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10 Feb 2023

Remembering Philadelphia radio personality and show Promoter Harold “Sonny” Hopson

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February 10, 2023 Category: Local Posted by:

By Thera Martin

Longtime Philadelphia radio personality, show promoter, businessman and published author, Harold (Sonny) Hopson died on Saturday, January 21, 2023. His birthday was January 24, and had he lived, he would have been 86 years old. 

A radio personality that made his name in the city from the late 1960s, to the 1990s in Philadelphia, Hopson broke into radio at WHAT/AM, which was located at 1340 on the dial. At the time, radio icon Georgie Woods was one of the personalities working at the radio station. As Hopson explained in his book, “The Untold Story,” Georgie Woods was one of the first on-air disc jockeys who showed him the ropes and took him under his wing, so to speak. 

For the years Sonny Hopson worked in radio, he was known as “The Mighty Burner,” and “Soul Sound Sonny.” 

“We want our father to get all the love that he deserved,” Hopson’s son Dietz said. “He did so much for others, never asking for anything in return. My father’s radio career started at WHAT/AM. He was under the tutorship of Georgie Woods and Jocko Henderson. After a number of great years at WHAT/AM, suddenly the owners and managers of the radio station wanted him to calm down on his on-air presentations and stop being “so political.”  

“He saw the writing on the wall and knew he was about to be fired, so his last day at work at WHAT he went in the studio and he spoke his mind and said whatever he wanted to say,” Dietz continued. “He was fired immediately after his shift concluded that day. In his book, chapter five, he wrote, ‘It was 1971 that I got fired from WHAT radio because I wouldn’t quit.’ After his years at WHAT, my father did special guest appearances at WURD AM/FM, and he also did some guest spots on WDAS/FM years ago. His mission at that point changed from simply being a radio DJ and talk show host to submerging himself into the Civil Rights Movement.”

His father took legal action against various radio and television networks, back in the 1970’s, in an effort to force those mainstream media outlets to hire more people of color, particularly African Americans, Dietz said. 

“Because of those actions, my Dad always used to tell us he was black-balled from mainstream media outlets in Philadelphia for many years,” he said. “I assumed the “ban” against my father had been lifted after all these years. However, when I notified the local television newsrooms about my father passing, none of the stations responded. Either they didn’t understand the magnitude of the person he was, or the ban is still in play.”  

It was also in the 1970s that Sonny Hopson formed a new organization called The Concerned Communicators. He started working with a lot of different local leaders because he knew there were not enough Black and brown faces on TV, and he wanted to change that narrative. 

According to Dietz Hopson, his father had all the usual ailments for an 85-year-old man. He suffered from arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

“On the last day I spoke with my father, it was the day before he passed,” Dietz said. “We joked about the Giants getting destroyed by the Eagles. We were talking about going to a jazz club for his birthday up until God called him home. He was still able to walk and communicate with us. He wasn’t as fast as he used to be, but he was still doing pretty good for a man of his age.” Sonny Hopson was a published author, civil rights activist, radio disc jockey, producer, singer, rapper, and club owner. Hopson actually owned at least four nightclubs in his heyday. His son named names.

 “He used to own the International Astro Disc, The Sonny Hopson Celebrity Lounge, The Arcadia Ballroom, (that was the big one) and the Sonny Hopson Playboy Club,” Dietz said. “He served in the United States Air Force, and he was honorably discharged after his service. He did so much. My dad was always at the right place at the right time. That’s how he met and became a lifelong friend to Muhammad Ali. He [also] became friends with R&B sensation James Brown, Billy Eckstine, Teddy Pendergrass, and a long list of other entertainment greats. He was even close friends with Jerry Blavat, another radio jock extremely well-known for over 60 years of work on-air in the radio industry. These two fast friends died 48 hours apart from each other, with Blavat making transition first.”  

“The night of R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass’s horrible automobile accident on Lincoln Drive that left him paralyzed, Sonny Hopson just happened to be going that way also, and was right there to help assist in getting the victims out of the vehicle Pendergrass had been riding in,” Dietz said. “When leaders wanted to bring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Philadelphia, my Dad was right there with civil rights activist and attorney, Cecil B. Moore, helping to plan the agenda.”

Sonny Hopson had 12 children in total, and people who really knew him would describe him as a family man who also loved being in business. He loved each one of his children in a very special way. 

The celebration of life for Harold (Sonny) Hopson took place on February 3 at the Salt and Light Church, located at 5738 Chester Avenue. The interment was at  Washington Crossing National Cemetery, located in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

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