by Richard G. Carter
EDITOR’S NOTE: Though this article, written by Milwaukee native and journalist Richard G. Carter, doesn’t directly pertain to the Community Journal, it does speak to the power of Black media, whether it be newspapers, radio, television or, now, the Internet. As Carter notes, not only do we have the power to control our health, but to also control and make an impact with our own voice and vehicles of information.
“The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long…” Joseph Turkel, “Blade Runner” (1982)
There’s little doubt talk radio is an important sounding board for millions in America — Black and white. Indeed, talk radio is the closest thing to the town meetings of old, with opinionated callers from coast-to coast voicing their views on a variety of subjects.
That said, with The Community Journal this weekend proudly marking its 37th anniversary serving my beloved home town of Milwaukee, what better time than now to re-live some of the history of Black talk radio here. But of late, much of it is unfortunate.
I refer, of course to last March when the plug was pulled on talk radio station WMCS (1290-AM). Its demise was chronicled in The Community Journal, and many were outraged as voices they were familiar with were silenced — depriving them of a chance to weigh in heavily on the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman verdict.. A real shame.
So Black Milwaukee suddenly found itself with a single radio station featuring a talk format, WNOV (860- AM) — inexplicable for a large, heavily minority city. This brings me to the subject at hand, and a time many readers will remember and identify with.
WNOV’s “Carter-McGee Report” in 1994-95, was the best, most controversial call-in talk show in this town’s history — Black or white.
It was better than Charlie Sykes on WTMJ, Mark Belling on WISN and garnered much higher listener ratings than WMCS.
Of course, my view is not exactly objective, as I was the co-host with former Councilman Michael McGee Sr. — a firebrand activist in the mold of the Rev. Al Sharpton, my long-time New York City friend. Featuring “tough talk,” we aired Monday-Friday commercial-free from 8-10 a.m., and took Milwaukee by storm from the jump.
This unlikely pairing of polar-opposite Black men — an experienced print-broadcast journalist and controversial politician-activist — was kicked-off with stories and photos in The Community Journal and other Black papers.
And we were pure magic with a 300-percent ratings increase in our timeslot the first six months. The daily papers and TV also jumped on the bandwagon with unprecedented coverage for a Black radio show.
Our program was so influential that serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer wrote us a detailed letter from prison — verified by a handwriting expert — explaining his horrific actions.
And Khalid Abdul Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, chose our show for his first public appearance after being seriously wounded by a would-be assassin in California.
“The Carter-McGee Report” featured many high-profile, local and national guests of all stripes — in-studio and by telephone. Following are only few of the national names:
Public TV’s Tony Brown; the Rev. Calvin C. Butts, of Harlem‘s Abyssinian Baptist Church; Earl Caldwell, of the New York Daily News; Sherry Carter of BET (my daughter); former New York Mayor David Dinkins; TV talk show host Morton Downey Jr.; author-poet Nikki Giovanni; James “Pookie” Hudson, of the legendary Spaniels; author-columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, and Roy Innis, of CORE.
Jazz singer Al Jarreau; Mike Tyson biographer Jose Torres; Prof. Leonard Jeffries, of City University of New York; boxing promoter Don King; author Julianne Malveaux; Jill Nelson of the Washington Post; New York talk show host-author Art Rust Jr.; the Rev. Al Sharpton; middleweight boxing champion Gerald Mc- Clellan; Carl B. Stokes, former mayor of Cleveland, and Wilbert Tatum, publisher of the New York Amsterdam News.
Guests of this quality and our fiery give-and-take with callers stunned Milwaukee and contributed to our popularity and success.
As provocateur, I was strongly pro-Black and pro-McGee — and many white callers hated me. We stirredup listeners with scathing opinions on police brutality and Mayor John Norquist, among other volatile topics.
In addition, I issued forth daily, hard-hitting commentaries on many areas of interest, such as the daily newspapers’ skimpy coverage of Black people. For its introductory theme, I chose Gene Chandler’s R&B classic “The Duke of Earl.” And listeners loved it.
“Living in America,” by James Brown, was selected as our opening musical theme — which helped give “The Carter-McGee Report” its right-now character. But best of all, it alerted listeners all over town that our two hours of “tough talk” was about to begin.
To many Milwaukee whites and casual tuners-in, Carter and McGee were a surprising radio talk show duo — acid-tongued, yet different Black broadcasting pals who clearly liked each other, and took no prisoners on the air.
We discussed hard, sobering facts of Black life in the city to a broad range of Milwaukeeans — providing positive information on one hand, and pulling-the-covers off some bad actors on the other.
Indeed, “The Carter-McGee Report” dealt in the real, not the imagined. We kicked ass and took names and did it with style. Those we offended deserved to be offended. This is the essence of thoughtful talk radio run by caring men and women experienced in life.
Unfortunately, “The Carter-McGee Report” as we knew it — the program listeners looked forward to and many wished had been on seven-days-a-week – lasted less than a year.
Its unexpected ending shocked those involved, as well as listeners who loved it. For me, it was a nurturing, worthy experience that I wouldn’t change for the world.
Milwaukee native Richard G. Carter is a freelance columnist.