Hal Jackson, Black Radio Legend, Dies at 96

Webster’s defines an icon as “any person or thing that is revered.”

That was Hal Jackson. The pioneering WBLS radio personality died yesterday at age 96. His cause of death was not released, but Jackson had a short illness.

Jackson maintained his Sunday Classics show, on the air as recently as a couple of weeks ago. He hosted the program with Clay Berry and Deborah Bolling Jackson, known to listeners as Debi B., or simply Jackson’s wife for 23 years.

“He was a big proponent of passing [information],” Skip Dillard, WBLS
program director, tells FishbowlNY. “I think that was one of his greatest assets.”

He co-founded WBLS original parent company, Inner City Broadcasting in 1971 with the late Percy Sutton, giving a new outlet to African-Americans. It was the first owned and operated African-American station in New York.

“He really is responsible for us being here today, because he encouraged Mr. Sutton to go through with the purchase of WLIB-FM at a time when AM was king,” Dillard says. “Hal really was a little ahead of his time and saw the potential for radio, and always believed that radio could grow and evolve.”

Last year, Inner City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Dillard points out Jackson was manager of the company’s West Coast operations, with stations in San Francisco and (at the time) Los Angeles.

But it was behind the mic where Jackson made his career, earning numerous awards and accolades. High on the list would have to be Jackson’s 1995 induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame, the first African-American to join the hallowed halls.

In 1990, Jackson was the first minority inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Jackson was the first black host on WABC-AM.

A fixture in New York since the 1950s, Jackson got his start in Washington, D.C.