December 6, 1957 – Little Rock, Arkansas – the year may sound familiar and the city may ring a few bells. Only 3 months earlier, Little Rock was ground zero for School desegregation in the South. It was the scene of National Guard troops and defiant Governors and screaming whites, taunting and harassing Black students as they tried to enter a previously all-White high school.
But that wasn’t the end of it – no. Segregation was very much alive and kicking in Little Rock, and in fact most other towns throughout the South in 1957. Lunch counters, restrooms and even entertainment was segregated; very much separate and would stay that way for a long time after.
Even radio was prone to segregation in 1957. Race records hadn’t been called that for a few years, but it was a pretty well-known fact that certain labels catered to Black audiences – and those radio stations throughout the country, played those records, almost exclusively.
One of those stations was KOKY in Little Rock. KOKY, at 1440 AM, was a longtime heritage urban station in Little Rock from its launch in 1956. It was the first station aimed at the African American community in Arkansas. Then located near Central High, one of its alumni, Al Bell, was influenced by the station during the heyday of the Civil Rights movement. He later became head of Stax Records.
In 1957 the station was only a year old. And this tape is one of the rare examples of that station during those formative days. A little frustrating, in that the music is “edited down” to focus more attention on the disc jockey, who was using the tape as a demo. Still, you get a tantalizing glimpse of what Black America was listening to, while White America was busy with Patti Page and Elvis Presley (although Presley shows up on this show, but was edited completely out by the engineer).
To get an idea what segregated radio was like in 1957, here is a half-hour snippet of a three-hour Club KOKY Saturday show featuring Harold Hartley, as it was heard in Little Rock on December 6, 1957.