Jack L. Cooper
Radio transmissions were being experimented with in the early 1900’s, and by 1910, Charles Herrold started carrying audio out of a station in California. The Netherlands began experimenting with commercial stations in 1919, and just a year later, the first commercial radio station began in the United States with its base in Pennsylvania.
Jack L. Cooper was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but he left home at the age of ten to begin working. A multi-talented man, Cooper was successful in boxing, semi-professional baseball, singing, dancing, and script-writing. By 1920, he had moved to Chicago and wrote theatre reviews while waiting for his opportunity to perform in the emerging radio industry. Cooper ended up working in Washington, D.C., writing and performing skits on WCAP, which inspired him to create a concept for The All-Negro Hour. He presented the idea in Chicago in 1926, but it was not picked up until 1929 on WSBC. The show started out on a weekly basis, but it slowly gained popularity and gathered up to 9 ½ hours a week on WCAP at its peak in the mid-1930s before ending in 1936.
Cooper designed a new show in 1938 called Search for Missing Persons which reconnected listeners with relatives with whom they had lost contact. A team was also assembled by Cooper to cover topics that appealed to the black community in Chicago. By 1947, the Jack L. Cooper Presentations production company ran content on four different stations in Chicago spreading about 40 hours a week. Cooper not only promoted his own performance, but he also supported other African American presenters and shared news specifically for the black community. He was one of the first in his field to share broadcasted commentaries of Negro league baseball games. Although he catered to the black community, Cooper refused to use slang expressions and became a symbol of racial uplift for his community. He was one of the first to utilize gramophone records on his broadcast sharing jazz and gospel music with his own phonograph. In addition to all of his contributions to the world of broadcasting, Cooper supported African-American youth organizations such as the South Side Boy’s Club. He worked in radio broadcasting until the age of 70 before his passing at the age of 81 in 1970.
Jack L. Cooper was not only a pioneer for black radio broadcasters, but he contributed to the world of radio with his unique perspectives and creative ideas for content. Although he was not added into the National Radio Hall of Fame until 2012, Jack’s passion and voice has left its mark on American history for many years and shaped modern day radio broadcasting.