As black history month comes to a close, it is worth drawing attention to bright spots in black culture. One is comedian Steve Harvey’s morning radio show. Harvey brings challenging commentary on aspects of black life using critical humor. Together with other solid black radio programs, Harvey’s show renews hope that African-Americans will successfully address the moral and socio-economic ills troubling their communities.
Unlike many black radio personalities, Harvey is not afraid to call out ignorance. The morning show caught my attention several months ago when Harvey made a public declaration that he would never play misogynistic music that degrades black women. This type of direct, on-air leadership will help put a dent in a genre of music that is rending the social fabric of our society.
For example, one of the most pathetic songs in popular hip last year was Soulja Boy’s song “Crank Dat.” With lyrics that would cause the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to turn in his grave, Harvey made a point not only to name the immorality in the song but to encourage others to think hard about the content of putrid music represented by artists like Soulja Boy.
The content and lyrics of “Crank Dat” are too sordid to describe here, but sorrowfully the song was number 21 on Rolling Stone's list of the “100 Best Songs of 2007,” was the 2007 number one music video on the now morally bankrupt BET (Black Entertainment Television), and received a nomination for a Grammy Award for “Best Rap Song” in 2007.
Although the song peaked in America at number one, in New Zealand’s “Top Forty Chart” at number two, and in the United Kingdom’s “R&B Singles Chart” at number one, Harvey did not allow market success to trump his moral principles.
If you are trying to reach black America, radio remains an extremely powerful medium. A new report by Arbitron, a media and marketing research firm, confirms the social leverage of black radio. “Black Radio Today” calculates that more than 1,100 of America’s 13,800 radio stations are black-formatted. The report also says that radio is a medium of steady popularity among the nation's more than 22 million black Americans, ages 18 and over. Harvey’s show can be heard in nearly 60 markets including many of the top ten: Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Detroit.
While Harvey does a good job speaking about morals, promoting fidelity in relationships, providing inspirational content (even playing gospel music at times), there is more to be done. All black radio shows could do more to explicitly promote the virtues of good marriages. The lack of sustainable marriages is one of the key impediments to black social and economic progress. As long as women and children cannot enjoy life-long commitments by morally-formed men, America will continue to see aggravated cycles of sexual irresponsibility, juvenile delinquency, poverty, welfare dependence, poor health care, and substandard education.
Harvey and other nationally syndicated radio personalities should also rally hip-hop and pop radio show hosts and DJs to declare a moratorium on complicit participation in the distribution of music that sabotages human dignity, and to agree to promote music with positive virtues. Radio personalities are an important variable in the popular music matrix, an area begging for moral leadership.
Harvey recently reminded his audience that “the best way to start your day is to give honor to God.” Courageous leadership like this confirms Harvey’s ability to use radio as a medium for human flourishing instead of a vehicle for ignorance and immorality.
Anthony B. Bradley is a research fellow at the Acton Institute.