Guest Post: What’s the WURD? The Future of Black Talk Radio (Part 1)

In our community, we so often use the word ‘authentic’ to mean whatever the hell we think is black-like-me. I love that Sara uses Marable’s definition, but I love more that she and WURD live it.

Once, in a WURD interview for my Underground Railroad novel, ‘The Price of a Child’, a man called to say that the book had not adequately represented slavery.

He talked for sometime.  Then, one of the interviewers asked whether he had read the book.

He did not need to read it, he said, and he did not intend to read it.

The interviewers, who knew the man’s voice, gave him a hard time: calling in about a book he hadn’t read; how could he judge anything?

But this is what the caller answered: If I had written a book about slavery that people could sit at home and read–and enjoy–then he knew that in some way, I’d been untrue to the experience.  To be true to it would mean making the book so painful as to be unreadable.

I was on the third floor in my house on the phone, and I thought of Richard Wright saying that after ‘Uncle Tom’s Children’, he’d never write another book that “bankers’ daughters could read and weep over and feel good about.”  And I thought about my own rage during the five years of research and writing.  I tried to acknowledge the caller’s point, saying that like blues, my books tried to capture the pain and make it into beauty that could hold and honor the past with its horrors.

Only on WURD here in Philadelphia during an entire season of the One Book, One Philadelphia promotion could that conversation have happened, with its emotional, intellectual, and spiritual implications understood, laughed at, humphed over, and listened to deeply. Ours was an authentic conflict, and the context of the radio station and its community made a space large enough to contain us all that morning.

We at Art Sanctuary are thrilled to partner with WURD, too! – Lorene



“As a black historian, the question that came to me was, “How can the authentic history of black people be brought to life?” By “authentic” I mean a historical narrative in which blacks themselves are the principal actors, and that the story is told and explained from their own vantage point.”

–       Manning Marable, Living Black History


This is a fundamental question for our time: How do we –as Black people – in 21st century America (a so-called post-racial society), determine, shape and tell our own story in our own voice? The answer for me, right now, is building a financially viable multi-media enterprise that leverages the historic power of talk radio and merges it with community outreach events and new media vehicles like the Internet , mobile devices and social media. But as the brilliant African-American scholar Dr. Manning Marable points out, you must be authentic to be credible in our community.

As the president and general manager of 900AM-WURD, Pennsylvania’s only African-American talk radio station (and one of the few in the nation), we provide the only outlet where Philadelphia’s Black community can discuss, debate and question the issues of the day – everyday. Whether it’s politics, education, health care, economic development or criminal justice, our two-way talk format allows our community to speak and be heard in their own authentic voice.

This sounds basic, but in today’s world this can feel like a revolutionary act. I have had White friends and colleagues look at me quizzically when I say what I do. “Well what do you talk about?” they ask, implying that there could not possibly be anything of value that’s not already covered on NPR or KYW or Action News.

But in Philadelphia, there really is a “tale of two cities.” Too many Black folks are truly suffering. Just look at public education (drop out rate of about 50%); unemployment (around 18%); obesity (about 70% for Black women); stop and frisk and the over incarceration of Black men.  Clearly we have not yet overcome. Add to this equation a more complicated, less open conversation around race and class in the age of Obama, and you see the need for an unapologetic examination of the African-American experience.

This is why I am so passionate about WURD. I have often said that Black talk radio is on the “endangered species” list. Disappearing Voices, a 2008 documentary about the demise of Black radio, illustrates this point poignantly. It states that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of 10,315 commercial AM and FM radio stations in the United States, only 168 are Black-owned.  That was three years ago when Disappearing Voices was produced. Since that time, even more voices have disappeared.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of What’s the WURD?, in which Sara speaks to the importance of independent media and begins to discuss the creative partnerships that have allowed WURD to navigate the rocky landscape of talk radio


Sara Lomax-Reese is the president of WURD Radio, LLC, Philadelphia’s only African-American owned talk radio station. She has been the host and producer of HealthQuest Live radio show on WURD since 2002. Prior to her work with WURD, Sara co-founded HealthQuest: Total Wellness for Body, Mind & Spirit, the first nationally circulated African-American consumer health magazine in the country. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Sara’s writings have been widely published in The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Essence Magazine, American Visions Magazine and Modern Maturity.

With an entrepreneurial spirit and creative vision, Sara remains committed to educating, empowering and enlightening the community around optimal health. In her role at WURD, she is able to mobilize all of her experiences, to help build it into a powerful and vital voice for the African-American community.

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