Talking Drum: Chicago’s WVON Radio and the Sonorous Image of Black Lives, 1963-1983

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My dissertation, “Talking Drum: Chicago’s WVON Radio and the Sonorous Image of Black Lives, 1963-1983,” studies WVON radio as a mediating institution of the black public sphere in Cold War Chicago. “Talking Drum” explores how WVON celebrated, represented, and mobilized black public life in the mid-twentieth century amid a dominant public sphere that circulated racist scripts of black citizenship. Local black-oriented radio stations like WVON provided alternative forums through which African Americans could talk back to those misrepresentations, ideologies, and policies constituting the era’s national imperatives of black containment. Much like the polyrhythmic correspondence disseminated through the African drum among enslaved blacks in colonial North America, WVON’s programming demonstrated the power of black vernacular expression to construct meaningful cultural communiqués. “Talking Drum” explores how WVON’s sonorous rhetorical assault on negative public images and epistemologies of African American citizenship provided new grounds for defining, claiming, and securing freedom and interpreting black identity, interests, and needs. By analyzing the radio station’s public affairs, news, popular culture, and political programming, my dissertation contributes to discussions about the capacity of Cold War radio and contemporary innovations of the black public sphere to inspire and mobilize disenfranchised communities in shared struggles to secure greater democratic freedoms.

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  • 10/22/2018
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