Black-owned radio stations have a rich and complex history in the United States, dating back to the early 20th century. During the early years of radio, many stations were owned and operated by white entrepreneurs, but as the medium grew in popularity and influence, African Americans began to establish their own stations.
The History of Black-owned Radio Stations in the United States
While on the stations on our list are not Black-Owned, one of the first black-owned radio stations in the United States was WERD in Atlanta, which was founded by Jesse B. Blayton Sr. in 1949. Blayton, a former accountant and radio personality, used his station to provide a voice for the African American community and to promote civil rights activism.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement spurred the growth of black-owned radio stations across the country. Many of these stations, such as WDIA in Memphis, Tennessee and WVON in Chicago, Illinois, became powerful platforms for African American voices and played an important role in the fight for racial equality.
However, despite the success of many black-owned radio stations, they have faced numerous challenges over the years, including economic hardships, regulatory obstacles, and competition from larger, corporate-owned media outlets. Today, there are still many black-owned radio stations in the United States, but they face ongoing struggles to remain financially viable and relevant in an increasingly digital media landscape.
Here are ten of the best urban radio stations in the United States for 2023, in no particular order:
WBLS 107.5 FM – New York, NY
WBLS is an FM radio station based in New York City that primarily plays urban adult contemporary music. The station was launched in 1972 by the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, which was founded by pioneering African American businessman Percy Sutton and his brother Oliver. At the time of its launch, WBLS was one of the first radio stations in the United States to target an urban audience with a contemporary music format.
The station quickly became popular among African American listeners in New York City and surrounding areas, playing a mix of R&B, funk, soul, and jazz music. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, WBLS grew in popularity and became one of the most influential radio stations in the country, helping to popularize artists such as Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, and Michael Jackson.
The station also played an important role in promoting hip-hop music in its early years, with DJs like Mr. Magic and Marley Marl showcasing up-and-coming rappers and producers on their shows. In the decades since its launch, WBLS has continued to evolve and adapt to changes in the music industry and media landscape.
The station has remained a staple of New York City’s radio scene, and its influence can be felt in the music and culture of the city and beyond.
WGCI 107.5 FM – Chicago, IL
WGCI is a radio station based in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded in 1958 by Edward and Richard Eaton, who named the station after their company, General Communications, Inc.
The station originally broadcast on the frequency 1390 AM, and primarily played R&B and soul music. In the 1970s, WGCI became one of the first radio stations in the country to play disco music.
In 1984, WGCI was sold to Gannett Company, and the station switched to the FM frequency 107.5. The station continued to focus on R&B and hip-hop music, and became known for its popular on-air personalities, including Tom Joyner, Doug Banks, and Tony Sculfield.
In 2011, WGCI was sold to iHeartMedia, Inc. (formerly Clear Channel Communications), which continues to operate the station today. WGCI remains one of the most popular radio stations in Chicago, and is known for its mix of music, celebrity interviews, and community involvement.
KJLH 102.3 FM – Los Angeles, CA
KJLH is a radio station based in Los Angeles, California, that primarily serves the African American community. It was founded in 1965 by legendary businessman and community leader John H. Johnson, who also founded the Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines.
Johnson started KJLH as a way to give a voice to the African American community and to provide programming that would uplift and inspire listeners. The station’s call letters stand for “Kindness, Joy, Love, and Happiness,” which reflects its mission to promote positive messages and values.
Over the years, KJLH has become an important part of the community, providing news, information, and entertainment to listeners throughout the Los Angeles area. The station has also hosted many notable personalities over the years, including Stevie Wonder, who had a morning show on KJLH for many years.
Today, KJLH continues to be a vital part of the African American community in Los Angeles, providing programming that celebrates black culture, promotes social justice, and inspires listeners to be their best selves.
WPGC 95.5 FM – Washington, DC
WPGC is a radio station based in Washington, D.C., United States. The station began broadcasting on May 18, 1946, and has a long and interesting history.
Originally, the station was owned by CBS and broadcast at 1580 AM. In the 1950s, the station moved to 95.5 FM and became a Top 40 station. It quickly became one of the most popular stations in the Washington, D.C. area, and its call letters soon became synonymous with popular music.
In the 1960s, WPGC was at the forefront of the “British Invasion” of music, playing hits from groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The station also helped to popularize the “Motown sound” and was known for playing soul and R&B music.
In the 1970s, WPGC changed formats several times, experimenting with disco, rock, and even country music. In the early 1980s, the station settled on a format that mixed urban contemporary music with talk radio.
Today, WPGC continues to be one of the most popular radio stations in the Washington, D.C. area, and is known for its mix of hip-hop and R&B music.
The station has won numerous awards over the years, including the prestigious Marconi Award for “Urban Station of the Year” in 2003.
WVEE 103.3 FM – Atlanta, GA
WVEE, also known as V-103, is a radio station based in Atlanta, Georgia, and is one of the most popular and influential urban contemporary stations in the United States.
The station first went on the air in 1948 as WAGA-FM, which was a simulcast of its AM sister station, WAGA. In 1968, the station was sold to Storer Broadcasting, and its call letters were changed to WVEE, which stood for “VEE”, a nod to its new format of playing contemporary hits.
In the early 1970s, WVEE began to focus more on soul and R&B music, which helped it gain a significant African American audience. The station became a major force in the local music scene and was instrumental in launching the careers of many of the top R&B and hip-hop artists of the era.
In 1980, WVEE was sold to Infinity Broadcasting, which later merged with CBS Radio. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the station continued to dominate the Atlanta radio market, playing a mix of R&B, hip-hop, and urban contemporary music.
In recent years, WVEE has continued to be a popular and influential station, playing a mix of classic and contemporary R&B and hip-hop hits, as well as hosting a variety of popular on-air personalities and programs.
KBXX 97.9 FM – Houston, TX
KBXX is a radio station broadcasting in Houston, Texas. The station is known as “97.9 The Box” and primarily plays hip hop and R&B music.
The station first signed on in 1987 as KKBQ-FM, playing country music. In 1990, the station was purchased by Granum Communications and the format was changed to urban contemporary, with the call letters changing to KBXX. The station quickly became popular with its target audience and has remained a leading urban contemporary station in the Houston area ever since.
In 1995, KBXX was purchased by Radio One, a company specializing in urban radio stations. Under Radio One’s ownership, the station has continued to evolve and adapt to changes in the music industry and the needs of its audience.
Over the years, KBXX has hosted a number of popular on-air personalities, including The Madd Hatta, Nnete Inyangumia, and DJ Hi-C. The station has also been involved in a variety of community events and initiatives, including charity drives, concerts, and partnerships with local organizations.
Today, KBXX continues to be a prominent radio station in the Houston area, with a strong following among hip hop and R&B fans.
WQHT 97.1 FM – New York, NY
WQHT, also known as “Hot 97,” is a radio station in New York City that has been on the air since 1940. Originally, the station was known as W2XR and was owned by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). It was primarily used for experimental broadcasts, and it wasn’t until the late 1940s that it became a commercial station.
In the 1960s, the station was sold to the RKO General broadcasting company and was rebranded as WRKS, which stood for “Kiss-FM.” The station focused on playing R&B and soul music, and it quickly became a popular destination for African-American listeners in the New York area.
In the late 1980s, the station was sold again, this time to Emmis Communications. Under Emmis’s ownership, the station was rebranded once again, this time as WQHT, or “Hot 97.” The station shifted its focus to hip-hop and rap music, and it quickly became one of the most popular hip-hop stations in the country.
Over the years, Hot 97 has become known for its popular radio personalities, such as DJ Funkmaster Flex and Ebro Darden, as well as its annual Summer Jam concert, which features some of the biggest names in hip-hop and rap music.
Today, WQHT remains one of the most influential hip-hop stations in the country, and it continues to play an important role in shaping the culture of hip-hop and rap music.
WKYS 93.9 FM – Washington, DC
WKYS is a radio station based in Washington, D.C. that primarily features urban contemporary music. The station was founded in 1957 as WOOK-FM, and it was one of the first radio stations in the country to play rhythm and blues music.
In 1971, the station was purchased by NBC Radio and became known as WKYS, or “Kiss 93”. Under the new ownership, WKYS shifted its focus to playing soul and disco music, and it quickly became one of the most popular radio stations in the Washington, D.C. area.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, WKYS continued to evolve, playing a mix of R&B, hip-hop, and other forms of urban music. The station was known for its popular on-air personalities, including the legendary “The Quiet Storm” host Melvin Lindsey.
In the early 2000s, WKYS underwent a major rebranding effort and became known as “93.9 WKYS”. The station shifted its focus to playing primarily hip-hop and R&B music, and it has continued to be a popular destination for fans of urban music in the Washington, D.C. area.
Today, WKYS is owned by Urban One and continues to be a major player in the world of urban radio. The station is known for its popular on-air personalities and its involvement in local community events and charitable causes.
WJLB 97.9 FM – Detroit, MI
WJLB is a radio station based in Detroit, Michigan, United States. The station was founded in 1947 by John Lord Booth, who named the station after his initials. Initially, the station was a daytime-only station, broadcasting from sunrise to sunset, with a format focused on middle-of-the-road music, news, and sports.
In the early 1960s, WJLB switched to an R&B and soul music format, which proved to be highly successful, as the station became one of the most popular stations in Detroit’s African-American community. In the mid-1970s, the station expanded its format to include disco music, which was also very popular at the time.
In the 1980s and 1990s, WJLB continued to evolve its format, incorporating hip-hop and rap music, as well as talk shows and news programming. The station became a major force in the hip-hop community, playing a significant role in the rise of Detroit-based hip-hop artists such as Eminem and D12.
In 2006, WJLB merged with its sister station, WDTJ, to form WJLB-FM. The station continues to be a major player in the Detroit radio market, playing a mix of hip-hop, R&B, and pop music and featuring local talk shows and news programming.
KBLX 102.9 FM – San Francisco, CA
KBLX is a radio station based in San Francisco, California, that primarily features urban adult contemporary music. The station’s history dates back to 1949, when it was first established as KRE-FM in Berkeley, California, with a format that focused on classical and jazz music.
In 1959, the station was purchased by East Bay Broadcasting Company and was rebranded as KBLX-FM, with a new format that featured primarily easy listening and instrumental music. Over the years, the station’s format evolved, and in the 1980s, KBLX became one of the first radio stations in the country to focus on the urban adult contemporary format.
In the 1990s, KBLX faced competition from other radio stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it struggled to maintain its market share. In 1996, the station was purchased by Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, which made several changes to the station’s format and management team.
Since then, KBLX has remained a popular radio station in the Bay Area, featuring a mix of R&B, soul, and classic hits from the 1970s to the present day. Today, the station is owned by Bonneville International Corporation and continues to be a popular source of entertainment and information for listeners in the San Francisco Bay Area.
These radio stations are known for playing a variety of urban music genres such as hip hop, R&B, soul, and more. They also often feature popular radio personalities, and may have shows that focus on local news, events, and happenings in their respective cities.