Powerhouse Radio – Rough Road, Radiance, and Rebirth
My True AM – FM – SATELLITE – and Audio Streaming Survival Story
Kingsley H. Smith
BabyBook, PB, Nonfiction, 180 pages, $14.95
Talkin’ the Talk; Walkin’ the Walk
African American DJs in commercial radio have played a crucial role in breaking down barriers and promoting diverse music genres. During the early years of radio, black music was excluded from mainstream broadcasting due to racial segregation and discriminatory practices. The history of African American disc jockeys in commercial radio is a significant part of the broader narrative of African American contributions to the music industry and popular culture. Powerhouse Radio, a compelling memoir of Kingsley Smith’s challenges, failures, and victories in commercial radio, brings light to a forgotten battlefront and inspires passion, perseverance, talent, and sheer persistence as a formula for success and overcoming stereotype and socially driven perceptions.
Kingsley Smith began exploring his passion for radio broadcasting as a student at New York University, rising to become the program director for both campus stations, WNYU AM and FM. He would become program director at music stations WUSS AM and WAYV FM in Atlantic City, news talk-centric WHYY FM in Philadelphia, and a Program Director at National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington, DC for SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Powerhouse Radio revels in the thorny, but rewarding path traveled by this consummate radio professional.
There are moments when talent and social history meet to create opportunity. In Powerhouse Radio, Smith shares all that he has learned in his professional journey (from mail clerk to program management to streaming) wearing many hats at small-staffed black-owned community-minded stations to producing and managing digitized, internationally broadcasted productions. The bumps along the way have served as his tutor: “In a May 15, 1980 memo, Vi Trofa (the general manager at WAVY FM95) writes, “during all day-time shifts, no dance-oriented materials is to be played unless it was a cross-over hit. TOP 40 on the BB Top 100. BB meaning Billboard. She also listed twelve songs that I had to remove. Perhaps my local music research was too far ahead of the curve. “Take Your Time (Do It Right}” by The S.O.S. Band became a #1 Billboard R&B song the week of June 28, 1980. Eventually, “Take Your Time” peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of August 16, 1980. That song, on Vi’s ‘hit list’, had to go.”
Racial discrimination in commercial radio in America has been a persistent issue throughout its history, reflecting broader societal inequalities and having broader implications for communities, as it affects the types of stories, music, and cultural content that reach audiences. Lack of diversity in content creation results in a limited representation of the tapestry of American culture. But Smith allows little of this to thwart the passion for his work or his persistence in achieving his measures or learning from the greats in the business on either side of the microphone. He is technically astute – generously sharing hard-earned “how-to’s” – and is gifted in his craft. And he spills tea on music artists and influencers, known and lesser known, giving backroom details that only an insider could know.
Despite significant strides, challenges related to representation, airplay, and opportunities for people of color in the industry still exist. Efforts to address racial discrimination in commercial radio involve advocating for greater diversity and inclusion, promoting equal opportunities, and challenging implicit biases within the industry. Initiatives supporting diverse talent, inclusive programming, and equitable representation continue to be crucial for fostering a more inclusive and representative radio landscape in America and throughout the world.
Undaunted by small vision, Mr. Kingsley launched the widely acclaimed "Powerhouse Radio" on Live365, the internet-based audio streaming platform. There is so much love represented in this book. Powerhouse Radio – Rough Roads, Radiance, and Rebirth resonates as a pathway resource and a historical reminder for aspiring professionals, as a triumph of one man’s persistent will, spirit, vision, and talent – and as a nicely-paced memory lane stroll for star-struck radio heads like you!