Through most of the second half of the last century, many black New Yorkers grew up knowing Mr. Jackson as the man who introduced them to the latest R&B hits, a radio DJ whose smiling face appeared on billboards across the city. For decades before that, Mr. Jackson’s was a household name in black Washington.
A broadcasting and civil rights pioneer who repeatedly found ways to smash through barriers, Mr. Jackson as a Howard University student was determined to get on the radio, at first as a sportscaster.
In the mid-1930s, he won free entry to Griffith Stadium by volunteering to clear trash during Washington Senators games. But no blacks were allowed in the press box, even when the Negro League’s Homestead Grays were playing. So Mr. Jackson climbed to the rooftop and made himself useful to the stadium announcer, who eventually allowed Mr. Jackson to narrate some Grays games to the crowd in the ballpark.
At the time, Negro League games were not broadcast on the radio in Washington. In 1939, Mr. Jackson went to the offices of WINX, then owned by The Washington Post, introduced himself as the Grays’ stadium announcer, and made the case for putting games on the air.
The station manager’s response: “No n----- will ever go on this radio station.”
Incensed, Mr. Jackson concocted a scheme: He would buy time from WINX and get on its airwaves without the manager’s knowledge. Mr. Jackson found a sponsor, C.C. Coley, who owned half a dozen barbecue joints in town, and working incognito through a white-owned advertising agency, Mr. Jackson purchased 15 minutes of time on WINX at 11 p.m. each night for $35 a show.
He wrote a proposal to present “The Bronze Review,” a program of entertainment, interviews and news, but Mr. Jackson said nothing about having a black host. The station’s white executives had no idea that “bronze” was then the classy term for “negro” in Washington’s black community.
On his debut night, Mr. Jackson arrived at WINX with his first guest, Mary McLeod Bethune, President Frankin Roosevelt’s director of Negro affairs. They waited outside until 15 minutes before airtime to minimize the chance that station managers might bar them from the air. The show went on, devoted to a discussion about Washington’s blighted black neighborhoods.
“The Bronze Review,” with guests such as first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, entertainer Lena Horne and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.), became a nightly must-listen for black Washington.
“I knew the station was getting flak for letting me on, but they liked that money they were making,” Mr. Jackson told this reporter for his 2007 book about the history of radio, “Something in the Air.”