Location: United States

History of WERD Courtesy of: Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System

WERD was the first African-American owned, non-amateur radio station. In 1949, Jesse B. Blayton Sr, a CPA and Professor of Business Administration at Atlanta University, bought WERD, assuming all its debts and inheriting what was then an all-white staff. Under segregation, the station could not continue in the location it had used when it was white-owned and operated, so Blayton moved the studio to the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge on Auburn Avenue (later home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1960s). Blayton brought in new African-American employees, making WERD the nation’s first radio station with an integrated staff, and one of the first integrated workplaces in the country. WERD quickly became successful, in part because at first, they were the only station catering to Black listeners. Popular programs included the Lunch Call Show with Herb Gershon and Jack Gibson, precursor to a generation of “zany” talk radio duos. Eventually, their success inspired other stations to seek the same audience. Jesse B. Blayton Jr inherited the station’s management, but did not share his father’s passion for radio, and WERD sold in 1970 for less than it was worth. A comprehensive oral history of WERD is housed in the collection of Auburn Avenue Research Library.