WERD in Atlanta became the first radio station in America to be owned by an African American when Jesse B. Blayton, a professor at Atlanta University and a bank president, bought it in 1949 and hired his son, Jesse Blayton Jr., as station manager. The 1,000-watt station, purchased for $50,000, was located in the Prince Hall Masons Grand Lodge at 334 Auburn Avenue.
Jesse Blayton Jr. hired veteran disc jockey Jack Gibson as announcer and replaced the rest of the all-white staff with Black announcers. The station’s “Four Horsemen”—Gibson, Joe Howard, Roosevelt Johnson, and Jimmy Winnington—played music and other programming of interest to Black listeners. Gibson was a popular on-air personality, perhaps the city’s leading disc jockey at the time. Blayton also hired Ken Knight as program director.
The Masonic lodge that housed WERD was also home to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the 1960s. It has been said that King would bang on the ceiling with a broomstick when he wanted to make a public statement, and the WERD disc jockey upstairs would lower a microphone from the window above.
Blayton Sr. sold the station to white owners in 1968. He remained active in community affairs until his death on September 7, 1977, and was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.