Someone once told me “It’s not how you start out in life, but how you end it that really matters. Becoming a legend was never my intention, but apparently it was part of my life’s plan.” Those words were written by trailblazing broadcaster Hal Jackson, born Harold Baron Jackson, in his autobiography, The House that Jack Built.
His funeral was held Thursday, May 31, in New York, a week after he died from congenital heart disease at the age of 96. You may read some places that his age was 97. Even he wrote in his autobiography that he wasn’t quite sure of the exact date of his birth, because he was born at home and no records were kept. But, in his words, “as narrowly as I can pinpoint it I was born on November 3, 1915 in Charleston, South Carolina.”
Back: l-r, Clay Berry, WBLS, Harold Maldonado, Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club
Front: l-r, Debi Jackson, WBLS, Hal Jackson WBLS and Mark Riley WWRL
Several hundred people gathered inside New York City’s The Riverside Church to say goodbye and pay homage to Jackson at his funeral. Rev. Al Sharpton when delivering the eulogy talked about Jackson’s efforts to get a federal holiday for Rev. Martin Luther King calling him a “quintessential civil rights crusader.”
Sharpton also declared, “When he started, we were begging for airtime. When he ended, we were entrepreneurs.”
Multiple Grammy winner Alicia Keys spoke about how Jackson was the first to play Fallin’ on the radio, her first number one single. The native New Yorker recalled hearing the song when she was mopping the floor of her house in Queens.
“I wanted the whole neighborhood to hear it. This was my song on the radio and Hal Jackson played it first,” Keys said.
Singer Melba Moore, New York Congressman Charles Rangel and former Big Apple Mayor David Dinkins were among others attending the funeral.
Jackson had a stellar career and paved the way for African American broadcasters. His list of firsts is astounding. He started his career broadcasting Howard University’s home baseball games and Negro league games in Washington DC., which made him the first African American sports announcer. In 1939 Jackson became the first Black host of a radio show at WINK in DC. While in New York in 1954, he was the first personality to broadcast daily on three different radio stations. In 1990 he was the first African American inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Hall of Fame. When the National Radio Hall of Fame inducted Jackson in 1995 he became the first African American there.
Then Jackson was in the mix of a radio deal that would make history. He joined forces in 1971 with Percy Sutton, the former Manhattan Borough President, and others to form the Inner City Broadcasting Company that bought WLIB-AM and FM, which became the first African American owned and operated station in New York. The FM would later be renamed WBLS.
Mark Riley, the morning show host at AM 1600 WWRL in New York City, knew Jackson very well. He fondly remembers when he first met the radio icon.
“Hal Jackson was there at WLIB when I first got there as an intern in 1973, at that time an extremely well known radio personality. Even then I considered myself lucky that he would even talk to me. Developing a relationship with someone like Hal for the better part of 35 years or so was one of the highlights of my career. I was able to over time, despite the fact that I worked in news, I would sit and talk to Hal for hours about music, hours about jazz.”
He contends that Jackson was much more of a visionary than some people want to give him credit for. Riley makes his point this way.
“Part of it has to do with the history of Inner City Broadcasting. And this happened just before I got there. When they were originally going to buy a radio station, LIB-FM was not included in the deal. It was only for WLIB the AM station that they had decided to make a deal to buy. It was Hal Jackson who went to Percy Sutton and said to him, I think it was in late ’71 maybe early ’72, whenever it was, that look you need to take an option to buy WLIB-FM. That turned out to be one of the most visionary moves made in the radio business. I don’t care whether it’s Black radio or whatever because at that time LIB-FM was a jazz station. But when they hired Frankie (Crocker) and moved downtown it took off.”
In recent years he’s been recognized for his contributions to the radio industry. NAB presented him with their Pioneer Award at their 2010 convention.
Jackson was on the radio up until a couple of weeks before his death. He was hosting on WBLS the popular Hal Jackson’s Sunday Classics with his wife, Debi B., and Clay Berry.
He is survived by his wife, Debi Jackson and four children.