Digitizing Black Radio: The Black Talk Radio Network

Founder of the Black Talk Radio Network Scotty Reid joined us to discuss the history and politics of his digital network


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Story Transcript

JARED BALL, TRNN: What’s up, world, and welcome to this edition of I Mix What I Like here at the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

According to Juan Gonzales and Joe Torres, collectively black, Latino, Native Americans and Asian-Americans compose 33 percent of the United States population. But as they say, virtually none of the country’s daily newspapers, only 7.7 percent of its commercial radio stations, and 3.2 percent of commercial television stations in this country actually, and even more recently it has been noted that there are now zero black owned and operated full-power TV stations in this country. And specific to our forthcoming conversation, according to the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters there are only 68 radio stations in this country owned by black people.

But, and as has been noted previously by folks like Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report, there are almost no locally-based black journalists producing news for these few black-owned radio stations. So we often get from even black-owned radio a similar commercial music, and advertising mechanism that offers little in the way of news or left-of-center politics.

So in this edition of I Mix What I Like, we look at the latest iteration of black independent resistance media, or an update on the traditional black radio. To do this we are joined by Scotty Reid. Reid is the founder and president of the North Carolina-based Nonprofit Media Organization, and the creator of the digital radio and podcasting platform Black Talk Radio Network, which started in 2008. He is the host of Black Talk Radio News, and helps to engineer and produce the other programs hosted on that network. Welcome, Scotty Reid, to I Mix What I Like, and the Real News Network.

SCOTTY REID: Greetings to you, and all your viewers, and the Real News Network. I’m a big fan of what you all do.

BALL: Well, I appreciate that. I’m sure we [do all] as well. But tell us a little bit why this Black Talk Radio Network exists. Why do you even start it, given all that is apparently available to us via the internet or other media, in the apparent and seemingly ever-presence of blackness in popular mainstream media, and even news?

REID: Well, it started in 2008. I was like a lot of other internet radio hosts, and I was on someone else’s platform. And I got suspended for a week on that platform simply because some of the people who visited that platform did not like the name Black Talk Radio. They felt threatened by that name. Or I don’t know if it was an unconscious bias, anti-blackness. So I was suspended. And you know, I had a pretty popular program, and I loved talking to people and doing interviews. And so that kind of, like, made me feel a certain kind of way about having my voice taken away. And I was like, well, it’s not my platform, so they can pretty much do what they want.

And so instead of sulking, I do have background in communications from the United States Army, and so I started checking around and trying to find out, well, how can I create my own platform so nobody can ever take my voice away again in that sort of manner. Then I watched a video interview, a news interview, that Malcolm X gave to a member of the corporate press. And he talked about the power of the media, and how it could make the innocent look guilty, and the guilty look innocent. And so then when I watched it I was like, well, this can’t just be about Scotty Reid. It just can’t be about me having a radio program independent. I have to learn this technology and I have to teach it to others. And that is when I incorporated the nonprofit new media organization Black Talk Media Project, and then turned Black Talk Radio Network into a platform to elevate black voices.

BALL: But I mean, you say you want to–you’re talking about elevating black voices. But again, sort of as I asked in that first question, you know, a lot of people who will see this are going to say, you know, we see black faces on commercial media and mainstream entertainment, or even news outlets, all the time. We see, you know, Don Lemon on CNN, you know, even Oprah has her own network. Or as one of my colleagues puts it, half-owns, since I think Discovery Network owns half of that with her.

But we see these black faces doing news, and we see black people on television and radio. We have Russ Parr, we have Tom Joyner, we have so many other of these prominently known black figures in radio and television. Why is there even a need for the network that you’ve put together?

REID: Well, you know, no disrespect to those people that you mention, but they really don’t control the airwaves from which they’re broadcasting, or the platforms. I think I just read an article about Tom Joyner losing majority ownership in the company that he started to someone he was partnering with that, you know, I would not say is part of the black community.

So we have, we do have nationalized voices going across the nation. But that’s only, like, two or three people. And then when you are dependent upon corporate advertisers, or you know, if you’re dependent upon getting grants, and other monies from other organizations, well, you’re not truly independent. And that is why I think we see that we don’t really have the kind of black talk radio that we had back during the ’60s, when Dr. Martin Luther King would drop in on a radio station and give whatever message he had to give to that local audience.

And so, as you noted when you first started, we’re losing independent ownership of terrestrial radio stations. And then the ones that you, the individuals that you mention, you know, they’re syndicated nationwide, but that’s only two or three people. There are possibly, you know, thousands of black people who are in media that need to be heard, who are not beholden to, let’s just say, the corporate pay masters.

BALL: You know, and speaking of that as well, I mean, let’s talk a little bit about the content diversity that you bring with your network, and that there is something beyond just the presence of black people, is the content or the kinds of conversation or news that is covered, and the perspectives brought to that news.

So let’s talk a little bit about, you know, what comprises your network. You have a variety of programs, a variety of hosts that come with a variety of perspectives. It’s not a monolithic, uniform voice. I hear on your network you cover everything from international news to black radical politics and history, to even a couple months ago I heard a very, a fascinating discussion about the need for people to take better control over their resources in terms of having access to clean water, healthcare, land, growing food. Those kind of conversations, as well. So let’s talk a little bit about that diversity.

So yes, there is a Russ Parr or a Tom Joyner or an Oprah or whoever else. But they don’t necessarily cover news or cover content or history, or produce content, I should say rather, in the way that you all do. Could you talk a little bit about that?

REID: You’re right, we do have a diversity of voices on our platform. Although when I say diversity I’m talking about diverse viewpoints. We do have a station. We have a digital radio station that goes by the same name, Black Talk Radio Network. But on the platform BlackTalkRadioNetwork.com, you know, I am not in control. We do not control the other independent black digital radio stations who are on our network. We, you know, we’ve had people come to us and see what we were doing and ask, well, how can I do that? And you know, I have done tutorials over the years, video tutorials, I’ve written tutorials, I’ve even copyrighted a technical manual on how to wire your home system in order to produce digital radio.

So we have a lot of diversity on our network, and we don’t try to censor anyone. Do I agree with everything that you will hear on our platforms, coming from some of, you know, the hosts that are even on the network that I engineered, on our digital radio station. But you know, we need diversity of viewpoints in order for us to progress, I feel. So yes, we do have a lot of diverse voices on our network, but again, it is a network that was built for black people, by black people, and our primary target audience is black people. So while we have a diversity of voices, you know, we did build it as a safe, digital space for black people so that they can talk, unfiltered, about the issues and the things important to them.

BALL: Unity without uniformity is, I believe, is the phrase has been said over the years.

REID: Sounds good.

BALL: Well, Scotty Reid, I appreciate you taking this brief moment to talk with us here at I Mix What I Like and the Real News Network about the Black Talk Radio Network. We appreciate your efforts, and good luck going forward.

REID: Thank you, and you all keep up the great work, as well.

BALL: And thank you all for watching. And again, for all involved I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore, saying, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.