WLOK Radio President Art Gilliam: "It is vitally important to our community for Black businesses to be able to have continuity over the years. We are pleased that WLOK has reached this (45th) milestone." (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

by Art Gilliam —

WLOK Radio celebrated its 45th anniversary of Black ownership on Feb.17.

In 1977, 1340 WLOK-AM became the first Black-owned radio station in Memphis. In 2017 WLOK added an FM affiliate at 104.9 FM, which WLOK promotes as FM 105.

It is the only Black-owned radio station in Memphis on the FM radio dial.

Some aspects of the history of WLOK can be seen April 1 on WKNO-TV. At 7:30 p.m. there will be a 30-minute interview, “Conversations with Art Gilliam,” which was recorded during WLOK’s 40th anniversary of Black ownership.

That interview will be followed at 8 p.m. by a one-hour documentary “The WLOK Story,” which was done on WLOK’S 25th anniversary of Black ownership.

The documentary examines the importance of WLOK as the first Black-owned radio station in Memphis and includes several interviews with people who are icons in Memphis history. 

It is vitally important to our community for Black businesses to be able to have continuity over the years. We are pleased that WLOK has reached this milestone. 

We salute other Black businesses, such as:

Four Way Restaurant, which recently observed its 75th anniversary.

 ■ The New Tri-State Defender, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary throughout this year.

The Southern Heritage Classic, which will have its 33rd anniversary in September. 

■ Africa in April, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary in April.

We celebrate them, as well as the other Black businesses that have achieved historical milestones in their longevity in serving our community.

The sign marks WLOK’s historic start. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

We at WLOK especially are proud of the fact that every day for 24 hours each day, we are available to our community as a resource for information and entertainment. 

Media is vital to any community. Media provides the means by which we can communicate with each other and to know factually what is happening around us.

Indeed, in other countries, when we see a takeover of government, one of the first things the new government shuts down or controls is the radio station and other media outlets. 

Those who control the media control the message to which citizens are exposed.

That is why Black ownership is important, not only to simply present relevant messages, but also to make sure that what is presented is accurate so that people can rely on it.

Business becomes the economic engine of communities. 

In the Black community, longstanding businesses are relatively few and we are sustained to a great extent by our churches.  Indeed, several of our Memphis churches have been around since the days of slavery. They formed a backbone that has been our refuge for centuries.

Business development is more recent and can become an important complement to what our religious community has done for generations.

It is in this context that the 45th anniversary of WLOK, and the milestone anniversaries achieved by other Black business, are so important.

We at WLOK give special thanks to all who have listened to WLOK over the decades. They have sustained us and made us who we are.

Finally, a radio station is really the sum of the thousands of people who listen each day and are informed and entertained.

WLOK is blessed to reach its 45th anniversary and we are especially thankful for all those who have made it possible.

(Art Gilliam is president of WLOK Radio.)