Hal Jackson, the end of an era

Ron Scott | 6/1/2012, 2:23 p.m.

"Many of us will remember and be thankful for Hal's unselfish contributions," stated Vince Sanders, former vice president and general manager of WWRL.

In 1949, when Jackson moved to New York, his busy schedule continued at WLIB, WMCA--where he became the first Black DJ in 1954-- and at Birdland. He also did show on WLIB, and on Sundays, he did a children's show on channel 11 featuring "Uncle Hal, the Kiddies' Pal." During his days at WMCA, the busy DJ informed me his assistant was Telly Savalas, who eventually became a very successful actor.

Some years ago, this writer had the pleasure of interviewing Jackson. The interview took two days in his offices at Inner City Broadcasting and the piece became a two-part story that ran for two weeks.

His accomplishments are astounding, but he was very humble, taking it all in stride with his smooth voice and bright smile. When you walked away from him, you realized a special moment had been experienced. His motto was, "It's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice." By having a conversation with him, it was clear he followed these words to the letter.

In 1971, Jackson and Percy Sutton, former Manhattan borough president, co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation (ICBC), which acquired WLIB. WLIB became the first African-American-owned and -operated station in New York. Jackson became the group chairman but maintained his voice on the new WBLS-FM, "the total Black experience in sound."

Jackson was on air with his "Sunday Morning Classics" for over 25 years, which turned into "Sunday Classics" when the time was cut down. His wife of 23 years, Deborah Bolling, joined him on the show under the name Debi B., along with Clay Berry.

Unlike any other radio show, Jackson's "Sunday Classics" was a history lesson in music. Listeners would hear Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Jackie Wilson, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, the O'Jays, Count Basie and so on.

He wanted his listeners to understand the link between the music regardless of what it was called: jazz, R&B, doo-wop or bebop. His theme song, Miles Davis' "Someday My Prince Will Come," let you know it wasn't just about R&B.

During his over 60 illustrious years in radio, Jackson befriended musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Holiday, Chuck Jackson and the Mills Brothers, among others. Everyone flocked to Jackson. He was the one who inspired us all to do better with a smile and thoughtful words.

"He was a great friend," stated Vaughn Harper, a WBLS DJ from 1976-2005. "I miss him already."

Had he not been such a tenacious young man, he would have never broken so many barriers or became a civil rights activist, concert promoter, sports announcer, talk show host, radio personality, sports team owner, radio executive and owner and music historian. Jay-Z, now part owner of the Nets basketball team, gave Jackson credit for opening yet another door years ago.

Jackson's funeral will take place on Thursday, May 31 at 11 a.m. at Riverside Church, Claremont Avenue at 120th Street.