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How A Nurse Became The First African-American Woman To Own A Radio Station

How A Nurse Became The First African American Woman To Own A Radio Station
Martha Jean Steinberg

 

Martha Jean “The Queen” Steinberg’s professional background was in nursing. She stumbled into broadcasting after winning a contest for an on-air position at WDIA. The WDIA was widely known as a radio network with an all-Black staff, despite its white ownership.

When the managers of WCHB-AM brought her over, she took over the airwaves in Inkster, Michigan in the mid-1960s. As reported by Detroit Historical, her influence in the broadcasting space grew when she later switched to a role as an on-air disc jockey at WJLB-FM, where she played more gospel and ran social commentary.

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During the 1967 Detroit civil riots, she was on the air for 48 hours straight, urging protesters to stay off the streets. Her show, which featured her running commentary, evolved into “Buzz the Fuzz,” a regular call-in show with the city’s police commissioners.

According to media observers, she commanded the airwaves in such a way that she became a larger-than-life figure in Black communities. She rose to prominence as a key figure who inspired and influenced African-American communities on issues affecting their daily lives.

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In his book “Wheelin’ on Beale,” Memphis radio historian and former WDIA Engineer Louis Cantor stated that Steinberg was initially terrified when she walked into a room to be interviewed for her role as an on-air person. He recalled Steinberg reportedly saying her confidence was shaken because she felt her diction was inferior to those in the industry.

He admired her determination to overcome the challenges that come with being a Black woman in a white-dominated environment. In one of her interviews, Steinberg stated that she got the nickname “The Queen” from fellow DJ Robert Honeymoon Garner. She got the moniker while working a weekend shift on WDIA’s male-dominated airwaves. To beat the competition, she had to work twice as hard and, in some cases, think like a man.

Martha Jean Jones, a civic activist and trailblazing radio station owner, was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1930. She married Luther Steinberg but divorced him later. He and she had three children. To support her three children, she worked as a nurse. Steinberg entered the priesthood and became an ordained minister in 1972, establishing her own church.

In 1997, Steinberg became the first African-American woman to own a radio station. She stayed on the air until her death on January 29, 2000.

Steinberg was inducted into the Black Radio Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an astute R&B DJ, civic activist, and spiritual leader over the course of his four-decade career. Her influence was so great that WQBH continued to play her daily recordings on the radio even after she died. The station was sold to Salem Broadcasting in 2004 and is now known as WDTK, a conservative talk station.

 

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Written by How Africa News

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