Sports radio still presents White wall of resistance

Henry Lake // Photo by Charles Hallman

Sports radio has been and still is virtually all White and male, a seemingly impenetrable White wall built on cultural conditioning apparently decreeing that White voices are superior to those of Blacks, women, and other people of color.

Last month’s cover story in a local alternative weekly was on KFXN-FM, the Cities’ longest running sports station, which this columnist long ago stopped listening to, calling it the “Klan” for its persistent Whiteness. The story buried in the jump pages stated the obvious: “Noticeably absent from The Fan: women and people of color,” it said. The station manager remarked, “We’re just trying to represent the Twin Cities the best we can…”

Although KFXN ranks among America’s top-performing sports stations, its primarily White male audience “[is] not very diverse,” said a Nielsen VP of audience insights in Inside Radio last year. Like the legendary Daffy Duck’s response to frustration, all we can do is laugh at such vanilla-dominant programming.

Before it became The Fan, it was WDGY-AM, which became a news-talk station in 1989 before going all-sports in 1991 and changing call letters. The late Mel Riley was its first Black drive-time co-host, who eventually was pushed to the shadows and then later out the door. A Black female was once hired as a reporter but became a layoff victim while the station happily promoted Michele Tafoya, who went on to national fame.

Minneapolis-born Henry Lake was there, then left to host middays at a Kansas City sports station; he returned to KFXN last fall. But in both stints, Lake’s talents were underutilized. Last week, WCCO, “the Good Neighbor,” announced he will host weeknights (9 pm-1 am) beginning March 11.

“WCCO believes in me and my talent to help them move forward in freshening up their brand,” Lake told me in an exclusive interview last weekend. “I truly thank all of the folks out there that have supported me throughout the years. I know that I represent a segment of the population whose voices and opinions aren’t always heard. I take that seriously.”

Besides Lake, there are others, such as Lea B. Olsen, who can talk sports and run circles around the current group at the klan but were born with the wrong skin color. “I’ve been taught you have to work twice as hard to get noticed,” North Carolina-based Jannelle Moore told us via phone last week. She is a regular on SB Nation, among others, as a basketball writer, but she wants to do more.

Jannelle Moore // Submitted photo

“I’ve been freelancing ever since I left [college],” Moore lamented. She shared a couple of failed attempts to break through that White wall of resistance. “When I was younger, I interned for my hometown newspaper before going to college. Years later, I got an interview [for a full-time job]…

“The managing editor asked, ‘So what’re you doing these days?’ It was a formality, and eventually [I got] passed up by a woman with no journalism experience.” The managing editor told her that the latter was a better “fit,” Moore recalled.

“When I applied for a production assistant position at my ABC affiliate, a producer spent most of the interview telling me how “thankless” the position is… This was an entry-level position,” Moore continued.

 Starting next week, Lake becomes the only Black weeknight host on local mainstream radio at WCCO. “We have to continue to diversify our media,” he said. “I’m just one of many talented minorities in this town.” Moore continues working, waiting for her opportunity. “[I am] always begging some editor to give me a chance,” she said. “Why must I jump through hoops like a seal at Sea World just to get noticed? It bothers me.”

2 Comments on “Sports radio still presents White wall of resistance”

  1. I am not a resident of the Twin Cities area; but I am interested in diversity issues in U.S. media. To see the lack of diversity (particularly black faces) in Twin Cities “media” is breathtaking and appalling. How can the 15th/16th largest metropolitan area in the nation have ALL-WHITE news teams? You don’t really see that anywhere else in the country, and this is happening in an area that’s nearly quadruoled its nonwhite population over the past three decades (250k: 1990/1 million: 2019). As someone who has studied demographic data as a hobby, I’ve noticed a uniqueness in the Twin Cities white tranaplant population in that many (unlike so many other large U.S. metros) hail from surrounding states ( such as here in Iowa/SD/ND/WI, that are uber-white. Many of these transplants grew up in social environments in which diversity was practically non-existent and black populations were oppressed and repressed-socially and economically-creating stereotypical ideas about blacks and our intellectual and social competence. I believe these biases are playing themselves out in how local Twin Cities media consistently spotlights white “stars” such as former athletes Joe Mauer, Fran Tarkenton, and Lyndsay Whalen, as well as mediocre white coaches such as the late Flip Saunders (who lost 7 straight times in the NBA playoffs in the 1st round, yet was lionized) and Bud Grant (4x SB loser who never had a black assistant in his 19 seasons coaching in the NFL), yet downplays and ignores players and coaches such as Derrick Rose, Karl-Anthony Towns, and, historically, Torii Hunter, Randall Cunningham, Sano, the late Denny Green,

    What I would like to see happen long-term is our people coming together to create platforms by and for black people in the Twin Cities (and elsewhere) that recognizes and celebrates our unique sports talents and abilities. The time for begging the racist white media (the propaganda arm of white supremacy) for their crumbs are long overdue. We are a special people capable of changing the narrative. The question is whether or not we have the willpower.

  2. Charles, this is happening in this country when it comes to sports broadcasting from blacks and others is (as it should be) , there is a dearth of voices published or looked to as references. It is not enough for others to tell the story and add to the history, and be looked at as the experts. Sports has evolved. This is about more than diversity; because you have have a group of multi-cultural voices that perpetuate that which we are trying to change. (Think about the monkey on H&M hoodie, Prada, Gucci, even though then think they’re doing well. We would have to ask who was sitting at the table to make decisions?)
    Something quick that though I would add. But we need to talk. My show has now moved to weekly broadcasting for two hours on Mondays.

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