The Carter Broadcast Group has been a pioneer in Black radio for 72 years
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
At a moment when diversity in broadcast ownership is declining, Kansas City stands out because it houses the nation's oldest Black-owned radio company. From KCUR, Suzanne Hogan reports.
SUZANNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Black-owned broadcasters have long faced a difficult path in the United States, from Jim Crow-era discrimination to racist practices by the Federal Communications Commission.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY I NEED YOUR LOVING")
FOUR TOPS: (Vocalizing).
HOGAN: But in Kansas City, Carter Broadcast Group has been a cultural touchstone that broke through those barriers, amplifying Black music and culture. But it's done even more than that. Freddie Bell grew up as a radio fan and later became a DJ for the company in the 1970s.
FREDDIE BELL: It was the only radio station in our community that dealt with our community needs - speaking, of course, of the African American community.
HOGAN: Jim Winston, who leads the National Association of Black Broadcasters, says that deep community connection is why diversity in media ownership is so important.
JIM WINSTON: It makes a difference from the top. It makes a difference in editorial policy. It makes a difference in the news you cover, in the news you report.
HOGAN: KPRS-AM was founded in 1950 by Black radio pioneer Andrew "Skip" Carter and has grown to become Carter Broadcast Group, which owns an AM and FM gospel channel, an HD station of R&B classics and KPRS-FM Hot 103 Jamz!
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHRIS STIMPSON: Hot 103 Jamz! - Kansas City's No. 1 for hip-hop and R&B. It is your boy, Playmaker.
HOGAN: It's a company that has helped groom new generations of talent, like Hot 103 Jamz! DJ Chris Stimpson.
STIMPSON: Pretty much feel like I grew up with these people, you know what I mean? I feel I've actually became a boy to a man up here. It's crazy.
HOGAN: But across the country, commercial radio is struggling, and Black ownership of radio stations continues to decline. Now representing less than 2% of the market, that has Jim Winston worried about the future.
WINSTON: We've seen a lot of our members vacate the industry.
HOGAN: Of course, the history of Black radio in America has been blocked by significant hurdles. But by the 1940s, Black broadcasters did begin to break through, like WDIA in Memphis, and WERD in Atlanta.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Well, it's 12 noon, and it's time for "Lunch Call."
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hello, everybody. Welcome to "The Lunch Call Show."
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's radio's maddest 60 minutes of music, mirth and merriment.
HOGAN: Around that same time in Kansas City, Carter Broadcast Group's founder, Andrew "Skip" Carter, wrote a critique of the industry's racist practices that was published in Broadcasting Magazine. And it got the attention of failed Republican presidential candidate, Alf Landon. Landon helped Carter start KPRS-AM in 1950.
Carter's dream was to be a commercial radio station that both entertained and informed. Now his grandson, Mike Carter, who started at the company as an 8-year-old jazz DJ, continues that mission as vice president of the National Association of Black Broadcasters and CEO of Carter Broadcast Group.
MIKE CARTER: To state that we're the oldest Black-owned radio company in America today, that's - you know, that's huge.
HOGAN: Last July, North Carolina Democrat G.K. Butterfield introduced a bill that would help expand broadcast ownership opportunities for minorities, but Congress hasn't taken that up yet.
In the meantime, Carter Broadcast Group continues to fill the airwaves - not just as a Kansas City gem but also as something of a national treasure, as the oldest of its kind in the country, celebrating 72 years in the business.
For NPR News, I'm Suzanne Hogan in Kansas City, Mo.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GROOVE")
EARTH, WIND & FIRE: (Singing) Let's groove tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.