Radio broadcasting pioneer Harold “Hal” B. Jackson remembered, passes at 96

Special to the NNPA from the NY Carib News

Radio pioneer Harold ‘Hal’ B. Jackson is pictured above with legendary recording artist, Etta James, who also passed this year, on January 20, 2012 following a long illness. This photo was taken in 2004 at an event for the Youth Development Foundation Benefit that also honored Jackson’s 65 years in broadcasting. The event was held in New York City at the famous ‘Rainbow Room’. (AP/Gina Gayle file Photo)

Hal Jackson, one of the “Founding Fathers” of broadcasting, was known as a unique pioneer who broke numerous color barriers in the entertainment industry. He was a civil rights crusader, a civic leader, an icon, and a living legend. He was an inspiration to many; launching the careers of musicians spanning seven decades from the 1930’s to the present.

Jackson was the first to break songs by the Commodores featuring Lionel Richie right up to Alicia Keys. Hal Jackson observed the progress of African Americans in the 20th century and bridged the 21st century – from lynchings and Jim Crow segregation to witnessing the election of America’s first African American President. Jackson’s civic endeavors encouraged young women to go to college through his Youth Development Foundation, Inc.

Hal Jackson was the first minority inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame and the first of five African Americans inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. Hal Jackson has been honored by six of this nation’s Presidents and was recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as a “National Treasure.” Hal Jackson’s life, chronicled in his 2001 autobiography, ‘The House That Jack Built’ is an extraordinary record of the man, the times and his American dream story.

Born in Charleston, South Carolina on November 3, 1914, Harold Baron Jackson was the fifth child born to Eugene Baron Jackson and Laura Rivers Jackson. Eugene and Laura Jackson worked very hard to make sure that their five children not only had the best education, but the same privileges and opportunities afforded to what was considered then upper middle class America. Losing both parents at a very young age gave him the motivation and drive to set high standards and achieve them. So at the age of thirteen, he claimed his independence and moved to New York.

His journey in radio began in 1939 during the Jim Crow years of segregation in Washington DC. Jackson approached the management of WINX radio, owned by the Washington Post, and proposed The Bronze Review.

He was told by management, “No nigger will ever broadcast on this station.” For Hal Jackson it was the beginning of the first in a series of racial breakthroughs in America that would impact growth and development of minorities in communications in the 20th century. He met that challenge, engaged his associates at Kal, Erlich and Merrick, a wholesale buyer of radio, and purchased a 15- minute segment on WINX. He organized the Negro business community to sponsor a talk and music program formatted to introduce, showcase and validate Negro achievements that were impacting America. Jackson’s interviews included pioneers from every discipline in an era of legal segregation. His guests ranged from Dr. Charles Drew (discovered blood plasma), Mary McCloud Bethune (advisor and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt) founder of the National Council of Negro Women, political activist Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. to famed boxer Joe Louis and Duke Ellington.

The initiative was a stunning business success, and within six months Hal Jackson had purchased airtime, written and sold advertisement, and was broadcasting on three additional stations daily from three different cities.

In the 1940’s, Jackson was the owner and manager of the famed Washington Bears, the first African American team to win the world’s professional basketball championship, equivalent to today’s NBA.

The 1950’s and 1960’s were ground breaking years in NY. He hosted NBC-TV’s Frontiers of Faith, ABC radio’s Live from Birdland, and broadcasted daily 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM on WLIB; and 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM on WMCA. His live weekly concerts broadcast from Palisades Amusement Park helped to solidify his close relationship with Berry Gordy during the Motown Hitsville years.

By the 1960’s, Hal Jackson’s persona and access to the airwaves in the nation’s number one market, New York, coupled with is relentless advocacy galvanized community leaders to gather the initial 6 million signatures to establish the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday.

In 1970, as Group Chairman of Inner City Broadcasting, Hal Jackson, Percy Sutton along with a group of civicminded individuals purchased WLIB-AM and WLIB -FM (now WBLS-FM) in New York. It was Jackson who urged their venture group to purchase the FM station, thus creating the business model for minority ownership by founding Inner City Broadcasting; the first African American holding company with multiple broadcast properties throughout the United States.

Hal Jackson’s civic work is legendary. Over forty years ago he established programs to support and encourage young Black women through his non-profit organization, the Youth Development Foundation, Inc., created to Promote Culture & Education Through the Performing Arts. In 1970 Hal Jackson and Alice LaBrie started what is now known as Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens International (HJTTI) scholarship competition. The televised broadcast of this competition came through Hal Jackson Productions, one of the first Black production companies in the country. HJTTI participants included: Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Belle, Alyson Williams, Ce Ce Peniston, Michelle Thomas, Meli’Sa Morgan and Vanessa Williams.

Hal Jackson’s last initiative in broadcasting was launched in 1983 the Sunday Classics with Hal Jackson broadcast in New York City, on 107.5 FM WBLS. It had been rated number one on weekends for decades. Hal Jackson has received a myriad of awards and honors— the first minority inducted in the National Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame, the first Black inducted in the Radio Hall of Fame, a NAACP Image Award, Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, HistoryMakers Media Award, first ever Pioneer Award in Broadcasting from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and a New York Daily News Front Page Award to name a very few. But the legacy he leaves behind goes far beyond awards. Hal Jackson was an inspiration and a beautiful, gentle spirit whose generosity, and kindness will forever leave an imprint on our lives. He would constantly remind you “you are loved.”

Jackson’s dreams allowed others to dream. Through his work Jackson presented many opportunities for others and continuously gave back to the community. He truly lives by his words,

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.“

Jackson married Claudia Parrot and had a daughter, Jane Francis of Washington, DC. They later divorced and he married Julia Hawkins. From that union came Judge Harold Jackson Jr., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Jewell Jackson McCabe of New York, New York. Jackson was also married to Alice LaBrie. There were no children from that union.

Hal Jackson is survived by his wife Debi Jackson, his children, Jane Jackson Harley, Judge Harold B. Jackson, Jr., Jewell Jackson McCabe, and Tonya Gray. In his legacy he leaves nine grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.