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Life & Arts

A Cheerleader But Also An Educator: 'In Black America' Host Reflects On 40 Years Of Interviews

John L. Hanson Jr. in the early days of hosting "In Black America."
From the KUT archives
John L. Hanson Jr. in the early days of hosting "In Black America." Hanson says he hasn't changed his interview style much over the years, but the show's increased popularity did give him easier access to more guests.

"In Black America" debuted 50 years ago on KUT during the week of Sept. 6, 1970. The same person has hosted the weekly interview show since 1980. He had definite plans for the show when he took over, and he is still thinking about how to keep it fresh after decades behind the microphone.

John L. Hanson Jr. started at KUT in 1974. He produced the nightly music radio show "Soul on FM." Hanson took over as producer and host of "In Black America" in 1980. When he agreed to do it, he wanted the show to live up to its name.

Hanson asked for – and got – a travel budget so he could expand the range of guests beyond professors who taught at or visited UT Austin, home of the show's radio station of origin.

"My suggestion was if it was going to be “In Black America, ” he says, "it has to reflect America."

The show has always featured African-American leaders from the realms of education, economics, social issues, sports, families, culture, literature and politics. Hanson says highlighting those achievements has also revealed ongoing inequalities.

"What people may say about how we have progressed in this country thus far, yes, we have," Hanson says. "But there's still a long way to go, obviously, to reach a certain point of having equality across the board."

Hanson says he hopes "In Black America" appeals to African Americans, as well as a larger audience.

"Not all African Americans are what they have seen on television," he says. "Stereotypes are not true. They shouldn’t judge a whole race by a certain small group."

Listen to the interview below or read the transcript to hear more reflections from Hanson about 40 years of hosting "In Black America." He shares plans for a desired expansion of the show and how much longer he sees himself hosting.  

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“In Black America” airs at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays on KUT 90.5 and on 12 radio stations across the country. It is also available as a podcast.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

KUT: How did you first come to host "In Black America?"

John L. Hanson Jr.: At that time [1980], most of the guests were UT professors or other African-American professors coming to UT to lecture or whatever else that they were doing on campus. So my suggestion was if it was going to be “In Black America,” it has to reflect America. They gave me a travel budget and my thinking back then was, well, the only thing they can do if I ask for an interview is to tell me “no.”  

Do you approach the conversations any differently than you did when you started decades ago?

Not really. What I do find interesting is that in 2020, I am still running across individuals who are the first to do whatever they do in their particular profession or occupation. But by and large, what I started doing in 1980, I’m still doing in 2020.

The only thing that has changed that much is probably the accessibility. I don't have a hard time finding people to be on the program any longer. People know about the program, and they're willing to be a part of what we do here at KUT and the University of Texas.

So you said that you're surprised that you're still in 2020 interviewing Black people who are the first to get a certain job or a certain level of achievement or whatever the case may be. How do you feel about the fact that 40 years after you started hosting that's still true?

The only upside that I can see that really addressed your question is that obviously the program is still significant. It is still showcasing individuals who are being significant in bringing forth their particular occupation to other individuals that may not know that it is still possible to be whatever you want to be.

The other thing is that regardless of what people may say about how we have progressed in this country thus far, yes we have – but there's still a long way to go, obviously, to reach a certain point of having equality across the board for whatever African Americans are trying to attain.

Who is the intended audience for “In Black America?”

I'm hoping to reach, of course, the African-American community to give them the impetus to let particularly young African Americans know that there is still the possibility out there that one can become whatever they want to become.

And secondly, to give a window into the larger population that, you know, not all African Americans are what they have seen on television. Stereotypes are not true. They shouldn’t judge a whole race by a certain small group of what I’ll say – malcontents. That's been the goal.

But basically it’s the whole population – a cheerleader, but also to educate that African Americans have something to contribute and have contributed to this society from when it was originally formed.

What would you like to do with “In Black  America" in the coming months and years?

My mind's eye for the program is to continue to do what it does. Probably [expand to] an hour, but that would take additional staff. What limits “In Black America” is that it is only a half hour. So you can only do so much in a half hour.

You've been hosting “In Black America” for 40 years. How much longer do you see yourself hosting?

I believe I'm good for another five, and I think in like 2025, more than likely I will pass the baton because I think at that point someone else should take it up and probably take it in a new direction or take it in a younger direction.

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