Your Source for NPR News & Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KTEP is currently undergoing maintenance at transmitter site. We are operating on low FM power.

How Nashville's HBCU-Owned Jazz Station Holds A Community Together

The last week of protests and unrest has put many Americans on edge, especially those in communities of color. Some local leaders, like Sharon Kay, are using the airwaves to help organize and inform their communities.

Kay is the general manager of WFSK, a radio station owned by Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, Tenn.. She also hosts a talk show, What's the 411? with Sharon Kay. WFSK is primarily a jazz station, but has also historically been a hub for news and organization in Nashville's black community, a role that has become even more important during the recent protests against police brutality.

Scott Simon spoke to Sharon Kay about the role of WFSK as people protest for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Listen to the radio version in the audio link above, and read on for highlights of the interview.

Interview Highlights

On the role of WFSK in Nashville

Being owned and operated by a historically black college and university makes us very, very needed and unique in the city. We're very proud to do everything that we can since we sit in the heart and soul of the African American community, where Fisk University is located in the historic North Nashville area.

Our constituency is not 100% African American; there's a good segment of our listening audience that's about 40% white. They like our station because they hear different opinions and other perspectives that the other type of radio just doesn't offer. And we are able to talk about things and be real and quit all the namby-pamby political crap. We're trying to get down to the facts so we can solve some problems.

On the history of WFSK and promoting civil rights issues

When they started the station back in '73, what a lot of those students did back in those early days was take a stand because their voices were not getting heard on mainstream radio. Our campus radio station at that point was the clarion call to the black community for protests, rallies and various events. The students literally started the station because they wanted to get out the word about prejudice and racist activities in Nashville. They wanted to have a platform and a place to tell the community "Okay we have someone coming --Jesse Jackson or whoever — coming to speak."

I can't help but honor that by continuing the spirit in which the station was founded. So the community, they have an affinity for the station because they know the rich history. And Nashville has had such a struggle with civil rights and housing and poverty and unemployment — and just feeling, in this city, like you're really not wanted here. So the community has been working on these issues for decades in Nashville, and the struggle still continues.

On the widespread protests and national attention on racial inequity

Everybody's so shocked — "it's impacting black people," they're shocked. Why do you keep getting shocked? Advocates have been telling you that this disparity exists and dots are lining up like crazy. The dots are there in housing and poverty. There's disparities in the justice system. There's disparities in the law enforcement system, the judicial system. There's disparities all across the board because we're not dealing with any of them. And then here comes the pandemic, and the pandemic is like a tsunami and blows back everything so people see what's on the bottom.

So for me, it's a joy to hear people echo it because I'm like, how many times does it take for y'all to learn something? I just keep hitting it as hard as I can as long as I can.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Related Stories