baytown TX. They sold it four years later. Blayton retired and sold WERD in 1968, but remained an active community leader until his death on September 7, 1977. He died on the street, coming from a barber shop in Atlanta, Georgia. He was buried in South View Cemetery in Atlanta. He was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995, for making radio history and providing a platform for civil rights activists.