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Art Gilliam, Jr.

Radio station owner Art Gilliam was born on March 6, 1943 in Nashville, Tennessee to Leola Hortense Caruthers and Herman Arthur Gilliam, Sr. Gilliam attended the Westminster School in Connecticut, and, at the age of sixteen, enrolled in Yale University. He graduated with his B.A. degree in economics from Yale University in 1963 and then joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Gilliam went on to receive his M.B.A degree from the University of Michigan in 1967.

Upon graduation, Gilliam returned to Memphis, Tennessee to work with his father at Universal Life Insurance Company, where he remained until 1975. In 1968, he began writing a weekly editorial for The Commercial Appeal and was hired by WMC-TV in Memphis as the weekend news anchor. Gilliam was the first African American to write for The Commercial Appeal and the first African American on-air reporter and anchor on Memphis television at WMC-TV. Then, from 1975 to 1976, he worked as an administrative assistant to U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, Sr.

In 1977, he launched Gilliam Communications, Inc. and bought the WLOK radio station. In doing so, WLOK became the first African American-owned Memphis radio station and the city's first locally owned station. As president and CEO of Gilliam Communications, Inc., Gilliam has also operated radio stations in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia. He also sponsors the annual WLOK Stone Soul Picnic, which draws thousands of attendees.

Gilliam’s WLOK has earned the title of #1 Gospel Station in the nation by Religion & Media Quarterly for several consecutive years; and, in 1997, was recognized by the Tennessee Historical Commission as a Tennessee Historical Landmark. Gilliam has also received the Black History Men of Honor Leadership Award, the Gospel Bridge Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rainbow/PUSH Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, the Memphis Advertising Federation's Silver Medal Award, and the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Visionary Award. He was also honored with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Outstanding Community Service Award, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Citizen of the Year Award, Phi Beta Sigma African American Male Image Award, and the Delta Sigma Theta’s Outstanding Community Service and Florence Cole Talbert McCleave Awards. In addition, Gilliam was recognized as one of the “Top 25 African Americans in Radio” by Radio Ink Magazine’s, and one of “Ten Outstanding Young Men in America” by the United States Jaycees.

Gilliam has sat on the boards of the Memphis Advertising Federation, the Society of Entrepreneurs, Memphis Zoo, Inc., the National Federation of State Humanities Council, and Lemoyne-Owen College. He served as chairman of the Black Business Association of Memphis and the Tennessee Humanities Council, and was an advisory board member of the University of Memphis College of Communications and the Memphis Sheriff’s Department. Gilliam is also a member of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, Leadership Memphis, NAACP, and Leadership Music – Nashville.

Art Gilliam was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 26, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.086

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/26/2014

Last Name

Gilliam

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Arthur

Occupation
Schools

University of Michigan

Yale University

Westminster School

Hamilton High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Herman

Birth City, State, Country

Nashville

HM ID

GIL08

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beach

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Birth Date

3/6/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Memphis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ribs

Short Description

Radio station owner Art Gilliam, Jr. (1943 - ) was president, CEO and owner of Gilliam Communications, Inc. and WLOK, the first African American-owned Memphis radio station and the city's first locally owned station. He was the first African American to write for The Commercial Appeal and the first African American on-air reporter and anchor on Memphis television at WMC-TV.

Employment

Gilliam Communications, Inc.

WMC-TV

The Commercial Appeal

Universal Life Insurance Company

Harold Ford, Sr. Congressional Campaign

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Art Gilliam, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his mother's education and profession

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers watching Jackie Robinson play baseball

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes the African American community in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers his family vacations

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls his teachers at Hamilton High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers his early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his parents' decision to send him to the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his experiences at Hamilton High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls his initial impressions of the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the development of black radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his experiences at the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers being removed from a segregated bus in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his aspiration to become an actuary

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the impact of his education at Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes the African American community at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his extracurricular activities at Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers the African American community in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls his graduation from Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls hearing Malcolm X speak at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his early career at the Universal Life Insurance Company

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how he came to write for The Commercial Appeal

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the discriminatory practices of The Commercial Appeal

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his column in The Commercial Appeal

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how he became an anchor at WMC-TV in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his position as a weekend anchor at WMC-TV in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers working for Congressman Harold Ford, Sr.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls acquiring the WLOK Radio station in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the history and format of WLOK Radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers changing the format of WLOK Radio

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about WLOK Radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes WLOK Radio's relationship with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the Stone Soul Picnic in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about WLOK Radio's gospel format

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his projects at Gilliam Communications, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about WLOK Radio's on air personalities

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers the election of Mayor W.W. Herenton

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Art Gilliam, Jr. reflects upon his career at WLOK Radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the consolidation of the radio industry

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his civic engagement

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the state of the radio industry

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his parents' reaction to his career

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$1

DAStory

4$9

DATitle
Art Gilliam, Jr. describes WLOK Radio's relationship with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers watching Jackie Robinson play baseball
Transcript
We talk about issues that are pertinent to our community. And we've done that, you know, over the years. I even mentioned, you know, we talked a moment ago about Operation PUSH [Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Chicago, Illinois]. Operation PUSH had been on WLOK [WLOK Radio, Memphis, Tennessee] for a few years. The previous owners [Starr Broadcasting Group] had put them off the air, because some of their advertisers had said that, you know, "Yeah, if you put these, keep these people on the air, we're not going to advertise on your station anymore." So, they put PUSH off the air. And so, this is 1977. So, the first thing I did when we came in was we put PUSH back on the air, because we understood what PUSH meant to the black community, and what the aspirations were of the black community. And so, that was the first thing that we did when we first came in, was put PUSH back on the air.$$I guess, I imagine it wouldn't have been hard to sell, you know, ads for that time slot. I mean, you know--$$Hard to sell?$$No, it would not have been hard. I mean, it would be fairly easy in a black community to sell ads for that time period, I guess (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Well, yeah, except most of your ads were coming, most of your revenue was coming from white businesses, not from black businesses.$$Okay.$$But yeah, you're right as far as whether there's empathy for PUSH in the black community, absolutely. But it was really, from an economic standpoint, I would say that we, there was no benefit (laughter) economically in putting PUSH back on the air.$$Then did you take a hit, a financial hit, from--$$Well--$$--doing so?$$Not really. At the time I don't believe we did, actually. I didn't know whether we were going to take a hit or not. Because you know, obviously, some of the advertisers had previously indicated they were going to boycott the station from the standpoint of advertising, if the previous owners had left them on. So, I had no idea, really. It was really more a matter of principle for me as far as putting PUSH on, because I knew what they had to say. It would have, you know, in my mind, you know, what would be the benefit of black ownership if you're going to do the same thing that the previous owners are doing, in terms of those things that express the aspirations of the black community? So, really, I didn't think about it from an economic standpoint. But I think in the end we probably ended up not taking a hit, because a lot of people started listening to WLOK as well. And so, we, our ratings improved. And so, that probably affected us positively.$$Now, is there like a black community chamber of commerce type organization in Memphis [Tennessee] since--$$Well, not really. Not in the same way that you have the chamber [Greater Memphis Chamber]. You do have some organizations that are, you know, that are black oriented. But at that time, you really didn't have that to the same degree, to the extent that it would make a difference economically. Most of your revenue, it was not going to come from black businesses or organizations.$$Okay. What kind, what businesses really supported, I mean, the station in those days?$$Well, it could be a wide range of it. It could be automobile dealerships, it could be, you know, grocery stores--any, pretty much the same things you might see on the television, radio, you know, any--these, these businesses are pretty well traditionally involved with, with mass media.$Do you have an earliest childhood memory?$$Well, I do--I can remember things that happened, playing around in Nashville [Tennessee]. And partly because--the way I remember it is because we moved when I was six. So, as a result of that, I know things that happened before I was six years old. I can identify that because of that, you know, change of living circumstance. And as far as early childhood--just a happy childhood, playing a lot. My dad [Herman Gilliam, Sr.] was pretty fun loving, pretty humorous. And so, those are the kinds of things. We just did a lot of things together. We would take a trip really most every summer, which was something that--I guess I learned a lot about the country and about the--from my point of view, the world (laughter). But, we would take a road trip pretty much every summer. And one that I remember in particular though, was that, you know, here in Memphis [Tennessee] there was a Negro League baseball team called the Memphis Red Sox. And that was part of that same league [Negro American League] that the New York team [New York Cubans], Birmingham [Birmingham Black Barons], Kansas City [Kansas City Monarchs]--a number of teams were in that league. And I remember my dad told me we were going to go up to St. Louis [Missouri] to see a professional baseball game. So, I thought the Red Sox--that was about it--I thought that was the professional team. And he said, "No, we're going to see a fellow, a black fellow, who's playing baseball in the Major Leagues [Major League Baseball]." And so I thought, again, I told my dad, "I thought the Red Sox, I thought that was the Major Leagues." He said, "No, we're going to go to St. Louis." So, we went to St. Louis. It turned out he was taking me up there to see Jackie Robinson. And I'll never forget that, you know, now that I know the significance of Jackie Robinson. But he was taking me to St. Louis, because the Dodgers, then Brooklyn Dodgers [Los Angeles Dodgers], were coming to St. Louis to play the St. Louis Cardinals.$$Okay. So, you would have been what, about seven or eight, or--?$$Probably a little over, a little over seven, but maybe in the range of eight or nine.$$Okay.$$Something like that. Yeah, because the Dodgers--it would have been the late '40s [1940s] or early '50s [1950s], probably the early '50s [1950s].$$What was it--well, you know--$$May I get, let me get a (cough)--$$Sure.$$--quick break here (cough). My voice is--$$Let me ask you, like--what was that, what was that atmosphere like? Now, I've heard stories of when Jackie Robinson would come to town and the black community would turn out en masse, you know. (Unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, yeah, well, we went to Sportsman's Park, which is of course the St. Louis ballpark. I don't know that there were a lot of black people there in the park. I don't remember it that well. But I just remember that what was important for my dad, I think, was just the significance of Jackie Robinson. And he wanted me to have the experience of seeing Jackie Robinson play baseball. And I don't think I fully appreciated, at the time, what the significance was. I probably was a little bit too young to fully appreciate it. But as I got older, then I appreciated it a lot more.$$Okay. I'm thinking too, that St. Louis would have been the southernmost team in the National League (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) I believe that's probably right. And I'm sure that Jackie Robinson and other ballplayers with the Dodgers--and I don't remember now, I don't believe there were other black players with the Dodgers, as I recall it. At the time I saw Jackie Robinson, I don't remember other black players. Later on, we went to New York [New York], and we saw Brooklyn play. And by that time they had Campanella [Roy Campanella] and Newcombe [Don Newcombe] and other black players--even Joe Black, later Sandy Amoros. They had a number of black players over time. But as I recall, when I went to St. Louis, I don't believe there was another black player on the Dodger ball club.$$Can you remember the black community showing up and--?$$Well, again, it's a big park. So, I didn't--the black community--I didn't specifically have a recollection or an awareness of showing up to see him play. But we came up from Memphis, to drive and just to go buy a ticket to go into the ballpark.$$I know, that's why I asked. Because often they made black people sit together in the park.$$You know, and I don't remember that. I, I, you know, you're absolutely right. I don't remember whether we were sitting in a segregated section or not. Being in St. Louis, I expect we were. But it just wasn't a part of my awareness at the time.$$Yeah, I know how you feel, because I've experienced certain things--where we'd go to the movies when I was a kid. We'd be in the balcony, but I never thought about it until I started doing these interviews.$$Well, you know (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) You might have been--$$--as a matter of fact though--now that, I did think about, and I was aware of. Because Memphis was a segregated city when I was growing up. And so, yeah, we went in the balconies. You had the signs--I don't know if they did that in Dayton [Ohio], your home. But you had white and colored drinking fountains, you had a sign on the bus that said, "Colored passengers occupy rear seats first." In fact, I got put off a Memphis bus once because I wouldn't move back, you know, from the--once I sat down, they wanted to make me move back on the bus. So, this was a segregated area, and you definitely had those elements, and I was very aware of them. But when I went to St. Louis to see the Dodgers, I was not aware necessarily of sitting in a black section.