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signage outside commercial college radio station WHUR

The Mysterious Black College Radio Convention

Over the years I’ve seen references to the Black College Radio Conference and its annual award ceremony. Although scant information is available online, William Barlow writes about the convention’s origins in Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio. He says that the Atlanta-based event was launched by Lo Jelks and that the student-focused convention was “funded for the most part by donations from the record industry.”

When Billboard wrote about the inaugural 1979 convention, it stated that “Black College Radio is a division of The Collegiate Broadcasting Group, Inc.” (which was founded by Lo Jelks in the 1960s as a radio production company). However, more recent references state that the convention was hosted by the National Association of Black College Broadcasters. The event was described in a 2005 post on HBCU Connect:

The Black College Radio Convention is an annual forum for black college broadcasters, professional broadcasters and members of the music industry to meet and discuss ways and means to increase minority participation in the broadcasting industry. The mission of the Black College Radio Convention is to assist black colleges and universities in raising funds for communications programs at various institutions. It provides employers with a pool of applicants for possible employment in the industry. It also provides services for black colleges and universities in engineering and technical assistance.”

The 30th annual convention took place in 2009 and following the retirement of Chairman Lo Jelks, no event was held in 2010 or 2011, although it was hoped that a convention would take place in spring 2012. Today, this conference appears to be defunct, with the former website domain up for sale.

However, there are still exciting things happening with radio stations at Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). As Jose Fritz discussed on Arcane Radio Trivia back in 2011, there are a high percentage of HBCUs with college radio stations.

In November, 2013 SiriusXM Radio launched the HBCU channel, featuring content from Howard University’s radio station WHUR as well as from other universities. Back in January, 2014, Diverse wrote about this new opportunity, which at the time featured content from seven schools.

Today, SiriusXM’s HBCU Radio Network bills itself as “a channel created to provide a forum for expression in the African Diaspora.” Twelve universities currently provide content for the channel. Some programs feature students, including Howard University’s student-produced talk show Glasshouse Project. The channel’s website also provides information about HBCUs, including a page with a complete list of schools.

In 2015, I finally visited a HBCU radio station: WHBC at Howard University and hopefully in 2016 I’ll get the opportunity to visit more, as it would be great to learn more about their history and find out if they still hold annual conferences. At least one HBCU (Kentucky State University) holds a construction permit for a new low power FM radio station, as well, so I’m sure the new stations would benefit by connecting with their HBCU cohorts.

If you know anything about the National Association of Black College Broadcasters or the Black College Radio Conference, drop us a note at editors@radiosurvivor.com.

A version of this piece originally appeared in the February 13, 2015 Radio Survivor Bulletin. Subscribe to the free weekly Bulletin here.


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