Today we honor and celebrate a man who has broken the color barrier in broadcasting many times over during his long career, the legendary Hal Jackson. Born Harold Baron Jackson in Charleston, SC in 1914, he grew up in Washington, DC and attended Howard University. He began his career as the nation’s first African-American sportscaster; he worked at a number of DC radio stations before moving to New York in 1954 where he became the first radio personality to broadcast three daily shows on three different New York stations. Four million listeners tuned in nightly to hear Jackson’s mix of music and conversations with jazz and show business celebrities. In 1971 he and business partner Percy Sutton became the first African-Americans to own a radio station when they bought WLIB (now WBLS).
Jackson is still going strong at 97, broadcasting a weekly show of R&B classics every Sunday on WBLS. Here is a short list of his accomplishments from the website for his show:
He was the first Black radio announcer in network radio; the first Black host of a jazz show on the ABC network; the first Black play by play sports announcer on radio in the country; the first Black to host an interracial network television show on NBC-TV; the first person to broadcast from a theater live; organized and owned the first Black team to win the World’s Basketball championship; the first Black host of an international network television presentation…
Jackson has also used his broadcast access to encourage petition signers to support Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Working with Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday campaign, he helped amass the over 6,000,000 signatures that were submitted to Rep. Shirley Chisholm and Rep. John Conyers. Astonishingly, as recently as 1990 Hal Jackson was the first person of color to be inducted into the National Association of Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. Five years later he was the first African-American inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. While he certainly deserves these accolades, it says a great deal about the persistence of the color barrier that it was only cracked in broadcast awards in the last decade of the 20th Century.