The night Dr. Daddy-O forever changed New Orleans radio
It was the late 1940s and it was the South, so while Vernon Winslow was hired to help create the soon-to-be iconic Poppa Stoppa radio show on New Orleans’ WJMR, he — as a black man — wasn’t allowed to go on the air. Rather, he was brought on as a writer and programmer, coaching white deejays on how to “sound black” and picking hip new R&B records for them to spin. Then, one night in 1948, he decided to read one of his own scripts on the air. He was fired immediately. But within six months, in May 1949, the folks at Jax Brewery and Fitzgerald Advertising, eager to market to New Orleans’ black consumers, offered to sponsor a show for him to host, titled “Jivin’ with Jax,” on competing station WWEZ. New Orleans radio had officially been integrated, and a local broadcast icon was born.
Winslow, who later in his career focused more on spinning gospel music than R&B, died in late 1993 and was buried in Lake Lawn Cemetery. His legacy lives on across New Orleans’ radio dial, however, as the man who influenced generations of on-air talent, from Poppa Stoppa to Jack the Cat to Okey-Dokey Smith and beyond. “It was like the Berlin Wall. He broke down the walls,” legendary New Orleans recording engineer Cosimo Matassa is quoted as having once said.
- Winslow was first invited to visit the WJMR studios — at that time in the Jung Hotel — based on a phone call. When he went up to meet station management in person, however, the light-skinned Winslow had a rude awakening. “They said, ‘Are you a n—-r?,'” Winslow remembered in a 1977 interview with The Times-Picayune. “I said, ‘Yes.’ So they said, ‘You can’t be a disc jockey, but you can write our copy.'”
- “Jivin’ with Jax” broadcast from the Hotel New Orleans. It being the Jim Crow era, Winslow had to take the freight elevator to the studio. He later moved his operation to Matassa’s J&M Studios, first pre-recording his show for broadcast and later broadcasting live from J&M with Dave Bartholomew’s house band providing background music.
- Jax billed Winslow as “New Orleans’ first sepia disc jockey” and had him train deejays in other markets.
- Born in Ohio and raised in Chicago, Winslow earned a fine arts degree from the University of Chicago before relocating to New Orleans. “Had things worked out for me in a way that my talent could support me, I would have been a painter,” Winslow told The Times-Picayune in a 1986 interview.
- Before his radio days, Winslow earned a master’s in education from Tulane, which helped him land a job teaching art at Dillard University.
- In the late 1950s, Winslow went to work for New Orleans radio station WYLD, where he stayed on and off for more than 30 years hosting a gospel show.
Much is made in the music world about “the New Orleans sound.” But before Dr. Daddy-O signed on, that sound was decidedly muted for the simple reason that “race” records received limited play at best on local radio stations. “Other stations were too dignified to play rhythm and blues,” Winslow said in a 1987 interview with The Times-Picayune. That would soon change. By the end of 1949, the city had its first true black radio station, in the form of WMRY, which broadcast from the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. It would later become WYLD. A second black station, WBOK, signed on about a year later. Those stations have been credited with helping to put local R&B on the map — and on the air. With musicians eager to be heard, and audiences eager to listen, it would lead to a boom in New Orleans-styled R&B that would all but define the radio waves for decades to come.