Above, Mary Dee, one of the nation’s first black female disc jockeys, was in the air chair at a special Hill District studio for what was then known as WHOD (860) in Homestead. (Pittsburgh Courier archives)
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One legendary Pittsburgh media outlet is taking an in-depth look at another one on the eve of the latter’s apparent demise.
With WAMO-FM (106.7) and its AM sister stations likely to be sold and switch formats, The New Pittsburgh Courier this week began a series of articles on the history of black radio in the city.
“The sudden demise of WAMO radio may seem shocking to many, but the station’s trials and tribulations stem from a decades-long struggle to maintain a strong community identity that at the same time would attract sufficient white listeners (and advertisers) to survive and grow,” writes Larry Glasco, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh.
He writes that WAMO was important to African-Americans and white residents alike because it was “capturing and reflecting the music and culture of its residents as well as providing a forum where they could discuss public affairs and rally for racial justice.”
Glasco goes back to 860’s origin as Homestead’s multi-ethnic WHOD and also touches on the brief 1950s incarnation of WEEP (1080) as “WILY” (named for Wylie Avenue in the Hill District).
And he reminds readers that WAMO was briefly a country and western station!
Ultimately, Glasco argues, changing tastes, shifting music trends (including the rise of hip-hop) and the growth of coverage of black issues by traditionally all-white stations, beginning in the ’60s, started eroding WAMO’s influence.