First-ever African-American-owned radio station could return to Atlanta

The Masonic Lodge on Auburn Avenue is the historic home of the first Black-owned radio station WERD and the Atlanta chapter of the National Black Radio Hall of Fame.

Atlanta’s WERD, the first radio station owned and programmed by African Americans, is set to make a comeback.

After being closed for many years, the National Black Radio Hall of Fame Atlanta Chapter is reopening WERD, which still exists at its birth location, as a historical museum. The facility will undergo renovations before opening its doors to the public.

Jesse B. Blayton Sr., an accountant and entrepreneur, purchased WERD in 1949 for $50,000. He changed the station’s format to “Black appeal” and hired his son, Jesse Jr., as station manager.

Jack Gibson, known as “Jockey Jack,” was then hired and quickly became the most popular DJ in Atlanta by 1951. Ken Knight was hired as the station’s first Program Director when the station opened.

Knight’s niece, Marsha Washington George, is the current owner of the call letters, and the station broadcasts online at Live365. She is also president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Black Radio Hall of Fame, and author of “Black Radio… Winner Takes All,” which she is working to turn into a documentary.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands outside the Southern Christian Leadership Conference offices in Atlanta. WERD 860 is in the background. (Photo credit: Benedict J. Fernandez)

George joined WABE to talk about the station’s history, future, and the role her uncle played in getting it off the ground.

George said WERD’s reopening will provide a unique opportunity for people to learn about the station’s impact on the community and its role in shaping the history of Black radio.

The audio clips heard in this interview were from archival interviews by WAOK courtesy of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History.