By Deepti Hajela
NEW YORK — Radio pioneer Harold “Hal” Jackson, a staple of New York radio, has died. He was in his late 90s.
Jackson died Wednesday in a hospital, said Deon Levingston, vice president and general manager at WBLS, a station owned by Inner City Broadcasting, which Jackson co-founded.
Paul Heine, senior editor at Inside Radio, a trade publication, said Jackson “was the godfather of black radio.”
“His longevity and his breaking down the doors, breaking the color barrier, he really made it possible for African-Americans who followed him to work in the medium,” Heine said.
Jackson had been on the air as recently as a couple of weeks ago, hosting a Sunday show on WBLS.
“His energy was amazing,” Levingston said.
Heine said Jackson still continued to show up at radio conventions, as well.
“He didn’t need to do these things,” he said. “He was so passionate and so dedicated to the medium.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Jackson as a “legend.”
“Hal was not only the first African-American voice on network radio or the first African-American play-by-play sports announcer, but an iconic legend who — during the Civil Rights movement — gave voice to the many who simply did not have one,” he said.
Jackson began his career in Washington, D.C., as the first African-American play-by-play sports announcer. He moved to New York in the 1950s where he hosted three different radio shows, broadcasting a mix of music and conversation, including jazz and celebrities.
Jackson later co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, one of the first broadcasting companies wholly owned by African-Americans. The company acquired WBLS, which pioneered the urban contemporary format. Jackson continued to host a program each week on WBLS.
In 1995, Jackson became the first African-American to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.