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  • I’m going to start this story with Drake

  • Specifically his songAfter Dark

  • The song, itself, ends here

  • But this section right after the song ends,

  • right here?

  • It’s a story way bigger than Drake

  • I’ll play it

  • "93.7, WBLK…"

  • A radio host's voice fades in, it's low and soothing

  • "Moving you through the storm at what is now nineteen minutes after ten o'clock."

  • He lists a handful of upcoming artists

  • "Fantasia"

  • "Chaka Khan"

  • "My Funny Valentine..."

  • And then, he introduces himself.

  • "It's Al Wood and you are safe, soft, and warm..."

  • ...in the loving embrace of the quiet storm exclusively on 93.7 WBLK

  •  This is Al Wood,

  • and it’s his voice you just heard

  • For seven years in the early 2000s, Al’s voice broadcast late at night through Buffalo, New York,

  • and crossed Lake Ontario into Canada

  • We were the urban station for the Toronto market. Which is how I had a connection with

  • a certain star by the name of Drake.

  • Truth

  • At the time of the recording, Drake was known for his role on this show

  • But fast forward to 2018, when After Dark was released?

  •   He’s this guy.

  • And I get a phone call

  • from Drake's manager saying that,

  • hey, you know, he’s always loved you, weve always loved you,

  • we’d love to have BLK represented on this next album.

  • They found an aircheck that I had just put on SoundCloud years ago….

  • ...and they said, wow, you know, that's the guy. That's the voice.

  • That's what we want on our album

  • I had a full minute

  • uninterrupted

  • on a Drake track.

  • The reason Al and I are chatting about this, is that this wasn’t just any radio show...

  • it was one of many Quiet Storm shows

  • that had become a staple on Black radio.

  • "Soft and warm, the Quiet Storm"

  • "The Original Quiet Storm"

  • "The Quiet Storm"

  • "The magic Quiet Storm"

  • "108"

  • The year is 1976.

  • The place is Washington, DC.

  • And were at Howard University.

  • Specifically their radio station, WHUR

  • “11:43 in Washington, wow 17 minutes before midnight here at WHUR radio.” 

  • A lot was happening outside the walls of this radio station in 1976. 

  • For one, the United States was celebrating its 200th anniversary

  • On top of that, it was an election year

  • Jimmy Carter vs Gerald Ford

  • Everything from optimistic political ads...

  • "I'm feelin' good about America"

  • ...to magazine covers

  •  and comic books 

  • was red white and blue

  • But, if you want to really understand Washington, DC, in 1976, you have to listen to this

  • "Uh, what's happenin, CC?"

  • "They still call it the White House, but that's a temporary condition too."

  • "Can you dig it, CC?"

  • This is Chocolate City, by the legendary funk band Parliament

  • The album cover shows national landmarks stamped in chocolate

  • along with a Washington, DC, label

  • In 1976 Parliament was wildly popular in DC

  • and this album explains the reason why

  • Washington, DC, was a chocolate city

  • "Right on Chocolate City!"

  • George Clinton is really describing the vibe of post-industrial Black urban experiences

  • That’s Fredara Hadley, she’s an ethnomusicologist who teaches at the Juilliard School.  

  • Black people have been flocking to major metropolitan areas in the United States

  • since the early 20th century through the great migrations

  • But what feels different as we move deeper into the 20th century is a more pervasive

  • influence of Black culture in those cities and the identity of those cities begins

  • to be defined by its Blackness

  • This was a big story in the 1970s. 

  • For 150 years the white population in DC held a strong majority.

  • The first time they dipped below 50% was the 1960s. 

  • By the 1970s, the district’s demographics had completely shifted.  

  • In 1976, Black people totaled 77% of the District’s population

  • The seat of this American government sits in the middle of this very Black district.

  • And there was no question about this fact:

  • The hub of entertainment, culture, and news in cities like Washington, DC, was Black radio.

  • Black radio, until we get into the late ‘90s, 21st century, is sort of a town square.

  • "Whether you realize it or not, Black radio is the most powerful form of communication

  • in the Black community."

  • In local news segments like this one, black radio’s growing influence in DC

  • was dissected and analyzed

  • "It plays an informative role for me, and not only does it offer music

  • but it offers news, it offers things that are happening in the city."

  • It’s where you can interact and hear all of these things

  • specifically from a Black perspective

  • A lot of these Black radio stations were owned by white people,

  • including several in DC.   

  • With the exception of one station:

  • WHUR.

  • It was owned by Howard University,

  • the most revered Historically Black University in the United States.  

  • WHUR, Howard University Radio,

  • even though it is owned by Howard University, it is a commercial radio station

  • and it's a very important radio station in Washington, DC

  • That’s Angela Stribling, a longtime TV and radio personality based in DC.

  • Although I'm from Buffalo, New York, I consider myself an honorary Washingtonian

  • At the time, WHUR was known for playing straight ahead jazz

  • mixed with broadcasts of speeches, poetry, and news shows.

  • But something changed one summer night in 1976. 

  • An intern named Melvin Lindsey who was a communications major at Howard,

  • was tapped to fill in for an absent host

  • He was covering the 7 pm to midnight time slot.

  • Right after The Daily Drum, their popular news show

  • “11:43 in Washington, wow 17 minutes before midnight…”

  • Here's Melvin Lindsey, this intern at Howard University, you know,

  • had never been on the radio. He gets this big opportunity

  • I don't think anyone foresaw this becoming such a phenomenon.

  • That night, he ushered in a totally new style of Black radio

  • one that was intimate and personal

  • "The next couple of songs I’m gonna play have a lot of meaning for me…,

  • and I want you to listen to the words,

  • theyre dedicated from me to you..."

  • It provides not just music, but also feelings and memories.

  • It was upscale. It was adult

  • And it changed the sound of R&B for decades to come.  

  • So, what exactly happened on this radio show?

  • And why did it strike a chord with the people that tuned in that night

  • To know this, you have to understand two things about the 1970s.

  • One: the sonically diverse world of R&B

  • It's almost like anything goes. People were just trying things

  • And two:

  • One of the most complicated things about that immediate post-civil rights era

  • is that of class and socioeconomic status

  • These two facts are deeply intertwined, but let's start with the second one.

  • A lot of what the civil rights movement was concerned with, first and foremost,

  • making the country safer for Black people to exist in.

  • But it also aimed for something else

  • This push for greater access to education, to employment,

  • more access to higher education and expansion.

  • In the 1970s you start to see this finally happen

  • More African-Americans are able to go to college.

  • Corporate hiring rates start to increase

  • That Black professional class in particular starts to grow.

  • And they moved to the suburbs at rates that had never been seen before.

  •  That’s what happened in Washington, DC:

  • From 1970 to 1980 the Black population in the suburbs increased from 25% to 47%.  

  • And so you see a lot of Black publications, Black media in general, start to pivot

  • to better reflect, and not only reflect, but to shape the identity of

  • what that post civil rights era, Black professional class will look like and sound like.

  • What do people in that class drink? What do they smoke?

  • Where do they hang out? How do they dress

  • They're now saying, well, how do we soundtrack that group of people?  

  • The good news? They had a lot of music to choose from

  • On one level, the 1970s feels like an era of profound freedom, musically

  • The Fender rhodes became massively popular 

  • Artists overdosed on the synthesizer

  • Songs were longer and more experimental

  • and Jazz and funk became one.

  • R&B and Soul music in many ways continued the trajectory of the politically charged

  • music of the 1960s. 

  • Black people, in particular, can't afford

  • to fully take their eyes off what's happening in their own communities.  

  • And so albums like Marvin Gaye's “What's Going OnandInner City Blues,”

  • all of that makes sense

  • "Trigger happy policing"

  • "Panic is spreading"

  • "God knows where..."

  • But a different type of R&B emerged as well,

  • one that appealed to this growing Black middle class

  • We talk about the victory of the civil rights era,

  • the progress that was made and all that.

  • But all of that came at an astronomical cost to people's psyche and well-being.