Andrew Langston was a pioneer in broadcasting, founding the first black-owned radio station in New York. WDKX-FM (103.9) signed onto the airwaves at 5:30 a.m. on April 6, 1974, and the station has been making an impact in the community ever since. The station, with an urban contemporary format, continues to consistently rank among the top three in the Rochester market in audience surveys and remains an active community partner.
“He gave a voice to the voices,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said.
And to think that radio wasn’t Andrew Langston’s chosen profession when he moved from New York City to Rochester in 1960. He relocated so he could go on TV, accepting a weather position after impressing station officials with his audio tape. Except when he arrived and station management learned he was black, the offer was rescinded.
Over the next 14 years, Langston worked as a barber, sold men’s clothing and became an insurance agent for Prudential. Along the way, he envisioned someday owning a radio station. He created many lasting relationships through those sales jobs, including one with Xerox founder Joseph C. Wilson.
Wilson supported Langston’s dream of owning a radio station and agreed to let the broadcast antenna sit atop the Xerox Tower. Their “contract” was written on a napkin.
The antenna site was the least of Langston’s worries, however. He was competing for the final available FM frequency in the Rochester market and spent parts of six years in front of the Federal Communications Commission, stating his case for station approval.
Langston believed there was a lack of entertainment and information for the black community. He continued to push for his station, realizing a new radio voice in Rochester could fill a void.
“The opposition was strong,” Rev. Franklin Florence said in the station’s 40th anniversary video in 2014. “Those persons that were in media at the time did not want Andy, or other blacks along with him, to have access (to the airwaves).”
But Langston finally prevailed and WDKX became a reality in 1974. The station call letters are a tribute to black heroes: D for Frederick Douglass, K for Martin Luther King and X for Malcolm X.
Langston was well prepared for the venture. A native of Dawson, Georgia, he earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration from City College of the City University of New York in 1951 and an MBA in finance and economics from New York University in 1954.
Despite his business acumen, there were early struggles for WDKX. His first landlord refused to allow his station to broadcast, so he relocated to a barely passable facility for the launch.
All this did was reinforce one of Langston’s favorite sayings; “Do the best with what you got.”
Langston and WDKX certainly have done that. Over his career he was named Broadcasting Pioneer of the Decade and was a member of the New York State Broadcasters Association’s inaugural Hall of Fame class. That Hall of Fame is a Who’s Who of broadcasting excellence, including Walter Cronkite, Charles Osgood, Mike Wallace and Al Roker, along with local stalwarts Don Alhart, Janet Lomax, Rich Funke and Brother Wease.
“WDKX has had a major, major impact in this community,” Lomax said in the station’s anniversary video.
Said the late Louise Slaughter, the long-time member of the U.S. House of Representatives, in the anniversary tribute: “He was in every very sense a friend and a mentor.”
Andrew Langston died in 2010 at the age of 82. His son, Andre Marcel Langston, continues to operate the station. Both father and son declined offers to sell the station, preferring to remain a local, independent voice for the community.
“He gave citizens of Rochester that family owned radio station, that outlet to talk about what’s important to you, what’s important to citizens of Rochester,” Warren said. “For WDKX to be alive and well long after his passing is a testament to his fighting spirit.”
Langston was immortalized in 2014 by the City of Rochester with a street in his name. Andrew Langston Way runs along the east side of Parcel 5 in downtown Rochester, connecting East Avenue and Elm Street.