Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Herman Griffith - mystery solved

 Herman was a mystery to me, not a lot of information.  Diana Kelly was researching him and shared results.

Herman Griffith Bio – Short Version

Researched and Written by Diana K. Kelly, Ph.D.

August 29, 2022



Herman Griffith was one of the early radio announcers in black formatted Soul radio stations of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  He was a well-liked and well-respected disc jockey on KGFJ in Los Angeles from 1958 to 1967 and brought Soul music to the American Forces Radio and Television Service from 1966 to 1973. 


Herman Dennis Griffith was born on January 1, 1928 in Birmingham, Alabama, the first child of Herman Council Griffith and Margurite Branham Griffith.  His parents divorced and remarried, and Herman lived with his mother and step-father, William Callery, in Flemingsburg, Kentucky where his parents both taught at the segregated school for black students.  Herman attended school there until high school, but because the segregated high school had closed in Flemingsburg, Herman had to travel 17 miles to the segregated black John G Fee School in Maysville, Kentucky.  He attended his first two years of high school here until the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Herman attended the integrated Hughes High School in his junior and senior years.  He graduated from Hughes High School in 1945. 


After high school, Herman attended college, studying radio and drama at Central State College, a historically black institution in Wilberforce, Ohio.  In the summers, Herman came home to Cincinnati and worked the late night shift at the Cincinnati bus terminal as a “red cap.”   Herman graduated from Central State College with a bachelor’s degree in June 1949.


After finishing college, Herman served in the Navy between June 1949 and November 1951.  He had a dream of becoming a teacher, like his parents, but he wanted to teach radio broadcasting.  So after finishing his Navy service, Herman tried to enroll in the 2-year graduate-level Radio program at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He needed a graduate degree to be a teacher.  Herman applied several times but was turned away because the college did not allow black students. 


So he did the next best thing to continue his education – he had private educational tutorials with one of the professors in the radio program at the Cincinnati Music Conservatory.  He also did free-lance work on Cincinnati radio stations and continued working for the Cincinnati Bus Terminal, announcing arrivals and departures from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.


Herman’s long battle to be admitted to the Cincinnati Music Conservatory was well-documented in the Cincinnati newspapers, the New York Times, and other newspapers. Protests were held at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in favor of changing the admissions policy to include black students, and many hearings were held.  A signature drive was also done by students to urge the college to change its discriminatory practices.  There were strong feelings that any student should be admitted based solely on merit and should not be excluded because of race.  As a result, the institution made a change to the admission policy to allow black students to attend. Finally in September of 1951 Herman Griffith was the first black student ever to be admitted to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in its 85-year history.  Herman studied in the radio department and while in college appeared in dramatic programs on WLW radio and WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. 


Herman got his first full-time on-air radio job at a brand new black-oriented radio station, WXOK 1260 AM, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which went on the air on February 16, 1953.  He was part of a strong radio personality line-up, and his air name was “Golden Boy Griffith.”  Herman also worked at the sister station, WBOK in New Orleans before returning to Cincinnati to do newscasts on WCIN later in 1953.  In early 1955, Herman went to work on WWOK, Charlotte, North Carolina, before returning to Cincinnati in July of 1955, where he was on the air doing his own Gospel and R&B radio programs at WCIN in 1955 and 1956. WCIN was also one of the early radio stations programmed specifically for the Black audience.  WCIN went on the air on October 26, 1953 playing Jazz, Rhythm & Blues and Gospel music and providing news and community events for the large black population in Cincinnati.


In October 1956, Herman joined the staff of another new radio station -- WCHB in Detroit.  The station started broadcasting on November 1, 1956 and was the first black-owned radio station. WCHB was also committed to specifically serving the local black population in Detroit.  When starting this new station, the program director recruited experienced disc jockeys from other large-market black-formatted radio stations, including Herman Griffith. The 1957 Broadcasting Yearbook listed Herman Griffith as the News Director for WCHB.  Herman’s time at WCHB was less than a year due to illness.   By November of 1957, Herman was back on the air at WLEX in Lexington, Kentucky as “Papa Rock.” 


Herman moved on to Los Angeles to work for KGFJ which was starting a new full-time format for the local black audience. The new format started in September 1958 as the first 24-hour format for the black community.  The air staff at KGFJ was racially integrated, which was very unusual at that time. 


In September 1958, Herman did the evening shift from 6pm to midnight Mon – Sat, which included three programs – “KGFJ Showcase” (big band jazz),  “Roadside Chapel” (gospel music),  and “Record Caravan” (Soul and R&B Hits) from 9pm to midnight.  On Friday evenings Herman did a program for the military called “Air Force Record Flight,” and on Monday evenings he had a program called “Air Force Tiger in the Sky.” Herman’s air shift changed in late November of 1959 when Hunter Hancock, joined KGFJ.  Hunter took over the 6-9 p.m. air shift, and Herman continued doing the “Record Caravan” program from 9 p.m. to midnight, Monday – Saturday.

In 1960 Herman Griffith wrote the lyrics to a song composed by Hal Davis, called “Can I?”  It was recorded by local LA jazz singer Jennell Hawkins and was released as a single on “Dynamic Records.”  Although it received a favorable review in Cash Box Magazine, it didn’t sell many records.  A year later Jennell released another song, this time on “Amazon Records.” This song was “Moments to Remember” which was a big hit, particularly on R&B radio stations.  The flip side of this single was “Can I?”  Although the original recording didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, the song was later recorded by five more artists:  Brenda Holloway (1964), Eddie Kendricks (1971), Vee Allen (1972), Nancy Wilson (1973) and David Peaston (1989).  This song was also used in a 1997 stage musical “Street Corner Symphony” produced in Florida.


In 1962 Herman was the host of the Thursday Talent Night at “Club Nite Life” – 3801 S. Western Ave in LA. [NOTE – in 2022 this building is an Auto Body shop.]  These Thursday night programs were very popular – standing room only.  Herman used these Talent events to discover new music and entertainment talent and he also brought in big-name stars, including Etta James.  Later another KGFJ DJ, Rudy Harvey, joined Herman on Thursday nights. In September of 1962, Herman was honored with a party at “Club Nite Life” to recognize his efforts to find new music talent.  The party was hosted by columnist Gertrude Gipson who was also the owner of Club Nite Life.


In April of 1964 there was a "Payola" scandal in Los Angeles radio, and 25 high-profile Los Angeles radio announcers and others were accused of accepting pay from the record companies for playing certain records.  The radio people accused of this included some very highly regarded DJs, including Casey Kasem -- and Herman Griffith.  The court hearings went on for two years until 1966. The Los Angeles Times covered the FCC probe at the U.S. courthouse in Los Angeles.  After the hearings were completed, the FCC determined in 1967 that there was insufficient evidence to prove the accusations of payola.


By September of 1964, KGFJ had new owners and new management. Tracy Broadcasting Company purchased the station from Ben McGlashen.  A week later a slight format change was announced in Billboard Magazine, saying that Blues and Jazz and “Dee Jay Picks” were gone, and the station would be emphasizing Rhythm & Blues and would have a more consistent sound. Arnie Schorr was the new General Manager and Cal Milner was called the “Merchandising-Production Manager,”  but he later became the Program Director.  Both came from KHJ, home of the “Boss Radio.” The KGFJ news vans were taken off the streets and there was less emphasis on local news coverage.  However, the news vans were back in action during the 1965 summer Watts riots, and were the only news vehicles allowed to be in the streets of the riot areas. In the summer of 1965, Herman Griffith’s show was moved to afternoons, noon – 5:00 p.m. Meanwhile, Herman continued to do his Thursday night program at “Club Nite Life,” teaming up with Rosie Greer for these shows.

At the age of 38, in July 1966 Herman made a slight career shift.  While still working at KGFJ he had started recording Soul programs for AFRTS, the American Forces Radio and Television Service (later known as AFN).  AFRTS brought him in specifically to provide the first Soul and R&B programs for the overseas military.   By August of 1966, Herman announced that he had left KGFJ to work for AFRTS.  He produced his programs in the AFRTS Los Angeles studios from 1966 until 1973.  The studios were located at 1016 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles, 90038, in a large, secure building that looks like a grey box.  Although the building is still there, it is no longer used by AFRTS.  Other big-name Los Angeles radio personalities also recorded radio programs for AFRTS in these LA studios to be aired around the world for U.S. military personnel stationed overseas. 


By March of 1967 Herman came back to KGFJ to work on the overnight shift, doing programs at the well-known “Dolphins of Hollywood” record store.  He did this overnight program through November 1967.


In May and June of 1971, the LA Sentinel published articles about a minority recruitment program for XERB (later XPRS) which stated that XERB hired Larry Diggs, Larry McCormick, and Herman Griffith for their air staff.  However, it isn’t clear whether Herman was ever on the air at XERB because his name never appeared in future articles about XERB’s new format.


In May of 1973, at age 45, Herman Griffith had an illness or injury that was so severe he was no longer able to work. His last AFRTS programs were aired in May of 1973. After that Roland Bynum’s show took over the time slot previously used by Herman Griffith.  Not much is known about his life from this point until his death. At the age of 63, Herman Griffith had a heart attack and died in Los Angeles on April 4, 1991.  Herman Griffith was married three times.  His first wife died, and his other two marriages ended in divorce.  He had no children.


Throughout Herman Griffith’s life, he faced numerous challenges, but he always persevered and overcame the challenges. Herman was an outstanding radio personality who broke ground for future black radio broadcasters.  His friendly and energetic approach on the air made him popular among his Los Angeles audience and among overseas audiences who heard him on AFRTS.  Herman Griffith made important contributions to the early radio stations focused on serving the black community.



Herman Griffith – Chronological List of Radio Stations

1952 – WLW, Cincinnati – radio acting while in college at Cincinnati Music Conservatory

Feb 16, 1953 – WXOK, Baton Rouge – and later in 1953, WBOK, New Orleans

Late 1953 - 1954 – WCIN, Cincinnati – news

1955-1-5 – WWOK, Charlotte, N. C.

1955-7-30 – WCIN, Cincinnati

1956-10-17 – WCHB, Detroit – news director in 1957 Broadcasting Yearbook

Nov 1957 – WLEX, Lexington, Kentucky -- as “Papa Rock”

1958-9-1 – July 1966 – KGFJ, Los Angeles

July 1966 – May 1973 – AFRTS -- recording programs in Los Angeles for distribution to troops overseas. 

March – Nov 1967 – KGFJ, Los Angeles – overnights on the broadcast from “Dolphins of Hollywood.”

Jun 1971 – Herman was hired at XERB by Golden West Broadcasters. (No references to him at XERB after that, so he may not have actually done any shows for them.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Charlie Tuna 1983


Charlie in the movie "Rollercoaster"

Radio Hall of Fame member Charlie Tuna was great. A quarter century with AFRTS. 40 years on the air in Los Angeles. We lost a great talent. When I was overseas Charlie was one of the key voices of Armed Forces radio. See why...

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Sports Interviews - 1943


Joe Hassle is back with Sports Interviews talking with early 1900s baseball legend Honus Wagner.