WDIA was the first radio station in the country programmed entirely for the black community. The station went on the air on June 7, 1947, from studios on Union Avenue in downtown Memphis. Not only did the station feature black radio personalities, but it also brought awareness to a relatively new market of listeners.
The station’s influence and popularity reached the Mississippi Delta’s dense African-American population, and WDIA’s broadcasts were heard from Missouri to the Gulf Coast, reaching 10 percent of the African-American population in the United States. Music legends such as B.B. King and Rufus Thomas got their start by working at WDIA.
In addition to providing specialized programming, through the years the station led and supported projects to benefit the community. A.C. Williams, a former WDIA disc jockey, helped create the Goodwill Fund in 1954. Over time, the fund provided transportation to school for disabled black children, financed college scholarships, established boy clubs, covered the costs of regional Little League teams and helped provide low-cost supplemental housing.
The station also publicized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visits to Memphis and served as a leading source of news and information for the black community following Dr. King’s assassination. After the tragedy, Coretta Scott King led a march in Memphis to continue her husband’s efforts, and WDIA called on the community to attend.
The station relocated in 1985, but the WDIA neon marquee remains above the original entrance at 112 Union Avenue near the Main Street intersection in downtown Memphis.