I thought sharing my music would help ease the pandemic anxieties of those who couldn’t eat out, go to church, or had few other means of entertainment.
Black-owned WJBE radio is ‘guardian of economic dignity’
Knoxville’s only black-owned radio station, WJBE, focuses on telling the stories of the city’s minority communities.
Calvin Mattheis, Knoxville News Sentinel
Next month, on April 14, I will celebrate the second anniversary of my radio show. When I started the show two days after my 85th birthday, I had no idea it would hit the two-year mark. It started as an effort to entertain people who were largely housebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I had watched various artists take to Zoom, empty concert halls and other places to reach their fans.
I had already done two radio shows with my friend, the late Bob King, and had no interest in doing another. But I wanted to do something to help ease the anxieties of those who couldn’t eat out, go to church, or had few other means of entertainment. I believed that my music could help.
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I have no way of knowing how my show ranks in the entertainment world, but I’m very happy with the feedback I’m getting from listeners as I walk across town. I am often surprised by the listeners who call me. One wanted to know where he could hear this kind of music in a club. I told him I didn’t know of such a place in Knoxville.
The show started with my calling former State Rep. Joe Armstrong, owner of WJBE radio at 99.7 FM or 1040 AM, to ask if I could do a show. He was aware of my previous shows and gave me the 1-3pm time slot on Thursday with a repeat of the show from 10am-noon on Saturday.
During those two years, when the karaoke bars in town were closed and I was afraid to frequent those in the county, I needed something to fill those leisure hours. Although I’m on the air for two hours per show, it takes at least three hours to put it together.
The 1950s-1970s music I play has thousands of tracks to choose from. Most of the time, I use the top 10 sounds that many have heard or will probably enjoy. One might be surprised to learn that there were far more male performers than female at the time, so try to include as many female performers as possible without being too repetitive.
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In order to attract a larger group of listeners, I started including more pop singers. In an effort to have a better variety of music and the pre-period genre of my R&B selections, I started to include Big Band sounds. Most of them were recorded in the 1930s and 1940s.
Although I don’t play my personal records on the show, I have most of the music that listeners hear. I have charts dating back to 1890 that tell me about music and artists. I have a number of biographical and autobiographical books on and by the artists I feature in the show.
I started buying my first records in 1948 at the Triangle Music Company on Magnolia Avenue when they changed records from their jukeboxes around town and sold them for a penny. By the time I got them, many were well worn, but I owned the original sound from the original artist. Over the years, I have replaced them with new recordings. This experience of over 70 years helps me host my show.
Robert J. Booker is a freelance writer and former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. He can be reached at 865-546-1576.