Memphis Black Radio Pioneer Dead At 91

Memphis (AP) -- John R. Pepper II, co-founder of the first nationwide radio station with programming targeting a black audience, has died. He was 91.

Still one of Memphis' top stations, WDIA-AM was the first in the south with an all-black on-air staff. Broadcast at 50,000 watts and reaching five states, WDIA was also the first in the US to have programming aimed at a black audience.

The station, which Pepper and Bert Ferguson co-founded in the 1940s, helped launch the careers of B.B. King and Isaac Hayes, among others, and eased the way for blacks throughout the country to break into broadcasting.

Pepper died Monday at St. Francis Hospital after an extended illness. Funeral services were held Friday at Forest Hill Midtown Funeral Home in Memphis.

The station focused on blues, rhythm and blues and gospel music, all of which still make up WDIA's programming.

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