Movie Review: ‘Disappearing Voices’ delves into white radio overpowering Black radio

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Black Waxx Multimedia released the exclusive movie release, “Disappearing Voices—The Decline of Black Radio,” aired for five days at ICE Chatham Theaters at 210 W. 87th Street from Friday, June 19 to Tuesday, June 23, 2009. But it’s not

Black Waxx Multimedia released the exclusive movie release, “Disappearing Voices—The Decline of Black Radio,” aired for five days at ICE Chatham Theaters at 210 W. 87th Street from Friday, June 19 to Tuesday, June 23, 2009. But it’s not too late to see it.

The movie features countless renowned radio personalities like Hal Jackson, Enoch Gregory, Rocky Groce, Bobby Jay, Kae Thompson, E. Rodney Jones, Jocko Henderson, Gerry Bledsoe, Bill Hawkins, Pat Atwell, Magnificent Montague, Herb Kent and Lucky Cordell. Hip hop voices like Chuck D of Public Enemy and M1 of Dead Prez also give their opinions from a musician’s perspective.

Disappearing Voices” starts off talking about the history of radio, who is rumored to start it (Guglielmo Marconi) and General Electric’s Owen Young having an influence as well. Then it delves into the first Black personalities and how Black radio came about—with stations like WERD in Atlanta (1963), KPRS “the first Black station west of the Mississippi River” (1950), and hosts Eddie O’Jay, Rudy “The Deuce” Rutherford and Frankie Crocker bringing Black radio to life.

Radio personality Gary Byrd narrates a few highlights in Black radio, but it was independent promoter Paulette DeSuzia who really caught my attention. She joked about how E. Rodney Jones was the “same crazy man off the air” as he was on the air and how radio personalities today are so different than their on-air personalities.

And then came actor Melvin Van Peebles to change the direction of the movie with his comment about, “Just like the Black Panther Party, they’re getting rid of Black radio.”

DeSuzia and M1 backpack on Peebles statements by coming down on Clear Channel and radio stations playing only popular music for payola.

“I really don’t care if a record hits the chart,” DeSuzia said. “I just want it to be heard.”

M1 responds angrily about the way radio stations mistreat music that doesn’t fit music chart standards by saying, “These guys ain’t worth the bottom of my shoe” and declaring that he’s turned off his radio permanently.

Other important topics include how white radio has allegedly taken over Black radio stations (out of 13,476 total radio stations, only 165 are Black-owned, according to this film), which means Blacks only own about 2.5 percent.

Being 27 years old, a lot of the radio personalities in this film were new to me (minus Herb Kent), so although the movie was entertaining and some audience members hooted when seeing their favorite host, it was more educational for someone outside of the radio history loop. And on Juneteenth, I couldn’t think of a better way to learn new African-American history.

There was a detailed conversation about how people meters (pagers that monitor mobile listening habits) calculate responses, and who Nielsen and Arbitron use to find out what is popular in radio while allegedly neglecting African-American listeners.

During high school, I worked for a radio research firm, and although “Disappearing Voices” has several Black people who said they never recalled anyone contacting them to find out who they’re listening to, for two years straight, I called homes and asked about songs and radio stations, so I do know hundreds of people who did.

Race, location and whether a person had kids were questions asked about people’s listening habits, but more importantly, the questionnaires would start off with, “What stations do you listen to?” If people didn’t listen to the radio station that the firm was hired for, then I couldn’t complete that survey. But what I always found odd about this was that the purpose of the survey was to find out what songs people were tired or not tired of hearing, and just because a person doesn’t frequently listen to a certain radio station doesn’t mean they don’t know the songs. I thought about that radio firm the entire time I was watching this movie.

For those who don’t listen to radio much (like me, since I automatically pop CDs in to block out the obnoxious comments or pointless gossip on the radio), “Disappearing Voices” may make you want to try out radio again just to find out the relevant and helpful radio hosts. For those who do listen to the radio, especially talk radio, it’ll make you appreciate your favorite radio personalities that much more for keeping you informed the way Black radio stations started—with melody, great songs and news intermingled together instead of the shock jock and stereotypical material we mainly get today.

If you missed the five-day screening, visit http://www.disappearingvoices.com for more information.

I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars.

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Copyright 2009 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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