WYSU Celebrates Black History Month

On-campus radio station WYSU plays musical arrangements by historical Black musicians and decorates the front desk with inspirational Martin Luther King quotes. Photo by Zach Mosca/The Jambar

By Zach Mosca 

Black History Month is a time to recognize the historical achievements and figures from the Black community. That’s why all throughout the month of February, WYSU hosted special programming honoring Black contributions to music, culture and history in general.

According to WYSU’s director of broadcasting Gary Sexton, WYSU hosted programming for Black History Month for many years with a variety of segments and special programming.

“This particular year, we did things that are in both of our primary formats: music and news and information,” Sexton said.

Sexton described some of the specials for this year. On the music side, WYSU aired a two-part series called “Song for the Struggle — Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement,” which was hosted by Dan Polletta. According to Polletta’s LinkedIn page, he is an award-winning broadcaster, interviewer and writer based in Cleveland.

“It was a look into a bunch of musicians like Louis Armstrong, Cassandra Wilson, Billie Holiday [and] Duke Ellington and how their music, in both subtle and unsubtle ways, called attention to civil rights issues,” Sexton said.

WYSU is an NPR affiliate station. According to WYSU’s Coordinator, Ed Goist, an episode of the Nation Public Radio (NPR) show, “Throughline,” focuses less on music and more on news and information.

“‘Throughline’ is a new show from NPR, and one of their first episodes will be a Black History Month special, which will feature profiles of jazz vocalist Billie Holiday and United States politician Shirley Chisholm. Both of whom are Black women,” Goist said.

Sexton is the host of a classical music program from 1–3 p.m. on weekdays. He said he celebrates Black History Month on this program too.

“Every day, I feature a work from a Black composer … for instance, a couple days ago, I featured a work called ‘Three Black Kings’ by Duke Ellington,” Sexton said. 

In years past, WYSU has engaged much more with Youngstown State University during Black History Month beyond just radio programs; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these methods of engagement had to be called off for this year.

“In years past, the university has had a really robust offering of Black History Month programs [such as] panel discussions, speeches, music performances and stuff like that. Obviously, that’s been back down for this year, but we’ve been a major media sponsor for that over the years,” Sexton said. 

Response to the Black History Month programming has been overwhelmingly positive, with many listeners expressing appreciation for sharing highlights of Black culture, as well as highlighting some lesser-known Black historical figures. 

“Generally, people appreciate that that’s the kind of thing we do here at WYSU. We provide a wide range of programming that’s thought-provoking, entertaining and of high quality, especially when you consider the type of jazz and classical music that we offer,” Sexton said. 

Those interested in WYSU’s programming can tune in to 88.5 FM or visit its website, which offers a full list of programming offered by the station.