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Black Radio Rochester

The Podcast

"Black Radio Rochester" is a podcast series about Rochester's first African American radio personalities, Howard Coles and Alma Kelso. Based on original archival research, the podcast is hosted by local high school students who interweave Coles and Kelso's stories with their own perspectives on Black history, social change, music, and media representation. Launched in February 2022 in celebration of Black History Month!


A group of high school students uncovers the hidden history of Rochester's first African American radio personalities. In the process, they join a generations-old fight to preserve Black History.

R&B music was the soundtrack to Black life in the 1950s. It knitted Rochester's growing African American population into a community. And Howard "King Coles" could always be trusted to play the hits people wanted to hear.

The arc of the moral universe is long. And it often needs help bending toward justice. Howard Coles and Alma Kelso used the media of their day to do just that, tackling issues of housing discrimination, migrant farmworker rights, and police violence.

Well-spoken. Polished. Dignified. Howard Coles challenged the racist media stereotypes of his day through his self-presentation. But the fight over how African Americans are represented in the media continues to this day.


He just cared about people, period. And he wanted life to be better for all of us.

-Joan Coles Howard speaking to Black Radio Rochester, 2021

RIGHT: Joan Coles Howard reads one of her father's radio scripts at the Rochester Museum and Science Center (Photo: D Lamen 2021)

The Pioneers

Howard W Coles (1903-1996) spent most of his life in Rochester, New York. He was a civil rights pioneer known for founding Rochester's longest-running Black-owned newspaper, The Frederick Douglass Voice. But what many people don't know is that he and his first wife, Alma Kelso (1918-1988), were also Rochester's first African American radio personalities. Starting in the 1940s, they hosted their own shows on radio station WSAY. They used their platform to teach about African American history and to demand social change. They used music to uplift and strengthen the community. And they set an example of poise and professionalism for today's generation of YouTubers to follow. We hope our podcast inspires you to learn more about them, and to uncover other untold stories from around our city!


The distance between this microphone and the slave plantations from which our race has come - and the difficulties to be overcome in the process - are by no means slight.

-Howard Coles speaking to Alma Kelso on WSAY, 1943

LEFT: Howard Coles at radio station WSAY in the 1950s (photo courtesy Joan Coles Howard)

The Project

"Black Radio Rochester" was produced as part of a 16-week after-school program developed by RCTV and WXIR Community Radio. The program aims to empower youth participants to:

● produce informative and engaging podcasts for diverse audiences

● develop concrete skills in communications and media production, including research, writing, narrating, interviewing, recording, editing, and graphic design

● make connections with local media professionals of color and potential mentors

● think critically about the power of media as a force for positive social change in Rochester and beyond


We're grateful to the staff at the Rochester Museum and Science Center for helping us access the Howard Coles Collection during the research phase of our project. We're also grateful to the Rochester Area Community Foundation for making this project possible through a generous Historic Preservation Grant. And, of course, we're eternally grateful to Joan Coles Howard for supporting our project and for advocating for the preservation and celebration of Black History in our community.


This podcast was produced with (L to R) Rashida Burch-Washington, Sean Thomas, Paris Horman, Jordan Nunn, De'Vonne Warren, Darien Lamen, and Micah Anderson (not pictured).

PHOTO: Travawn Hopkins

Media Coverage
Local students on their new podcast, "Black Radio Rochester"
February 10, 2022

This is the first hour of "Connections with Evan Dawson" on Thursday, February 10, 2022.

These teens are 'picking up the mantle' of some of Rochester's Black trailblazers
MEMMOTT 10:48 a.m. ET Feb 25, 2022

The four episodes of the podcast, "Black Radio Rochester," have debuted one-by-one every Thursday on WXIR 100.9-FM during Black History Month.

Local students create podcast honoring Rochester civil rights activists
by Ally Peters | posted Feb 24, 2022

The students recently launched 'Black Radio Rochester' through RCTV. The podcast series explores Rochester's first African American radio personalities, including Howard Coles.


Howard W. Coles Collection, Rochester Museum and Science Center. Index available at:

Three-Part Interview with Howard Coles. Rochester Voices. May 7, 1980.  Available at:

Frederick Douglass Voice Newspaper, select issues, 1933-1996. Rochester Voices. Available at:

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