WGIV-AM (Charlotte, North Carolina)

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WGIV-AM (Charlotte)
City of license Pineville, North Carolina
Broadcast area Charlotte, North Carolina
Slogan The Soul of Charlotte
Frequency 1600 kHz, 1370 kHz
Format African American variety
Power 16,000 watts day
450 watts night
Class D
Facility ID 22027
Transmitter coordinates 35°12′45.00″N 80°52′6.00″W / 35.2125000°N 80.8683333°W / 35.2125000; -80.8683333
Webcast Listen Live
Website www.wgivcharlotte.com

'WGIV' was an African American formatted radio station tuned to 1600 khz on the AM radio dial, licensed in the city of Pineville, North Carolina. Founded by Francis Marion Fitzgerald in December 1947 at Charlotte, North Carolina, the call letters unofficially stood for ‘We are GI Veterans’,[1] in reference to the then recently concluded World War II, and the station is famously identified as being amongst the first franchise in the Broadcasting industry to take on racial issues. The people of Charlotte viewed WGIV as an icon of White-Black integration, as represented in one of their brand symbols – a white hand shaking a black hand. WGIV believed in co-operation and integration over uprising, and sought to dissolve lines between Whites and Blacks rather than isolate the two as different identities. Although the WGIV failed to maintain its popularity after several decades, it is still remembered for its popularity in the 1950s, '60, and '70s and the unusual model of interracial workplace collaboration it provided.

The 1600 frequency first appeared in that city with the WGIV call letters in 1947. It was the first station in that city to target black listeners.[2] Popular DJs of the station in the 1950s and 1960s included "Genial Gene" Potts, Chattie Hattie and "Rockin' Ray" Gooding. For two years ending in 1985, WGIV aired the Class AA Charlotte O's baseball team.[3] By the early 1990s the owners of WPEG had purchased what was left of WGIV. Late in 1991, WPEG and WGIV were airing the same programming.[4] Later, WGIV changed to a solid gold soul format with the call letters WBAV. The owners of the two stations had also purchased Gastonia, North Carolina-based Kiss 102 and changed it to an Adult R&B format under the calls WBAV-FM.[5] When the soul music format proved not to be successful, pressure from Charlotte's urban community forced the owners to change the station in 1997 to a Urban Gospel format and to re-adopt the WGIV call letters.[6] The station call letters and format then remained unchanged for nearly a decade, until 2003 when the station's owners surrendered the license in favor of an expanded band frequency on 1660 AM. The new station was given the call letters WFNA and paired with WGIV's co-owned sports outlet WFNZ. Therefore, the 1600 frequency went silent in Charlotte after nearly 56 years of continuous service.[7]

It shifted ownership, call letters as well as frequencies multiple times from its inception. After selling its last frequency to hip-hop station ‘Streetz 103.3’ in 2003 WGIV is now pre-recorded and streamed online through wgivcharlotte.com and is also available in the Tune In Radio application.

History of Black Radio[edit]

The struggle for racial equality in the Broadcasting industry was a major concern for African Americans in the 20th century. Since WWII, Black Radio has played a major role in the broader African American racial struggle in the United States. Blacks in the Radio industry were largely responsible for the struggle against the Jim Crow employment laws, as well as for counteracting the derogatory stereotypes that Whites had given Blacks on broadcasting media. During the civil rights movements in the 50s and 60s, African Americans in the Radio industry played a crucial role in the spreading of awareness and information to their listeners.

The importance of the Radio peeked in the early and middle 20th Century, when it was the prime source of media for the people. For a long period, this industry, as was most of the Broadcasting industry, was essentially dominated by White people. The first time African Americans were associated with the Radio, was when ‘Racial Ventriloquy’ came through as a wave in the industry.[8] Coined by Mel Watkins in 1994, this term encapsulates the mimicry that White entertainers had begun to do to represent Blacks on stage. Although it existed much earlier, Racial Ventriloquy became prominent in the Radio, given that the radio only required announcers to mimic the Black dialect and intonation,[9] and not expressions and looks. In a similar fashion, the first few Black announcers in the Radio industry – including Jack Coopers, Eddie Honesty, Ed Baker and others, started their careers in the industry mimicking white announcers. This ‘double racial ventriloquy’ had two reasons. Firstly, the African American announcers, new to the industry, wanted to distance themselves from the pervasive version of their dialect that was being used in humor by the Whites. Secondly, they wanted to attract both Black and White listeners to their shows, for commercial purposes.

In the post second World War era, racial mimicry from White announcers had reached an outrageous level of over exaggeration and mockery. It was in the 50s and later, that African American jockeys attempted to revive their dialect, and stopped feeling the need to sound ‘White’. It wasn’t easy for this change, most Black announcers and deejays were employed by White stations, and were required to sound ‘White’ and/or bear the brunt of their White counterparts’ mimicry. The foundation of stations such as WBT and WGIV in this period gave ample opportunity for the Blacks to complete the Radio vernacular transition.

Foundation of WGIV[edit]

In the 1960s, WBT and WGIV were often paired as the driving force from Charlotte editorializing on the race issue that had become prevalent in the area. WGIV, however, came through in history as an exceptional merger of Black and White culture in its region – it chose to integrate differences where others chose to isolate them. The most idiosyncratic characteristic of WGIV, a Black oriented radio, was that it was actually founded by a progressive White man, Francis Marion Fitzgerald.

In September 1946, the Publix Broadcasting Service of Charlotte, Inc made a request with the FCC to open a general radio station. The initial application was withdrawn on grounds that a number of stations covering general topics were already in place in Charlotte. Fitzgerald exploited this fact to propose the concept of a radio devoted to the African-American culture, an unprecedented and bold idea.[10] The major reason he chose this format was because there was no prior radio focused on the African American market, which made it a financial opportunity to explore and utilize. The proposal was, of course, accepted, and thus in 1947 WGIV debuted in Charlotte. Not only was the African American voice in dire need to be heard, but also constituted a neglected sector of the radio market that was waiting to be exploited. The fact that the FCC resonated well with these two factors worked well for WGIV, which periodically sought the FCC for help with facilities and other FCC approved things. A Bachelor of Science from Furman University, Fitzgerald served as a communications officer in the United States Naval Reserve. After the war, he became general manager at WORD in Spartanburg and soon after joined hands with two other radio veterans to form the Publix Broadcasting Service of Charlotte, Inc. His family had stayed in Charlotte through all his careers, and he had decided that he wanted to be with them, and start a station in Charlotte itself.

Integration over Separation[edit]

As residents of former member of the Confederacy, the people of Charlotte, of all colors, were not alien to racial tension. Fitzgerald’s family belonged to Charlotte, and he grew up watching this tension grow in the region.[11] The making of the WGIV was an important part of Charlotte’s transition to a non-racist region, and Fitzgerald foresaw this as something that would be greatly appreciated by people. “My father told me years ago if I was ever to make a success of anything, I must find a definite need, fill it, and fill it well”, said Fitzgerald twenty years after the debut of WGIV, recalling its inception as an answer to society’s dire need of racial integration.[12] WGIV’s success was closely linked to Fitzgerald’s personality and his own career. Following the booming initial success of WGIV, Fitzgerald became a major stockholder as well as the president of the Charlotte Radio and Television Corporation, which owned WGIV. This enabled Fitzgerald full power over the structure and running of WGIV, and he was indeed free to fulfill his vision of integrating Black and White listeners through his radio. Even then, as with any radio, changing the market from being majorly White to having a large focus on Blacks was a slow and steady affair. The idea was not to isolate the two markets, but to have them blend into one another, bringing the communities closer to each other’s music. The famous “Chattie Hattie” Leeper, one of the Black deejays at WGIV, recalled the true independence deejays had in selecting music to broadcast. She further recalled that the public could not categorize WGIV music as either White or Black.[13] Avoiding racial or generic categorizations, like Fitzgerald’s proposal to the FCC, played a dual role for WGIV. It allowed listeners to be exposed to genres easily associated with opposing races, and also ensured that a major portion of White youths in the region continued to make up the WGIV market as its focus slowly shifted to the Black community.

Fitzgerald’s concept of integration did not stop there. He made key administrative decisions that gained the Black community’s faith as being one of their own representations. At the time, it was uncommon for African Americans to be assigned executive positions as well as other technical or professional positions. Fitzgerald went against this in a number of ways – he put up famous deejays Leeper and Eugene “Genial Genes” Potts high up in the team as Women’s Affairs Director and Director of Public Affairs respectively, he assigned a number of other African Americans such positions, and even hired one of the country’s first Black radio engineer – Uriah Gooding. The driving idea behind these moves was to give onlookers a sense of the power that African Americans were gaining in the industry. WGIV had become a symbol of the “coming era of racial harmony and progress”.

The WGIV deejays, influenced by their boss’s drive for racial equality, largely worked in harmony. Leeper stated in an interview that they “all did everything together, the blacks and whites at the station” and that their office family was so well integrated that the on-going rage against the Jim Crow segregation laws was “Greek to them”.[14] The office collaboration that the deejays had resulted in something extremely stylistic of WGIV, and something that greatly affected the public perception of the radio – both White and Black radio announcers from WGIV had extremely similar styles of presentations, delivery and voice. Thus “rapper vernaculars” and “sophisticated accents” had begun to sound the same. Leeper stated that deejays sounded polished and spoke with good diction, irrespective of their race, both characteristics not associated with the stereotypical Black vernacularism of the time.[15]

Leeper felt that the Black community had faith in the White leadership in Charlotte. They believed that they would live up to their reputation of being progressive with racial issues. This peaceful collaboration, Leeper felt, was the reason that Blacks did not need to take to the streets in protest, an important aspect of the integration of the two races.[16] In the midst of their struggle to be identified as equal in society by the White counterparts, the African Americans were susceptible to comments and speeches that spoke against them. Therefore, it was important for Whites that were supporting racial integration to publicly accept and show their outright support. Fitzgerald played an integral part in WGIV’s role in filling up this identification gap. In July 1953, Fitzgerald was formally recognized by St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Charlotte for his “excellent exemplification of unbiased citizenship and high Christian ideals” in his altruistic attempts to integrate African Americans and Whites in the community.[17] Such praise for a White moderate pursuing their progressivism gave confidence to the Black community, and supporting WGIV made complete tactical sense to the Blacks fighting for rights at the time. Fitzgerald and Potts maintained an extremely close friendship and the former never failed to publicly celebrate the latter, also WGIV’s star attraction in its prime. Fitzgerald’s comments such as “Gene is not only credit to the Negro race – he is credit to a truly great America” became known expressions of white-black cooperation and dialogue.[18]

Beyond tackling the identity issue that the Blacks were facing, Fitzgerald and WGIV gave rise to empowering Charlotte’s African American Community in multiple ways. WGIV financed African American businessmen along with the federal SBA (Small Business Administration) to six-week schools over many years, and co-sponsored a Business Management Institute at Carver College in 1957, where Gene served as one of main conveners.[19]

Decline[edit]

Unfortunately, WGIV took a toll two decades from its inception. In the late 60s, amidst an atmosphere of rising Black power, many young African Americans in Charlotte became skeptical of WGIV's stated ethos of biracial cooperation. The key issue that brought uproar was Fitzgerald’s race. Rising Black youths were angry at the fact that Charlotte’s principal Black Radio stations was technically White owned. They spoke of being exploited by this White ownership, and demanded a union that would secure their jobs.[20] The veterans of WGIV, including Leeper, Gene, Fitzgerald himself and others knew that the setting up of such a union would instill mistrust in the staff and completely break the bas upon which WGIV had been built. As Leeper felt, the rationale of these uprising youth was not the fault of WGIV. They had not been used to stable jobs, and certainly not used to the idea that a White president would be treating White and Black employees equally.[21]

Thus, in spite of having ideal goals and ideal methods to achieve racial harmony, WGIV lost out to aggressive racial workers. After its main era, the radio station served as a Gospel station for many decades. Although its popularity decreased, WGIV was still loved by the people of Charlotte. Eventually, a few years ago the Radio frequency was bought by ‘Streetz 103.3’, a hip-hop station. WGIV signed off on the 1st of December 2003. This final change forced WGIV to become an Internet bound radio.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://edmyers.blogspot.com/2006/10/wgiv-radio-in-charlotte-nc-in-50s.html
  2. ^ Kay McFadden, "Museum Tunes in History of Radio in the Carolinas," The Charlotte Observer, September 21, 1997.
  3. ^ Jeff Borden, "WSOC Drops the Braves to Broadcast Charlotte O's," The Charlotte Observer, January 31, 1986.
  4. ^ Tim Funk, "Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Radio Stations Are Bustling with Activity," The Charlotte Observer, December 14, 1991.
  5. ^ Tim Funk, "Station Targets Black Adults with New Format, Ownership," The Charlotte Observer, January 26, 1994.
  6. ^ Kay McFadden, "Plugged In - Black Charlotte Radio Flourishes by Remaining Tuned in to the Community," The Charlotte Observer, October 26, 1997.
  7. ^ Mark Washburn, "Black Radio Dynamo Fades Away - WGIV's Sound Transformed From R&B to Gospel to Silence," The Charlotte Observer, December 3, 2003.
  8. ^ Mel Watkins, On The Real Side (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994)
  9. ^ William Barlow, Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio (Temple University Press, 1999)
  10. ^ Brian Ward, Radio and the Struggle for civil rights in the South: Chapter 8 (University Press of Florida, 2004)
  11. ^ Brian Ward, Radio and the Struggle for civil rights in the South: Chapter 8 (University Press of Florida, 2004)
  12. ^ Francis Fitzgerald, quoted in Jarrett, Broadcasting, 78
  13. ^ Hattie Leeper, Interview with Sonja Williams, April 22, 1995, BR
  14. ^ Hattie Leeper, Interview with Sonja Williams, April 22, 1995, BR
  15. ^ Brian Ward, Radio and the Struggle for civil rights in the South: Chapter 8 (University Press of Florida, 2004)
  16. ^ Hattie Leeper, Interview with Sonja Williams, April 22, 1995, BR
  17. ^ Brian Ward, Radio and the Struggle for civil rights in the South: Chapter 8 (University Press of Florida, 2004)
  18. ^ Francis Fitzgerald, What I know about Gene in Program for Genial Gene Day
  19. ^ Edward Brown, letter to Fitzgerald, October 22, 1957.
  20. ^ Brian Ward, Radio and the Struggle for civil rights in the South: Chapter 8 (University Press of Florida, 2004)
  21. ^ Hattie Leeper, Interview with Sonja Williams, April 22, 1995, BR

External links[edit]