Within the Tennessee Valley and some swaths along its perimeter, the voice of Douglas Turner is a welcome, omniscient and dependable radio experience. He is one of the last of the original crew of radio personalities who, in 1991, celebrated the launching of renowned National Public Radio affiliate WJAB-FM 90.9 from the campus of Alabama A&M University.
Unlike many of his fellow African Americans, Turner received the historically black college experience the hard way—toward the end of his studies. Indeed,
he completed his undergraduate degree at the prestigious Carlton College in Minnesota. From Carlton, he traveled further east to Ithaca, N.Y., where he completed his master’s degree program at Cornell University. Turner then began coursework toward his doctorate at Atlanta University.
Over the course of two decades, Turner, a political science faculty member at AAMU for nearly 30 years, has ably mentored the next generation of leaders, all while doubling as the moderator for a current issues commentary with a colleague and then hosting “Return to the Source,” a long-running series focusing on mainstream jazz.
When the African American Public Radio Consortium polled its members for locally-aired shows that had the potential to go national, Elizabeth Sloan-Ragland, director of AAMU’s Telecommunications Center/WJAB-FM, offered “Return to the Source.” Turner remains grateful that Sloan-Ragland’s vision piqued the organization’s interest, and now his labor of love is up for a trial run beginning this fall.
Through his lengthy affiliation with the two shows, which reach listeners within the large area separating Nashville and Birmingham, the Pasadena, Calif., native has perfected the art of the interview. His subjects have included local artists, Pulitzer Prize winners, renowned musicians such as jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and even internationally esteemed historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States.
Moreover, Turner has written extensively for respected publications, among them American Visions, African American Review, The Huntsville Times, Jazz South and The Jazz Education Journal.
“If the radio program is successful,” says Turner, “it will not only mean national exposure for me personally and a chance to get my jazz vision to a wider audience, but it would bring about much-deserved respect and appreciation for WJAB-FM and the University.”
And, if the number of jazz enthusiasts has remained only constant over the years, as Turner asserts, then somewhere along the line the need for new and younger recruits will become imperative both for the genre and public radio, as well.
Turner, however, believes jazz will survive as thousands of young men and women become settled in their lives and careers. Similar to entering a developmental stage, they will long for more, perhaps more substance and even generational continuity. Then jazz will appear like a new item on a menu, with tempting four-color ear candy, provoking trial and error.
- Jerome Saintjones