A new era for WANN

November 04, 1992

You can't really blame WANN-AM radio from changing from gospel and soul to country. A business has to do what it has to do to stay profitable, and the money's in country music these days.

But for thousands of WANN listeners, the pragmatic reasons don't matter. This week, they had to let go of the station they've always known. For 44 years, listeners all over the Maryland-D.C. region have come to depend on WANN as the voice of the black community. It is, as one Annapolitan said, an "institution."

More than that, WANN has been a pioneer in civil rights and a model of civic responsibility. Founder Morris H. Blum, now 83, reached out to black citizens at a time when it was unfashionable -- even dangerous -- to do so.

He played music preferred by black audiences. He aired public service announcements aimed at the black community. His newscasts never shrank from airing controversial subjects. And, unlike many others in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, they were color blind.

As Robert Z. Goldberg, vice president of sales, explains, "If someone was in the news, it didn't matter if they were a martian."

Mr. Blum also offered jobs to black residents, as a logical business move. If you were running a black-oriented radio station, he reasoned, it made sense to staff it with people who knew the audience.

Those who applied for jobs at WANN knew that race didn't matter, only whether they were qualified. There was no better way to show the black community dignity and respect.

WANN's role as a pioneer public servant does not have to end because it has switched formats. The need for a voice to bridge the gap between the races is as great as ever, no matter what the audience.

It's a measure of how far we have to go in overcoming racial divisions that we still tend to assume that only blacks listen to James Brown, and only whites to Garth Brooks. That isn't necessarily so. Some studies show that country music is the third most popular format among blacks, behind an all-black format and all-news.

WANN will lose some black listeners and gain new white listeners under the new country format. That doesn't mean it has to stop being the voice of black Annapolis. It just means that WANN can communicate to a new audience the fairness and racial sensitivity it has always shown.

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