While the mainstream media peddled images of blacks protesting, looting, and burning down buildings during the late 1960s, Charles Hobson and his radio colleagues were busy broadcasting a new perspective on African American life.
Two months after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, WNEW launched the creation of "Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant," a news magazine highlighting varied aspects of the neighborhood's black community. Hobson, the show's producer, was determined to give viewers a broader picture of the culture, politics and social issues that drove the community. Guests on the show, which was hosted by Roxie Roker, later a star on "The Jeffersons," included local police officers, teachers, calypso singers, community activists, local merchants, celebrities and high school students.
The show became New York's first program produced, written and hosted by African Americans. Its inception emerged in response to the Kerner Commission report on race relations, which charged the media with failing to accurately and comprehensibly cover black communities around the nation. And Hobson, who got his start in broadcast from the progressive side of the radio dial, went on to produce shows for the public and independent television, including "Black Journal" - later to become "Tony Brown's Black Journal," "Like it is," a documentary style news magazine, and "The Africans," a nine-part series that aired on PBS stations in 1986.
Hobson's career began at WBAI, New York's Pacifica station. His opportunity to host a radio program arose quite by chance. The son of Caribbean immigrants, Hobson developed a great respect and interest in African American culture. Raised as an Episcopalian and surrounded by the Anglophilia of his parents, as a teen Hosbon began to immerse himself in the music, particularly in gospel, soul and jazz.
"I came from a culture I unfortunately didn't want to relate to, and African Americans took some things for granted and I was surprised," Hobson says. Language, the church and the philosophies of the black intelligentsia were some of those things. Music, however, captured his spirit.
With his allowance, he collected every album he could. Reading Jet and Ebony magazines, he absorbed everything about black politics, social movements and entertainment.
This was the background that got him his first gig at WBAI. He contacted the station's program director and told him of his interest to play gospel music for the station. The program director gave him a couple of auditions, letting Hobson get comfortable being on the air.
Hobson soon built a reputation for himself as a knowledgeable discographer with an ear for the sublime, and a taste for rare and non-commercial wonders. Variety magazine once wrote an article about his show.
"That's when I realized I had some status," Hobson says.
At the time, he supported himself selling Oriental rugs on commission sales at Sterns Department store. He was then the only black commissioned salesman in the store.
One day he got a call from the station's engineer who was leaving the station. The engineer had recommended Hobson for a position as production director. Even though he was making more money selling rugs, he decided to take the job.
In that position, Hobson produced a variety of programs, all bringing the black perspective to the airwaves. He broadcast a series of Malcolm X's speeches and when civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer called him asking for support for one of her causes, he produced a show on her issue and gave her full air time.
Hobson constantly kept an ear and eye out for stories and nothing with a pulse slipped by him. "I was trying to enjoy life and things I discovered I tried to share."
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