Before It Was Rock And While It Was Segregation – Southern Radio In The 1950s – Past Daily Pop Chronicles
Hard to imagine now, the extent of segregation in America of the 1950s, but it was prevalent throughout the country, more so in the South.
Everything, it seemed was separate; water fountains, movie theaters and even records. For the most part, music recorded by Black artists were relegated to “race” labels, even though there were notable exceptions. You couldn’t buy records from the likes of a Joe Turner or early Ray Charles at a record store in a predominately White neighborhood, unless you were connected to the store owner and they would special order for you. Even in radio, there were Black owned and operated radio stations that played music specifically designed for the Black audience (later called Urban) and White owned and operated radio stations avoided playing these “race records”, usually using the flimsy excuse that White audiences just didn’t like Race Music. And so went Segregation in America.
That would all change soon enough. By the mid-1950s, and with the birth of Rock n’ Roll, all bets were off and the average White teenager finally got to hear and buy Little Richard records and finally get an idea of who Ruth Brown was. But it was no easy feat getting there – even during the early years of Rock, Black acts were still segregated and mixed audiences were almost nonexistent.
But in 1951, and in Baton Rouge Louisiana, radio was segregated and stations like WLCS had Jivin’ Jerry spun the likes of Lil’ Son Jackson and Tiny Bradshaw and a host of other artists who were well known on “the Chitlin circuit” but not to the vast majority of White audiences. And because these radio stations were located in rural areas, even the ads sounded nothing like their mainstream counterparts. But they were the backbone and at the vanguard of a music revolution that would soon sweep over America and the world.
And to get an idea of what the average Black teenager was listening to in Baton Rouge in 1951, here is a fifteen minute snippet of an actual show, as it was broadcast in December 1951 featuring Jivin’ Jerry, sponsored by White Fan Flour.