Author: Stacy M. Brown Published: 2/2/2024 Washington Informer News
Joe Madison remembered, DC celebrates black history, and climate shocks discussed.
Good afternoon, it’s February 2nd, and we’re starting the day with a tribute to Joe Madison, the renowned radio host and civil rights activist who passed away earlier this week. We’ll also cover D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s kickoff of Black History Month and the urgent warning from the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development about the world’s lack of preparedness for climate shocks. Plus, we’ll highlight a local production company’s first NAACP Image Awards nominations.
Tributes continued to pour in throughout Friday for the talk show host, activist and philanthropist known as “The Black Eagle.” After a lengthy bout with prostate cancer, Joe Madison the popular SiriusXM host died on Feb. 1 at 74.
Those familiar with the popular SiriusXM host and his legacy noted his death, fittingly, comes as America observes the start of Black History Month.
“For the over 60 years that I have been in the civil rights movement, Joe Madison has been an effective freedom fighting communicator. His radio show informed and listed the aspirations of African Americans and others to continue to cry out for freedom, justice and equality,” said celebrated activist and President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis. “Black radio was a key force that helped to keep the freedom movement and therefore in the passing of Joe Madison we must fight to keep Madison’s courage and use of the radio and media to continue the March for freedom.”
Even the Biden-Harris administration acknowledged Madison as a freedom fighting force.
“Whether it was a hunger strike for voting rights or his advocacy for anti-lynching legislation that I was proud to sign in 2022, Joe fought hard against injustice,” President Joe Biden said in a statement with Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Madison aligned his platform with his purpose,” Vice President Kamala Harris said. “Through his decades-long career in radio, he championed the fight for equity and justice. Our nation is better because of his voice.”
Activist and radio and television personality, the Rev. Mark Thompson, told The Informer, Madison was a leader in activism over the airwaves.
“Joe and I were coworkers for over three decades— first at Radio One and WOL, and then at Sirius XM. But we were not just coworkers, we were co-activists,” Thompson said. “Joe coined the term for himself, ‘radio activist,’ but we would all do well to live up to that term to live up to that name in his memory.”
Radio personality Tavis Smiley also released a statement in Madison’s honor. “Pulling and praying for the family of Joe Madison,” Smiley said. “He loved us so, and was dedicated to our freedom and liberation everyday he cracked the mic. His voice will be sorely missed.”
According to his official bio, the native of Dayton, Ohio, was an All-Conference running back at Washington University in St. Louis where he was also a baritone soloist in the university choir and a disc jockey at the campus radio station. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology, becoming the first person in his family to graduate college.
At age 24, he became the youngest executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch before being appointed the organization’s national political director and eventually being elected to the national board of directors where he served for 14 years.
During his tenure at the NAACP, Madison led hundreds of volunteers on a series of successful voter registration marches, including a cross-country “March for Dignity” from Los Angeles to Baltimore. The marches garnered thousands of signatures for an anti-apartheid bill in Congress.
Madison’s radio career began in 1980 at Detroit’s WXYZ. He continued his broadcast journey to WWDB in Philadelphia, WWRC and WOL in Washington, D.C. The popularity of his WOL program led to syndication on the Radio One Talk Network and its XM satellite channel which merged with Sirius to become SiriusXM in 2008. In 2023, Madison celebrated his 15th anniversary with SiriusXM.
In 2015, Madison set the Guinness World Record for the longest on-air broadcast, 52 hours. During the record-breaking show, he raised more than $250,000 for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Five months later, Madison made history again by broadcasting live from Cuba and becoming the first American radio host to do so in more than 50 years.
Veteran journalist Charles Robinson, Madison’s longtime producer, shared what the activist contributed to radio.
“He was in the unique vanguard of Black radio,” Robinson said. “He was topical, funny and tough.”
In 2021, Madison went on a 73-day hunger strike to encourage passage of voting rights bills. Unbeknownst to his listeners, he was fighting prostate cancer during his hunger strike. When asked if he understood the danger he was in, he replied, “I am willing to die.”
His bio further noted that a few months after his hunger strike, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act passed in the Senate with the help of Madison’s continued push on the radio. His efforts were noticed by many, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who publicly thanked him for another fight for justice.