Jackson, Hal 1915–
Hal Jackson 1915–
Hal Jackson has spent a lifetime breaking down barriers. During the 1940s and 1950s, when racial segregation was prevalent, his pioneering efforts in radio and television opened doors for other African-American broadcasters. He became an advocate for teens in the 1960s, producing the Black Teenage America contest, and was a supporter of black-owned businesses beginning in the 1970s, when he joined the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation (ICBC). Through it all, he attributed his success to hard work and sheer determination. “If you think you are beaten,” he told National Public Radio, “you are. If you think you dare not, you don’t. It’s all in your state of mind.”
Jackson was born on November 3, 1915, in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Eugene Baron Jackson, owned a downtown tailor shop. His mother, Laura Rivers Jackson, was reportedly born on the Sea Islands off the South Carolina coast. The success of the elder Jackson’s tailor shop allowed the family to buy a house with a large backyard in a well-to-do African-American neighborhood. When Jackson was around nine, however, his idyllic childhood came to a sudden end when both his parents died within several months of one another. He lived with relatives for a short time in New York and Washington, D.C., before moving to a boarding house on his own at age 13. He attended public school and supported himself by shining shoes and working as a bus-boy.
Jackson lettered in basketball, football, baseball, and tennis at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. He also worked as an attendant at Griffith Stadium, the home of the Washington Senators, a job that allowed him to attend baseball games free of charge. Following high school, he enrolled at Howard University and worked as a sports announcer for the college’s baseball games. He also called games in Washington for the local American Negro Baseball League, and dreamed of working as an announcer for the Washington Senators.
In 1939 Jackson approached WINX in Washington, D.C, with an idea for an interview program. The station told him that no “n-----” would ever work on WINX. Jackson, refusing to take “no” for an answer, searched for sponsors in the local African-American community. With the backing of the owner of a string of barbeque restaurants, Jackson hired Erlich & Merrick,
Born Harold Baron Jackson on November 3, 1915, in Charleston, SC; son of Eugene Baron Jackson and Laura (Rivers) Jackson.
Career: Disc jockey, multiple stations, 1939–; radio station owner, 1970s–; WBIS, group chairman; Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, vice president, group chairman; Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens International, sponsor.
Awards: Broadcasters Hall of Fame, inductee, 1990; Radio Hall of Fame, inductee, 1995; Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame, inductee, 2001.
Addresses: Office— Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens International, 1230 Park Avenue, New York, NY, 10128.
a white advertising agency, to purchase 15 minutes of airtime between 11:00 and 11:15 each night, six times a week. He then showed up with his interview guest 15 minutes before airtime. “Everybody was stunned,” Jackson told Weekend Edition-Sunday —a program aired on National Public Radio (NPR), “and I was scheduled to go on. They couldn’t locate the manager, wherever he was. Anyway, we went on the air and the phones just lit up.”
The Bronze Review was a hit, and within six months Jackson was broadcasting on four stations in three different cities. Besides his program on WINX, he traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, where he had a three-hour rhythm & blues show, to Baltimore, Maryland, for a three-hour sports program, and then back to Washington, D.C., where he finished the day with an 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. spot on WOOK. He established his trademark program, The House That Jack Built, on WOOK. “Jackson invented an imaginary house and took listeners on a tour,” reported Nancy Marshall on Weekend Edition-Sunday. “He started by introducing guests from the living room, and then spun the hottest hits from the kitchen.” In the age of personality-driven radio, Jackson’s program was an immediate hit.
In 1949 Jackson moved to New York City and broadcast a daily show at WLIB, but his stay was brief. He missed Washington, and after a year he returned to work at WUST. Although he was able to take the show to number one in a short time, Nathan Strauss—who wanted Jackson to break the color barrier at WMCA—lured Jackson back to New York. There, he continued his usual busy schedule, working for three New York stations simultaneously during the next three years. “I’d start the day at WMCA,” he told Broadcasting, “then go across the street to Birdland, then back to WLIB. And on Sundays I was doing a kid’s show on Channel 11 featuring Uncle Hal, The Kiddies Pal.”
Jackson’s groundbreaking career came to a halt in the late 1950s when he was accused of taking money in the payola scandal. He was suspected, as were a number of other disc jockeys, of taking money from record companies in exchange for playing their singles. Jackson was fired. “I had no job, no way to take care of my family after that,” he told Weekend Edition-Sunday. “So here I was, Mr. Big Shot, cleaning buildings at night so I could take care of my family.” Many believed Jackson had been targeted because of his involvement in the civil rights movement. He had interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his program, aired his speeches, and raised money for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council. “It was kind of natural that he would be the target,” Professor William Barlow told Weekend Edition-Sunday, “but luckily he kept good books and they couldn’t touch him.” The payola charges were finally dropped, and in time Jackson was able to reclaim and continue his successful career.
Jackson worked briefly at a Philadelphia radio station before returning to New York to host a program on WWRL. He also began to co-host concerts in Central Park and broadcast variety shows from Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. In the late 1960s Jackson produced the Miss Black Teen America contest, later called the Talented Teen contest, to offer opportunities to young African-American teens excluded from the Miss America contest.
Jackson’s efforts to break down racial barriers bore fruit in the early 1970s when he joined the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation (ICBC), an organization that purchased the first African-American-owned radio stations. In 1984, at the age of 69, Jackson returned to radio as the host of Sunday Morning Classics on WBLS in New York, a program that remains on the air today. In 1995 he became the first African American to be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. On top of his many personal achievements, Jackson has remained committed to multiple political causes and charitable organizations. He has supported the Youth Development Foundation, and his Talented Teen contest has made available more than $250,000 in scholarship funds for students. “You have to be willing to make sacrifices,” Jackson told Broadcasting, “and when you succeed you should reach back and try to help others.”
Current Biography Yearbook 2002, H.W. Wilson, 2003, pp. 255–258.
Broadcasting, October 22, 1990, p. 103.
“Hal Jackson,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (July 7, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a profile of Hal Jackson aired on Weekend Edition-Sunday, broadcasted on National Public Radio, July 15, 2001.
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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