JAZZY 88 WFSK at Fisk University
By Sharon Kay
WFSK 88.1FM, an educational community-based radio station is owned and operated by Fisk University. The station has deep roots to the Nashville community. Licensed by the FCC in 1973 as WRFN (the original Radio-Free Nashville) and later underwent a Call Letter change in May 1983 to WFSK. By the old-school college radio standards, WFSK has evolved from the “traditional college model” of student-led to community-driven.
The Fisk station’s model is for sustainability purposes. As many in media industry-wide trends have brought about change and so it has for college radio.
WFSK’s humble beginnings were in the Fall Semester of 1969, when more than 600 students signed a statement indicating that a radio station was desirable on campus and wanted to aid in development and future operation. By 1970 the Fisk University Radio Committee and staff advisers had visited broadcast facilities at the University of Michigan and Shaw University.
In that committee was then Fisk student Bobby Bass, the grandson of Detroit radio pioneer Dr. Haley Bell. Bell and Dr. Wendell Cox who started WCHB they owned and operated Bell Broadcasting WCHB & WJZZ from 1954 – 1981) Legendary Detroit radio station s nationally known for R&B and Jazz music.
Aware of his family’s connection to radio, young Bobby Bass was the station’s first general manager. The committee deciding at the time, against a closed-circuit carrier-current system in favor of a FM facility like some other college stations still have today. The students and administration secured a donated transmitter in 1971 from WBBM (CBS) in Chicago as well as other equipment from various local radio and television states. CBS had also promised technical support as well. The station started out as a student-originated and run operation with the original application preparation beginning in the Fall of 1971.
Back then, the Nashville radio landscape continued to be dominated by powerful AM stations such as WLAC which began broadcasting Black-oriented news and "rhythm and blues" music across entire regions of the United States, drawing both Black and white audiences.
WLAC’s Gene Nobles began the tradition in the mid-1940s, playing songs requested by students attending Fisk University and Tennessee State Agricultural & Industrial College (now Tennessee State University) WVOL-AM was Nashville’s first Black radio station and was widely listened to.
“There is however, no station in Nashville for the serious Black listener”, said Fisk student Terry Adkins in a 1972 article in the Fisk Forum Newsletter. “WVOL keeps up with the at latest 45’s but too carries rock sounds. WRFN should be a station for the serious Black listener.”
Southern Black stations and Historically Black Colleges & University’s (HBCU’s) radio stations in particular became clearinghouses for information and forums for discussion among Black communities cut off from each other by segregation and geography.
WFSK became the first African American FM radio station on the dial in Nashville, and the first African American FM owned & operated radio station in Nashville, Tennessee.
The connection to the community has always been a part of the station’s history and still to this day continues to be as a means of survival with activities, annual events, and fundraising drives.
WFSK is home to six-locally produced specialty programs ranging from talk to cross cultural and music. With 16-on-air volunteers who serve in numerous capacities, are from the community at-large and Fisk students. WFSK’s Internship Program is offered to students not just from Fisk but surrounding institutions.
JAZZY 88 became the station’s first moniker in 2012 with a solid 24/7 Smooth & Contemporary Jazz music format, truly making it Nashville’s Jazz station. Receiving numerous awards over the years, WFSK remains a favorite among connoisseurs of the genre. The station has been Billboard Reporting station for more than a decade. In continuing to meet the needs of the community the station has six live talk programs and cross-cultural weekend programming.
An Associated Press AP news affiliate and broadcast affiliate of the African American Public Radio Consortium AAPRC. WFSK proudly carries Jazz Night in America with Christian McBride, and the syndicated talk program What’s the 411? with Sharon Kay which broadcasts live from the studios of WFSK, twice weekly.