Former WDIA program director leaves imprint on civil rights movement - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Former WDIA program director leaves imprint on civil rights movement

By Justin Hanson - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - He was the program director at WDIA radio in the late 1960's.  Bill Thomas helped create a new sound and a new mission for one of Memphis' most famous radio stations.

Thomas has seen lots of changes during his forty year radio career, but nothing compares to what was going on around him in the late 1960's.

"We had riots," he said. "We had boycotts.  It was different, but the radio station was family."

As part of the WDIA radio family, Thomas and others used their resources to help improve race relations in Memphis.

"We had rented supplement housing at the radio station, we had school buses for black children who had no way to school," he said.

In 1968, WDIA was also put to the test the day Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed.

"We assembled all of the high profile community leaders and asked them to come to the station and go on air," Thomas recalled.

Efforts to break down racial boundaries pushed WDIA to the top of the charts, both on the air and in the Memphis community.

"In those days, we had a 25 to 30 share of the marketplace, which is just unheard of today," Thomas said.

Thomas, also known as Daddy-Do-Right on his Saturday night shift, was immediately taken in by his on-air counterparts.

"After a few on air shifts, the guys got into what I was doing, and all the sudden I became one of the guys," he said.

And as he continues his radio success, Thomas is still committed to the same philosophies of working with others.

"Respect - recognizing mutual respect - it was something that was earned and not given," he said.

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