It’s no secret that radio is a powerful platform. Radio reaches 92% of Americans: more than computers (54%), smartphones (81%), tablets (46%), and even television (87%). It is therefore crucial, especially in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, to reflect on the lack of diversity in radio.
The purpose of this post is not to chastise radio. Rather, I intend for the opposite. I hope that in reading this, those in the radio industry will realize the power and opportunity for positive change that lies in their platform.
Inadequate diversity in radio causes Black and other minority voices to be lost in the loud sound of White voices. This translates to a white-washed version of popular culture and current events. White folk, like myself, have the privilege of representation. I can confidently say that I have never had to flip through radio stations to hear a White talk show host or a White singer. Odds are, African Americans cannot say the same. In fact, the top radio format is Country music: arguably the “whitest” genre of music (despite its diverse origins).
President of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters Jim Winston wrote that, “[NABOB] exists because African Americans view us as the most trusted voices in the media.” But African Americans compose 13% of the US population, and own only 1.6% of commercial radio stations in America. Though there are numerous theories for why this discrepancy exists, the bottom line is just that: it exists. This gap hinders the opportunity for Black stories to be shared. It silences Black voices and minimizes Black culture.
Again, this is not meant as an attack on radio, but an opportunity for reflection.
How can your station advocate for African Americans? Does the diversity of your station (or lack thereof) reflect in your platform? How can you better amplify the voices of the silenced? Are you making an active effort to listen to the lived experiences of others?
The lack of diversity in radio has been addressed in the past. From 1978 to 1995, a tax certificate was implemented to increase the number of broadcast stations owned by minorities and women. In the time since the tax certificate was repealed, African American broadcast station ownership has consistently decreased. Thus, several members of Congress have begun to push for reimplementation of this tax certificate. H.R. 3957, “Expanding Broadcast Ownership Opportunities Act of 2019,” would do just that. The bill is currently awaiting a Congressional vote.
Your platform is powerful. It has the potential to keep the Black Lives Matter movement alive: to bring justice, to bring change, and to enhance the lives of many. On the other hand, it has the power to perpetuate outdated ideologies and drown out the voices of African Americans who are advocating for long-awaited change. Radio is more than just music; it defines culture.
With that said, I leave you with this question:
Will your station land on the right side of history?
Data from: Radio Ink Is Radio Ownership Diverse Enough; 2019 Nielson Audio Today; Pew Audio and Podcasting Fact Sheet