MARMIA has partnered with the Chesapeake Heartland to record oral histories on the experiences of Black Americans who have worked in broadcasting on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Chesapeake Heartland is a collaboration between the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington College, and a diverse array of local organizations, including Sumner Hall, Kent Cultural Alliance, and Kent County Public Library. Its mission is to preserve, digitize, interpret, and make accessible materials related to African American history and culture in Kent County, MD and beyond. With this partnership, we aim to preserve this unique and under-documented history of the Black experience on the Eastern Shore. 

Using the video storytelling platform, TheirStory, we recently interviewed four people affiliated with WKHS 90.5, which is a student public radio based in Worton, Maryland. It was founded by the Kent County Public School System in 1974 and is one of the most powerful high school stations in the country, reaching 60 miles in any direction. The program trains future broadcasters during the day and features community members in the evenings. We interviewed Sam Ringgold who is a graduate of the radio program and made a career in television and radio in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. After, he became the spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department, and now works in crisis and reputation management. We also interviewed Yvette Hynson (DJ Lady Praise), Sam Moore (DJ Whisper), and Milford Murray (DJ King) who are three community members behind WKHS’s “Sunday Jazz Experience.” Listen to excerpts of their interviews below and check out our small but growing Broadcasting Oral History Collection online.

Sam Ringgold
Sam reflects back on his beginnings at WKHS.
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That was the beginning. It was, Can this, you know, little Black kid, from Chestertown, who lives in Quaker Neck, you know, excel in this world that as much as I told Mom, “I think I can do it, right?” There’s nothing like being in front of that board with all of those buttons in the microphone and meters. And, you know, it was, you know, other than oh, by the way, you still had to pass FCC licensing back in those days, and that was intense. Another dynamic – there were only…. [inaudible] maybe one other person seems like I’m missing…. but only four Blacks in the radio program, right? So, you know, as much as you know, you say that was in the early 70s, but yeah, it was still some challenges even then where, you know, I remember a few days and a few things where I don’t, recall necessarily feeling welcomed by some of the White students in the radio station, but that’s okay because you know, we persevered and I’m a student here, just like you and I’m going to show you just like I’m going to show my mom, that, that I can do this. You know, you talked about mentors, Mr. Hammond who was the instructor who I recently reconnected with on Facebook. Mr. Hammond in, you know, bless his heart. He just literally, you know, took me under their wing and it’s like “We got this,” and you know, I could see the pride and the reward that he got as I progressed, right, as I was making the transition from the dawg to the dog from, it’s fowggy outside to a chance of fog, you know, again, you know, certainly nothing against educators of today, but you know, back then, you know, teachers like Mr. Hammond, you know, they just had special kind of ways of making sure that when they spotted the talent, right, when they spotted a drive and having very unique ways of bringing it out of you, you know, the radio station – I mean what what a gem. I mean we literally were on the air – it wasn’t a high school radio station that you could just hear across the street. To this day, you can still hit pick it up in Baltimore. I mean, it’s a high school radio station. What a gem. I mean to this day when I tell people, you know, my career began at a high school radio station people still look at me like, “Seriously?” I’m like, yeah back then we had a high school radio station with, you know, state-of-the-art equipment, right? I remembered running around as much as I played football. I remembered running around on Fridays interviewing the coaches about game day and then going back and editing it and getting it on the air and all of that. I mean that was the beginning, right? I don’t know. I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for that high school radio station. I don’t know if I would have stumbled across this or not. I truly don’t which, which gets to I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t, you know, for that high school radio station.

Sam discusses local and national TV and radio and how it has changed over time.
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Sam Ringgold: TV and radio consisted of radio stations that went off the air at sundown, especially the radio stations that we listen to out of Baltimore that carried R&B. They pretty much were sunup to sundown TV stations or the TV news consisted of, you know, Channel 2, 11, and 13 out of Baltimore. And that pretty much was, you know, all we had it was the evening news and the 11:00 News at some point. I guess they introduced the new news and but the morning broadcast many many years later.

Joana Stillwell: How would you say it’s changed?

Sam Ringgold: Oh, my goodness. It’s changed in ways that I don’t think anybody could have really predicted. I actually covered one of Ted Turner’s press conferences when he was doing his tour, introducing CNN. And the press conference at the time. I was a reporter with WILM, which was a all-news radio station in Wilmington, Delaware. So, I remembered getting the assignment. It was at the Hotel du Pont, and there was this very, you know, flamboyant almost crazy-like, man, saying he was going to start this 24-hour day newscast. I got back to The newsroom and said, this guy’s nuts – never going to work. And so shows what I knew then. And heck maybe in some ways know now, because obviously it did work and and it’s been an incredible success and changed the way that you know, we, you know, kind of knew news. I mean it all of a sudden, you know, there’s 24 hours of news and you’ve got to feed that. I called it “feed the beast,” where, you know, you’ve got to come up with content, you add social media on top of that already pretty intense, you know, 24-hour constant news cycle that cable news brought along and it’s crazy. In my current role in the crisis and reputation management space, I’m on the receiving end now, you know, representing clients who have crises and so forth and it’s no longer just worried about local affiliates and what they’re going to say at 6 and 11. It’s like what’s on social media right now. And how many hits does it have? And you know, it’s a totally completely different tone.

Sam shares about being on local news and being invited back to Kent County High School.
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Chestertown viewers if your antenna was pointed in the right way, you could get me on Channel 12, right? So I turned Mom and Dad’s antenna and so they could get the, you know, me on Channel 12 jacked up the Baltimore stations, but they got to see me in Delaware. When I got to Channel 2 in Baltimore, everybody could see. So that was just again, another highlight right – everyone, in my hometown, right? Got to see me on the Evening News every night. I was hired as the lead reporter for the 11:00 newscast. So it was very high profile. It was a fun time, right? Even, you know teachers who you know in some respects thought I wasn’t going to amount to much as a child – and kind of went through that little period too and as I said, I was a jock. So, you know, school wasn’t always first and foremost with me and so I’m on the news, right? I remember a couple of teachers in particular that, you know, I was invited back to deliver the commencement address at the high school twice. The first time was right after being hired at Channel 2 and so, you know, my mom and dad were there, I was also newly married and, you know, here I am giving the big commencement dress. And I remember looking at a couple of teachers. I’ll leave them nameless where it’s just like, “Hmm how about this? What do you think about this?” So again, I go back to that being one of the true highlights of the career – to be invited back to give the commencement address, not once but actually twice at your high school was just, you know, just you know – it’s a blast.

Yvette Hynson
Yvette shares her feelings about being the first African American woman to have a show on WKHS.
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Also, too, for me coming from this area to be really the only African American woman on the shore that I know of that has a radio station – radio show – is very, very cool. I mean that’s history making because I don’t think there’s been an African American besides Moonman – female on WKHS at all – that has a show. For me, it’s pretty big – it’s pretty big. I’m like – yeah, we got it going on.

Yvette on bringing diverse perspectives to WKHS.
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Like I said, he brought me in because he wanted more diversity. At the time before he brought me on the show, there was only just country music and there was just rock and roll and there was one gentleman who was playing a mix of different blues, and jazz and R&B. It wasn’t, it wasn’t, it was a lot of rock and roll too and so he wanted more diversity in the studio especially [inaudible] and an African American face [inaudible] on a show. He said, “It’s time to get some diverse perspectives on music because music is not just country music,” [laughs]. So he was like, “Oh no, yeah I’ve got to bring you in because I want a more diverse [inaudible] so that it reflects the community and people who love different genres, that [inaudible], you know, and so he wanted to reflect that. So he said, “We’re doing this different [inaudible]. It’s 2018, we’re starting out different. There was some pushback. People didn’t want [inaudible] this African American jazz and blues. Well [inaudible] because she’s [inaudible] blues and she’s good [laughs]. She’s a new face. I don’t think there’s even been a community show on WKHS with a woman – let alone an African American woman – I definitely know that.

Sam Moore and Milford Murray
Milford and Sam reflect on how local and national news have changed over time.
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Milford Murray: Chestertown never did it get on the news very much itself, but we listen to the news of the cities of Annapolis and Cambridge, Baltimore and surrounding areas, but very rarely did we make the news and we had one incident that happened a few, way back, we used to have a powder plant here that made fireworks and it blew up that was on national TV. Well, I’m not going to say national but it was on local TV. Both Baltimore stations carried it. Outside of that. I don’t know, too much of Chestertown. It’s been on TV now channel 22, I think it is. From Baltimore, the, I’ll call it the Historic Station, but the they were over here for a couple of the early tea parties is that we had and it was broadcasted on the TV. They went through town, shooting different places and different venues, and I know that was on there, but what is it W?….I can’t recall that one….I’ll call it 22. I’ll call it the historic station.

Sam Moore: Well, my problem is everything is red and blue, blue anymore, you know. Just too much battling, battling against each other and projecting that out to us. And I know it’s a little too much, you know, I mean, it’s more, I mean – good news was good news. Now, it’s like almost one big commercial and I don’t really rely on it that much anymore. Too many, too many stations, for one thing, you know, I don’t know if we’re getting good news, you know.

Milford Murray: But if you hear if you hear the local news on especially in the mornings, I’m an early riser. But if you hear the news on Channel 11, you’re going to hear the same thing on 13. You hear the same thing on 45, you know, and it’s just from one station to another – the same thing. You already heard it once so why are you going to listen to it? Three or four times?

Sam Moore: Yeah, it’s redundant after a while. I just stopped listening.

Milford and Sam discuss Yvette inviting them to be on the “Sunday Jazz Experience.”
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Milford Murray: We have a friend who got the show. Her name is Yvettte. She’s our boss in the sense of speaking and we were just just talking, you know. She said “you guys got to come on the show with me, going to show with me.” What show are you talking about? And she finally came out and said that they had given her a spot on Sundays at the high school for a radio show and she wanted to make it a jazz and a blues show, so, we were picked. You know, there’s a hundred other people she could have picked, but she picked us. and we love doing – I love doing the show because I have a lot of albums, lot of the music. That’s the that’s played, comes from both of us. We both have albums that would bring into the show. It’s not pre-recorded. As far as the live album part of it is, right, but part of it is, she picks it off, but it what is it? What does she pick it off of?

Sam Moore: Hmm. Well she tapes a lot of it.

Milford Murray: Yeah. Yeah she tapes a lot of it. Most of the stuff before the album hour is our tapes that she plays that she’s picked up during the week from different radio shows or from different stations there, but we love we love doing what we do. And it’s I didn’t I really didn’t realize that radio could be this much fun and we have fun every Sunday. So I love it. And this is our third year?

Sam Moore: Going on four. Yeah

Milford Murray: We’re going on four years old, huh? And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

Sam Moore: Well, I went to school up in Philadelphia. I had an English teacher that always told me, “You should go into radio.” Well then, I had a good voice you know and I never really thought any more about it, but it seems, everything has come to full fruition, you know, even with this handicap, you know, I’m able to bring something good to the show.

Milford Murray: Yeah, we all appreciate. Yeah.

Sam Moore: Well, now, you know, I was happy that Yvette picked me. And she knew I was like this, but in a lot of ways, it helps make the show.

Milford and Sam reflect on what the “Sunday Jazz Experience” means to them.
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Milford Murray: I guess we all have been blessed with this show. Sam has realized that things that he really loves are told in stories and music. I am the same way. Had it not been for Yvette, I don’t know. I guess I’d just be playing an album now and then, laying back, but where the where it is today with me, she inspires me to go out and listen to more music and whatever I’ve ever listened to. but along the same lines, it’s things that I love to do, but I hadn’t up until now, I hadn’t listened to that much music. I play a jam now and then, or listen to it on the radio, but for me personally, no, I never, I never did it them. I’m playing more music now and what the heck I’ve ever played. I guess it goes along with age, you know.

Sam Moore: You can play Black music in all genres.

Milford Murray: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Sam Moore: Now, you know, it’s something for everyone.

Milford Murray: Everyone, right.

This project is ongoing and if you’d like to be interviewed, please send us an email at avtech@marmia.org or start recording your own oral history now with TheirStory.