A YOUNG BLACK MAN,
having recently served time, used his time constructively while inside to strengthen his intellect, and when he returned to the free world he returned with one of the brightest minds and grandest schemes that I had ever heard for someone who was integral to the music business as a radio advertising exec. First, he would get back on his feet, and as a likable fellow was taken under the wing of a professional studio lighting specialist as an intern at one of the local TV stations. From that experience he would come to our radio-advertising office with smooth and interesting approaches to marketing.
We could tell that his approach to developing and showing the best aspects of a subject was now ultra-sophisticated. During this time of visiting our office he would begin to spring forth his greatest idea of bringing a young musician into the mainstream of entertainment, not simply black entertainment but general entertainment. If it worked, it would be one of the greatest coups effected and would open the door for others, because as much as we liked our music, radio was segregated, and radio in the 70’s was the main medium for record companies promoting their product. The imbalance in radio at around 3,500 rock stations was about 30:1 in favor of white artists over black artists having access only to the fewer (125) black oriented radio stations nationally.
This young man who I have known since he was a young kid, his photo in the middle of the collage below, was the one who would clearly articulate and define for the record industry the route to knock down these barriers because they didn’t know. Some of the record companies approach to marketing product was borderline insulting but when your job is to sell, you push the envelope. For me, their attempting to pass much of the disco era off as R&B simply destroyed a lot of artists careers when the record companies decided to go in that short lived direction. I even lost one or two advertising clients who assumed the disco station was the better way to go. However, we held our ground and survived the era in tact.
It was because this young black man had the right artist, a little rough around the edges at the time but with a lot of potential, who he had faith could break through those invisible barriers. Invisible as they were, they were still formidable when someone at the peak of their popularity, Rick James, began to publicly protest the discrimination directed towards his music not receiving fair treatment in terms of airplay on Cable’s MTV in the early 80s, as well as Radio.
The bottom line, is that it was about money, just as much as it was in the 1950s when white artists like Pat Boone would cover a black artist like Little Richard. Boone’s sanitized version of “Tuti Fruitie” never had the visceral soulful feeling of Little Richard’s but it was palatable for the broadcast power barons who did not want black artists to receive airplay on their stations. However, roll ahead 20 years and it was the Music Maker, the young black boy from the 1950s in the middle of the collage, who appeared at the right place and the right time, with the right formula for the record companies to embrace and break down these invisible barriers……
T.H. Johnson “The Music Maker”