Hal Jackson, the end of an era
Ron Scott | 6/1/2012, 2:23 p.m.
Hal Jackson epitomized Black radio. He was the monumental role model for generations of radio DJs across the country. Jackson, who passed away on May 23 in New York City, set the tone, mood and style for what a good on-air radio personality should represent. He set the bar extremely high; Jackson wasn't good, he was great.
As a living radio legend, his perseverance opened the doors for generations of radio personalities who made prominent names for themselves such as Gary Byrd, Jerry Bledsoe, Rocky G, Jack the Rapper, Hank Spann, Frankie Crocker, Pat Prescott, Vy Higgensen, Jocko Henderson, Eddie O'Jay and many others.
"Hal Jackson helped a lot of industry people like myself," said Van Jay, who was with WBLS-FM from 1978-1983. "He wasn't a selfish person. He shared his knowledge with anyone who came in contact with him. He will be missed."
Jackson was the first Black to be inducted into the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame (1990) and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.
Like jazz musicians of his era, such as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Lunceford, Chick Webb and Count Basie, Jackson had to prove himself; being on radio was his bandstand. Ironically, his steps to fame were similar to Ellington's, who was born in Lincolnton, N.C., whereas Jackson was born in Charleston, S.C. Both of their families eventually moved to Washington, D.C.
Ellington's first job was selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games in Griffin Stadium. Jackson, 16 years younger, eventually worked the same stadium in the 1930s by volunteering to clear the trash during Washington Senators games.
This led to Jackson's early career as a play-by-play sports announcer in Washington, D.C.- the first African-American to announce action at a sporting event, calling the plays at the Negro League's Homestead Grays baseball games.
Jackson and Ellington both became popular in and around the D.C. area before moving on to gain more fame and fortune in New York City.
Jackson's first successful show, "The Bronze Review" on WINX in Washington, D.C., demonstrated his early community activism spirit. The 15-minute show that aired at 11 p.m. debuted with Jackson interviewing Mary McLeod Bethune, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's director of Negro affairs. Later, guests included Lena Horne and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY). It became a widely listened-to show in D.C.'s Black community.
In addition to the talk show, Jackson was broadcasting on four different radio stations in three cities: on WINX and then over to Silver Springs, Md., to host a show on WOOK, and shows on WANN in Annapolis, Md. (a three-hour R&B show) and WSID in Baltimore (a three-hour sports program). Long before Tom Joyner became the "fly jock," Jackson was busy hitting three cities on a daily basis. He was the first to broadcast on multiple shows in various cities. He was the first travelin' jock.
Jackson also became a sports entrepreneur, assembling an all-Black basketball team, the Washington Bears, which won the invitational World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1943.