An Audio History of WERD
From the WERD Oral History Interviews Collection:
The following chronicles the history of the radio station, from its purchase in 1949 to its demise in 1970. These interviews were recorded in 1989 and narrated by Harold Lamar; producer, compiler, and news anchor for radio stations WVEE-WAOK.
Courtesy of: Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System
History (Edited from Wikipedia)
WERD was established in Atlanta on October 3, 1949, broadcasting on 860 AM (now used by WAEC). The National Black Radio Hall of Fame Atlanta Chapter is reopening WERD which still exists at its birth location and will also include a historical museum with it after renovations of the facility are completed.
WERD was the first radio station owned and operated by African-Americans. (WDIA in Memphis was on the air in 1948 doing black—or Negro as it was then called—programming, but the owners were not African American). Jesse B. Blayton Sr., an accountant, bank president, and Atlanta University professor, purchased WERD in 1949 for $50,000. He changed the station format to "black appeal" and hired his son Jesse Jr. as station manager. "Jockey" Jack Gibson was hired and by 1951 he was one of the most popular DJs in Atlanta. Ken Knight from Daytona Beach, Florida was also hired as the station's first Program Director when the station opened.
The station was housed in the Prince Hall Masonic Temple building on Auburn Avenue, then one of the wealthiest black neighborhoods in the United States. Located in that same building was the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, formed in 1957, led by Martin Luther King Jr., and staffed by Ella Baker. According to Gibson, King would tap the ceiling of SCLC office (just below WERD) with a broomstick to signal he had an announcement to make. Gibson would then lower a microphone from the studio window to King at the window below.
Blayton sold the station in 1968. and in 1969 its call letters were changed to WXAP.
The station briefly changed to country music in the late 1970s under new owner, Mike Sears, before becoming WAEC on December 3, 1978. The first station to play contemporary Christian music in Atlanta, its new call letters stood for "Atlanta's Electric Church".
Don Stone was hired as general manager a year later and changed the slogan to "Love 86". Stone built the station to be one of the most successful Christian stations in the country and created several publications for the station including the Atlanta Christian Business Directory and the Love 86 Express newspaper. Stone stayed at the station until 1994, when he departed to focus on publishing the Atlanta Christian Business Directory and The Love 86 Express, now Atlanta Christian Magazine.
Sears sold the station to Tampa-based Forus Communications in 1982, who sold the station 20 years later to Beasley Broadcasting.