Ryan Cameron narrates podcast ‘Amplify Color’ on the history of Black radio

One episode focuses on the first American Black-owned radio station WERD in Atlanta.
Ryan Cameron hosts the New Year’s Eve Peach Drop celebration at Underground Atlanta on Saturday, December 31, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Ryan Cameron hosts the New Year’s Eve Peach Drop celebration at Underground Atlanta on Saturday, December 31, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Ryan Cameron is now a deeply revered part of Atlanta radio history. But he has narrated a much broader overview of Black radio, a new podcast called “Amplify Color.”

Cameron, who has worked over the years at V-103, Hot 107.9 and now Majic 107.5/97.5, said this was his first time narrating a podcast. “You don’t just turn on a mic and talk,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month. “There are scripts, interpolations, inserts. It’s a real project.”

One of the episodes focuses on a woman he knows well: Urban One creator Cathy Hughes. Hughes founded what was then known as Radio One and purchased Washington, D.C., radio station WOL in 1980. She would go on to create Atlanta’s first true hip-hop station Hot 97.5 in the mid-1990s and placed Cameron as morning host.

“I had to give them so many clarifications,” he said. “When they were talking about Ms. Hughes, a lot of people didn’t know her history at WOL. They kind of know her as the mogul and that fame and fortune. But she was a Quiet Storm star at WOL. But overall, they did their due diligence. They found out about everything.”

He also found the episode about legendary D.C. jock Petey Greene especially fascinating. In the mid-1960s, Greene was in prison for armed robbery, where he endeared himself so much to the prison staff, they let him do a daily radio show for the prison. He then convinced another prisoner to pretend to try to commit suicide and he “talked” the dude off the ledge.

“He had so much power, they let him out of prison early,” Cameron said. (Greene later became a major radio voice in D.C.)

The third episode focuses exclusively around WERD, the first Black-owned radio station in America out of Atlanta. Jesse B. Blayton Sr., a Black accountant, bank president and Atlanta University professor, purchased WERD in 1949 for $50,000. His studios were upstairs from the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on Auburn Avenue. Martin Luther King Jr. would tap on the ceiling when he needed to send a message to the Black community and WERD would lower a mic out the window and let him speak.

“WERD was a major player in the civil rights movement and being in that particular building in Sweet Auburn made a difference,” Cameron said.

The station’s power, he said, may have been the source of the phrase “word up,” as in “we need to get the word up to the radio station.”

Jesse B. Blayton Sr. President Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association. December 13, 1968. AJC FILE PHOTO

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Cameron still loves radio and says the immediacy and intimacy of it keeps him going. He was on air for most of the major stories of the past three decades from O.J. Simpson to 9/11 to the George Floyd protests. With this podcast, he is happy to provide a window into the past and show the power of the medium.

Future episodes will feature Wendy Williams and Robin Quivers, the sidekick to Howard Stern.