In 1948 Mary Dee Dudley became the country’s first African-American female disc jockey shattering both racial and gender barriers to achieve this feat.
She was allowed only 15 minutes on air because the radio station owners did not know how well her show will be received.
Her daily show “Movin’ Around” aired on August 1, 1948 on WHOD in Homestead, Pittsburgh. In a period of six months her 15 minutes show was extended to an hour. In 1950, about two years later it became a two-hour show.
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Dudley was born in 1912 in Homestead, P.A. to William and Mary Hunter Goode.
William Goode owned the Hill District’s 24-hour pharmacy. The Hill district is the oldest neighbourhood in Pittsburgh.
Her family was quite popular in Pittsburgh as her brother Mal Goode was a notable broadcaster and James Goode was also Pittsburgh’s first black realtor.
She attended Homestead high School and went to Howard University after and then to St. Mann Radio School in Pittsburgh.
Not long after her graduation from St. Mann, she applied to work at the WHOD radio station that was about to be launched. According to Dudley’s nephew, the station told her she would be offered a 15 minutes show if she could get three sponsors.
Mary Dee got three sponsors, her father with his 24-hour pharmacy, her brother James with his realty business and a florist.
Dudley’s show was different from what people were used to listening. She played the latest records by African American artistes and made room for local talents to be unearthed.
She also brought her brother, Mal Goode on board when the show was extended to two hours to broadcast daily news as a correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier.
It is said that the Courier was the most widely circulated black newspaper in the country at some point in time.
Later in his career, Mal also became the first black correspondent for a major television network, ABC TV network.
To add to the diversity of her show, Dudley brought on Toki Johnson and Hazel Garland to report on women’s issues and to cover the community. She made sure her show was a true representation of her community.
She established the basic African American radio show format with music, news and community affairs.
She interviewed renowned celebrities at the time like Jackie Robinson, Sarah Vaughan and Cab Calloway.
What catapulted Dudley’s show into the national media was her interview with Ebony magazine. Her show moved to “Studio Dee” in August 1951 at the corner of Herron and Center avenues in the Pittsburgh Hills area.
This storefront presented her the opportunity to relate with her listeners and for them to request songs for the show while enjoying her prowess. This act cemented Dudley’s show as a staple in the neighbourhood.
Her show got yet another extension. It moved from two hours to four around 1954 and “Studio D” relocated to Center Avenue in the Courier Building.
Dudley worked at WHOD for another two years before moving to Baltimore in 1956 when WHOD changed its call letters to WAMO.