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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


The power of black radio

Chris Keane for The New York Times

Tom Joyner, shown at a “Sky Show” in
Greensboro, N.C., in November, is the host
of the nation’s largest black-oriented radio
program, which is broadcast daily in 120 markets.

Building a Conversation, One Radio Show at a Time

Published: February 13, 2007

HAMPTON, Va., Feb. 11 — At a gathering here Saturday of roughly 10,000 people who came for a conversation concerning the problems confronting blacks, Tom Joyner, the conference co-host, told the audience he had been “ready to be angry” as he took a tour about the Jamestown settlement nearby and thought of slave ships. What he experienced instead, he said, was not anger but something akin to his feelings about mainstream media coverage of blacks: a story certainly not from a black perspective.

“We’ve got to stop going to other people to get what we need,” Mr. Joyner told the predominantly black audience, here for “State of the Black Union,” an annual event, held this year at Hampton University in conjunction with the 400th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the first permanent English colony at Jamestown.

For the past 13 years, Mr. Joyner has been the host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” which is dedicated to offering what he thinks blacks need: an unfiltered conversation about black life and black issues from a black perspective. Far less known outside African-American communities than other radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern, Mr. Joyner has an estimated eight million listeners in a given week in the roughly 120 markets where his show is syndicated, making it the nation’s largest black-oriented radio show.

Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois, said that black radio was “probably the most central vehicle for communicating with the masses of African-Americans.” And within that niche, he continued, Mr. Joyner’s show is “the pre-eminent vehicle.”

Unlike Mr. Stern or Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Joyner does not aspire to shock his audience or to hammer home a partisan position. In Mr. Joyner’s town square on the radio five mornings a week (with a recap on Saturdays offering highlights of the week’s shows), the conversation ranges from speculation about the White House to jokes about Whitney Houston. His guest list in the last year has included former President Bill Clinton; the actors Will Smith and Jamie Foxx; Senator Barack Obama of Illinois; the singers Lionel Richie and Aretha Franklin; the comedian Bill Cosby; the scholars Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker; and Bishop T. D. Jakes, the televangelist.

Mr. Joyner’s show blends such interviews with radio staples like news, sweepstakes and comedy. There’s a “cash call contest” and a humorous soap opera called “It’s Your World,” about a fictional, prosperous all-black town. The four-hour show also includes news analysis with Jacque Reid and celebrity news with Jawn Murray. Mr. Joyner’s site,, includes news, surveys and games.

As Martin Luther King’s Birthday approached last month, Mr. Joyner and his crew — which includes Sybil Wilkes, a newscaster, and the comedians J. Anthony Brown, “Ms. Dupre” and Myra J., who delivers tongue-in-cheek tips to single moms — joked on the air that listeners should remember to wish their white colleagues a happy holiday.

Mr. Joyner has had his share of setbacks, of course. He has failed to make a go of it in either Los Angeles or New York, the biggest markets in radio. His comedy-variety television series, “The Tom Joyner Show,” which was syndicated in 2005 in more than 100 markets, including New York, lasted only one year; Mr. Joyner blamed production costs for its demise.

Some critics say Mr. Joyner’s emphasis on his core audience — mostly female, middle-aged and middle-class — has led him to neglect certain issues. “A lot of issues on the younger end don’t get touched,” Paul Porter, a founder of Industry Ears, a research group dedicated to promoting justice in the media, said of Mr. Joyner’s radio show. Mr. Porter said that Mr. Joyner had largely missed the debate over the misogyny and violence found in the lyrics of some rap music. “There are topics he can’t discuss because of the advertisers,” Mr. Porter speculated.

Still, some people believe that Mr. Joyner is poised for greater visibility. Donna Brazile, the Democratic political strategist, is among them. “He is the black version of Rush Limbaugh, but he’s a lot different,” she said, in a telephone interview. “Rush Limbaugh speaks only to conservatives, the true believers. Joyner crosses over all the lines in the black community.”

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University and the director of the university’s Institute of Critical U.S. Studies, said: “I think you could make the argument that he’s the most important black man in black America. There are 32 million African-Americans and he reaches about one in four. He’s impacting people in their cultural quarters and in their everyday lives.”

When you discuss subjects like Obama, you wind up with a very different conversation in black radio than in the general media. One whites do not realize exists.

Joyner, is by far, the most popular media figure in black America, but is nearly invisible outside it. His power reaches even into areas where he isn't broadcast.

Joyner failed in NY because there was already strong local black radio, but that doesn't mean people are unaware of him. If you wanted a cross section of black thought, his show is a good place to get it.

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