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Historic 860 WAEC-AM Goes Silent After 76 Years


WERD-AM
WERD-AM

After 76 years on the air, the iconic WAEC-AM/Atlanta and its radio signal at 860 kHz, which once hosted the first African American-owned radio station know as WERD-AM, has gone silent. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Rodney Ho reports the station's 17.2-acre tower site has been sold by Beasley Media to housing developer Toll Brothers for the construction of townhomes.

The 860 signal's most recent incarnation, known as "Playa 860," featured Spanish language salsa music starting in late 2023. Before that, it was known as "Love 860," a long-running Christian talk format.

Richard Warner, a veteran broadcaster with stints at 11Alive, WSB radio and Georgia Radio News Service, commented on the signal's end, attributing it to the decline in AM radio listenership. The shift in listener habits was evident in 2010 when News/Talk WSB-AM in Atlanta added an FM simulcast at 95.5. This change left listeners with little reason to tune into AM. Today, WSB promotes itself exclusively as 95.5 WSB, disregarding its AM signal.

The 860 signal began broadcasting in 1948 and was acquired in 1949 by Jesse B. Blayton Sr., a Black bank president and Atlanta University professor, for $50,000. Blayton renamed the station WERD-AM, marking a significant milestone in African American media history.

Ryan Cameron, who recently hosted the podcast series "Amplify Color" on the history of Black radio, highlighted WERD-AM's crucial role during the civil rights movement. The station's studios were located above the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on Auburn Avenue. Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would tap on the ceiling to send a message to the Black community, and WERD would lower a microphone out the window to broadcast his words.

"WERD was a major player in the civil rights movement, and being in that particular building in Sweet Auburn made a difference," said Cameron. He also suggested that the station's influence might have inspired the phrase "word up." Cameron also expressed hope that the tower could be relocated and the signal preserved, maintaining the legacy of 860 WAEC-AM for future generations.

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