Listen to Learn:
Let's listen back to two interviews; one with local public radio legend Mr. John Cain, and the other with Mr. Wade Rathke, founder of ACORN.
If you‘ve lived in Little Rock long enough to remember listening to AM radio in your car's transistor radio, then you’ll recognize the voice of disc-jockey John Cain from KOKY “the black dot on your dial.” At KOKY, John spun Motown tunes during the day and jazz music in the evening. Today, at the age of 83, he is still sharing his love of music as program director for KABF, a public radio station in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas.
Mr. Wade Rathke is a whole-other kind of influencer. In 1970, Wade founded ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) in Arkansas. ACORN is the largest organization of lower income and working families in the United States. Interestingly, because ACORN was founded in Arkansas, the 'A' was originally an acronym for Arkansas, not Association. In 2008, Wade resigned as ACORN’S chief organizer, but he’s never far from the social justice work ACORN International is doing in 11 countries.
Today, Wade lives and works in New Orleans and continues his work as the Executive Director for KABF and other public radio stations.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:00.6] ANNOUNCER: This edition of Up In your Business with Kerry McCoy is going to focus on two of the driving forces behind AABF Community Radio in Little Rock. Little Rock is very lucky to have Wade Rathke and John Cain in positions to put together a radio station with so powerful a signal and such a dedication to the public and community that shines through in its very diverse programming.
Kerry’s first guest on this program is Wade Rathke, lifelong community activist, who in 1970 founded ACORN in Little Rock, Arkansas. Over the past 50 years, he’s continued this kind of work and currently, he’s station manager at KABF Community Radio.
[0:00:51.2] G: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk-taking.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:01:08.9] KM: Thank you, son Gray. I am super excited and pleased to have my guest today, Wade Rathke, a community and labor activist who, in 1970, founded the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN.
Welcome to the table superstar, activist, socially conscious, Wade Rathke.
[0:01:31.8] WR: Kerry, I’m so glad to be here, because I also act as station manager of KABF and your show has just been a hit for us. Everybody is so proud of the work y’all do.
[0:01:43.8] KM: Really?
[0:01:44.4] WR: Oh, yeah.
[0:01:45.4] KM: Thank you so much. Do you have a secretary, or an assistant? How do you do so much?
[0:01:52.9] WR: The key thing in terms of particularly international work is it wouldn’t be possible without things like Skype, which is a free phone call system, e-mail, which means that you can communicate very quickly with people. The fact that English has become lingua franca in the world now, so there are many people who know English, even in India. India obviously, English is a secondary language, but Kenya is also. My organizers in Italy and France all speak English. For me, who’s trying to barely get through on English, that makes a big difference. You have to be well-organized.
[0:02:34.3] KM: You didn’t even graduate from college, did you?
[0:02:36.5] WR: I left running.
[0:02:38.3] KM: Yeah. You know, I didn’t graduate from college either. Do you think you can do that today?
[0:02:42.1] WR: I think they try to claim if you want to create a tech startup, want to be Mark Zuckerberg or something that finishing school is a liability. I don’t know. I was in school at a time where the world was changing in the middle-late-60s and you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution, and by God I thought the world was changing. If I didn’t get out and do my part, what was going to happen? It turned out it was a marathon, not a sprint. Once I had dropped out of school the second time to organize, it turned out this is something I could do. I found my calling and I didn’t need to go back to school.
[0:03:23.8] KM: Well, that brings me to my first question. You’re born in Laramie, Wyoming.
[0:03:27.3] WR: Laramie, Wyoming.
[0:03:28.7] KM: You grew up in New Orleans.
[0:03:30.6] WR: I went to high school in New Orleans and never going back. I was raised in the west. That was too flat and too hot for me, and then in 1978 I moved to our national office from Little Rock to New Orleans, just because we were expanding so much in the U.S. You couldn’t catch a plane in Little Rock without going to Memphis or Dallas, so we had to go somewhere and ended up in New Orleans.
[0:03:58.2] KM: Then you were schooled in Massachusetts.
[0:04:01.1] WR: Briefly, I went to — I did two years off and on school in Massachusetts, Williams College.
[0:04:06.2] KM: Then you came somehow to Little Rock and founded ACORN in 1970. What could have led you to Little Rock?
[0:04:15.6] WR: June 18th, 1970. I had been working in Massachusetts, organizing welfare recipients who were trying to achieve their rights and against the stigma of being on welfare in the late 1960s. The National Welfare Rights Organization was headed by a guy named George Alvin Wiley. He was a Ph.D. in physics. He’d been a professor at the University of Syracuse.
He left to be part of the Civil Rights Movement. He’s deputy director of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality and he’s founded around 1966 National Welfare Rights Organization. The long story is they’re trying to win adequate income and he had raised money in New York for what he called a Southern Strategy, because the two congressional people that were key to increasing welfare benefits were Russell Long, who is a senator in Louisiana at that time, and Wilbur Mills in the second congressional district of Arkansas.
[0:05:16.6] KM: Little Rock, Arkansas. Yeah.
[0:05:17.8] WR: Right. He knew I’d spent time in the south. He was speaking — I was running Massachusetts Welfare Rights at the time and he was speaking at Harvard and I saw him about 20 feet behind. It was a very bitterly cold night and he was talking to a woman who’s my X-wife and I asked her later, “What was George — Would you like to go back south?” Because she was a New Orleans girl. “You don’t want to live in Massachusetts, do you?”
Once I found out what he was talking about, he was trapped. He raised his money for a southern strategy and he didn’t have anybody who is willing to go to the south. I wanted to try this thing that it was in my mind called ACORN given the experience I had. I wanted to broaden it from welfare recipients to a larger organization of low and moderate income families.
I talked to people in Georgia. They weren’t as interested. I looked at California, it didn’t make sense. I talked to people in Arkansas and they were enthusiastic about this idea of ACORN. I told George, “Yeah, I’ll go do this thing.”
June 18th, 1970, I showed up to satisfy their commitment to do something in the south and with George’s blessing and the leadership’s blessing at the time to try this multi-issues, multi-constituency organization ACORN.
[0:06:41.6] KM: I don’t think anybody realizes that ACORN was born in Little Rock, Arkansas.
[0:06:46.1] WR: Well, it’s not something we’re holding secret, but they may not put her down the Chamber of Commerce news.
[0:06:50.4] KM: They should. There should be actually a bust of you with a plaque talking about Arkansas and ACORN and what a great thing it is. Was Association for Community Organization for Reform Now ACORN’s original name?
[0:07:05.4] WR: Flying out of Little Rock, the first time I ever came to visit, and I’ve never been here even though I’d lived in New Orleans. I started scribbling on a back of an envelope what possible names could be. I was looking for something that was a good acronym and something that people could draw, and came up with ACORN. Originally, it was Arkansas Community Organizations Reform Now, and then in 1975, when we expanded out, we just slipped that association on and away you go.
[0:07:30.8] KM: I’ve heard that. The A originally was for Arkansas.
[0:07:32.9] WR: Absolutely.
[0:07:33.7] KM: That should be on your plaque under your bust in your story.
[0:07:37.1] WR: I hate to think in Little Rock where they would put that bust.
[0:07:39.5] KM: I think we should put it in the parking lot of Dreamland Ballroom when we get Dreamland.
[0:07:42.9] WR: Well, there you. You better put a fence around it because it could get rough around there. There’s still people in Little Rock and around that see me just as a dangerous person.
[0:07:52.2] KM: Were your parents service oriented, or where does your social justice ambition stem from?
[0:07:58.3] WR: My mother was from Drew, Mississippi. My father was from Orange County, California. They met during the war and the way that so many people — They weren’t that socially conscious, but the times that I was raised in, particularly it was in the era, the Civil Rights Movement, concerned about Vietnam and things like that. You had to make decisions in your life in the middle of 1960s that you weren’t necessarily prepared to make.
[0:08:26.8] KM: You went from Laramie, Wyoming, to Mississippi, to New Orleans, to Massachusetts?
[0:08:31.2] WR: I went from Laramie; to Wilson Creek, Colorado; to Rangely, Colorado; to Irvine, Kentucky; to New Orleans, and then I went to Massachusetts.
[0:08:42.0] KM: Was your father in the service?
[0:08:43.7] WR: No. He worked for an oil company.
[0:08:45.9] KM: How old were you when you became an activist?
[0:08:49.5] WR: I first dropped out of school to organize against the war when I was 19 and went back to school for one semester and then dropped out to organize with Welfare Rights when I was 20, and then I was 21 when I started ACORN.
[0:09:06.7] KM: That’s very young.
[0:09:09.5] WR: When you’re that age, you think you know everything. It’s only as you get older and you realize, “Oh! My God! I didn’t know a damn thing,” and here I was. Yeah, we really thought we knew something at 21 back in the 1960s.
[0:09:23.6] KM: I think you’re idealistic. Why do you think ACORN was so successful?
[0:09:27.1] WR: I think we had a very disciplined organizing model that was easy to replicate in a lot of places in the county. The fact that it was based on membership who paid dues, like a labor union and the community, if you will, was very important. I think what we were trying to do attracted fantastic leaders and organizing staff. People wanted to build a mass organization that stood up and stood with — And had created a platform for lower-income people to find their voice.
[0:10:06.9] KM: I think it kind of was the time also.
[0:10:10.4] WR: There’s no question.
[0:10:11.7] KM: Because I think people are leery or institutions today, suspect of them.
[0:10:19.5] WR: We were building something new. I think, in a funny way, you’d like to believe that this particular moment right now, you can’t tell where this might all lead to. It’s not a movement. In the 60s, there was a real sense of movement and I think ACORN benefited from that sort of sense that more things were possible. This is a time where a lot of people don’t think that much is possible, but we’ve seen since the election certainly something different. There’s a movement. There’s a level of activism. People I see and hear from around the country, if they’re looking for a hundred people, all of a sudden 300 people will be there. If they’re looking for 300, 500 — There’s people really looking to participate in a different level. Whether or not there are organizational formations and people respond to that now, I don’t know, Kerry, but it does seem like an opportunity to me.
[0:11:16.7] KM: Yeah. I think people, maybe the grassroots way is a way to start again, because I think there’s a diminishing trust in institutions. Maybe why ACORN failed in 2010 that we were talking about, because ACORN had an excellent record for decades and did enormous amounts of good work and goodwill for lots of people. I know it had to be disheartening. It was your brainchild and it faltered in 2008. Did it make you want to quit on being socially active, or did it give you more resolve to work harder?
[0:11:50.9] WR: More the former. I’m a kind of person who goes to work every day. This is difficult work and there’s no shortcuts than doing the work every day. I had left my work at ACORN in the U.S. sort of determined to do more on the international level as well as the other project I was involved in. Once you leave an organization, as I did as chief organizer of ACORN, you really can’t do much even when they’re under attack. You can’t jump back in. You can’t sort of whisper from the back. You’d got to hope for the best.
[0:12:30.9] KM: Why can’t you?
[0:12:32.9] WR: Because leadership in ACORN had a governing board that was elected. I had a lot of confidence in leadership. They had made some decisions around staff management, many of whom had worked for me 20, 30 years. I had a lot of confidence in them. At the same time, I think they got caught by a perfect storm and in some ways once they were wrong footed in that storm, it was a level of attack. A lot of the people I think was disoriented for them. A lot of our friends and allies ended up not standing with them, whether in congress or in financial and business sectors. A lot of the agreements we had with banks and others, because they were caught in their own problems and the bail out.
[0:13:28.0] KM: It was exactly when the banking –
[0:13:29.7] WR: Yeah. It was just sort of — You couldn’t have asked for a worst confluence of events. I just think building an organization is always a fragile and tenuous kind of enterprise, but in the ACORN situation where you had an aggressive direction action mass organization, it was never going to rank high on everybody’s popularity poll. God love you for the nice things you’ve said already, Kerry.
We weren’t going to win a contest or we would have been right there in the Trump popularity polls, 30% and 40% perhaps accept in our constituency where ACORN is still a golden name. If I go into neighborhoods where we organized anywhere in the last 45, 50 years, it’s welcome and hello and hugs and kisses and when are we going to start again?
I just think once they’d gotten a couple of bad hits, they just couldn’t get up fast enough. Then as some of the money became more difficult for them to manage, I’m not saying it was the same decision I would have made. I would have been foolish enough. I’m old school. There used to have a rule in unions, rule of seven. As long as there were seven, because when the union is on strike and you got beaten, there’s go the union. There is a rule in the many union constitutions that the rule of seven, as long as there were seven members still ready to pay dues and say there was a union, then you had a union and you could come back. I’m just more of that old school.
I’ve often said if I’d still been running ACORN when it went through the attack in 2009 and 10 I’d probably be the last person collecting the last $10 a month dues. Would it have been different? I don’t know, but the important thing is that you have to keep working for change. You have to keep trying to organize. You have to keep going to work every day. You know that as a small business.
[0:15:22.6] How do you stay optimistic? I do find sometimes that stuff after the 2008 banking crisis and the fall of ACORN that sometimes I do get a little listless and kind of think, “What’s it all about?” How do you stay motivated to keep striving for change?
[0:15:36.9] WR: I think the important thing people often used to ask me, “Well, what do I get from my dues?” You get the opportunity to work together with other people and the opportunity to fight. You have the chance to fight for change. There’s no guarantee you’re going to win. In fact, the whole notion of fighting for social change is you’re going to lose more than you win.
I was either foolish or lucky enough to always believe the odds were against us, not for us. The first years in Arkansas or the first organizing committee we ever put together and Pine Bluff was broken up by the clan.
[0:16:12.4] KM: What?
[0:16:13.1] WR: Boyce, Alfred was a legislator from down in Pine Bluff, who used to go in a legislature in the early 70s, demanding a resolution to be passed that we had to deliver our membership list to him. None of that was constitutionally legal, but it was all red-baiting and the communist scourge. There were all in the early 70s, wild and foaming at the mouth and that’s just the way these things are. I just had a different perspective. Part of conflict is what comes with building an organization like in ACORN, not like a radio station or not like a coffee house, but certainly within ACORN, you know that you’re in for a hard slog.
[0:16:59.0] KM: Are you still open to suggestions on new ideas?
[0:17:02.6] WR: Every day. One of the exciting things about doing the work I do is you literally learn something every day. That’s meeting new people. If you don’t — If you’re not growing, you’re dying. If you’re not adopting to new technology and new ways of doing things, you’re not able to build an organization.
[0:17:26.1] KM: Getting ready for this show I was like, “You know, they’re doing this show every week.” It kind of take some work.
[0:17:33.1] WR: My interview show, people call me, I said, “52 weeks a year. I can fit you in sometime.”
[0:17:38.3] KM: Yeah. You’re like you have to do your homework. It’s kind of like going to college. You’re like, “Oh! I’ve got Wade on. I’ve got to go do research and learn about Wade.” Every time I put it off and then when I do it and the show comes I am so happy to do the show, because I learn so much. I did not know ACORN was founded in Arkansas. I did not know anything about you until I read about it and I’m so inspired.
[0:18:01.2] WR: I am a well-kept secret, and if you didn’t have such a great show here, I would have been able to keep that secret longer.
[0:18:07.6] ANNOUNCER: Wade Rathke, community activist for 60 years and station manager at KABF. As we look at the other side of the desk from KABF Community Radio, its Program Director, John Cain, who for over a half a century has been in Little Rock Radio; began at an AM radio station in Little Rock in 1960. Now he is Program Director of KABF. John Cain.
[0:18:32.3] KM: Tell us how you came to be the program director at KABF Public Radio.
[0:18:37.3] JC: Once I determined to do some positive things about things I never thought I could do things about before, but realizing that I had to change from commercial radio to public radio to do it. That was the beginning of a preservation initiative for me. I became a preservationist bit by bit. To start that, it was at KALO when I went and asked for a position not to be described as a top 40 disc jockey, but realizing there was an opportunity there because although it was a small station, it was one of the first signals in the city.
I think the first, about 1928, maybe ’29. AM station, a thousand watts in the daytime, 500 at night. Here I am midnight to 5 AM doing basically kind of programming that changed the perception of African-American, mostly me, because I could reach out and get to a product. People were looking for places to get that kind of stuff, [inaudible 0:05:22.6] or not, committing stuff that made it look like buffoons, but stuff that really opened up their souls and make and an impression. That’s how I really got into radio.
The artist was the focal point. It wasn’t about me. I’m basically an engineer, at night reading meters, but I got five hours on the radio. I put everything in there you could imagine; jazz, blues, rock, Captain Beefheart. I might play everything, but it changed the dynamics of top 40 radio.
Before that, there were no ratings for nighttime radio. After Sonny Philips in KAAY and those guys came on and they cut back on the power at sunset, they assume that there were no audiences out there. I wound up with captured audiences; nurses, to professionals working at night, people out and about at night.
[0:20:38.7] KM: This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about John’s life and hopefully, get him to tell us some stories about the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s.
[0:20:52.3] ANNOUNCER: With different businesses slowly getting back to open hours for the public, you need help in encouraging your employees and your customers to stay safe by supporting social distancing. The flagandbanner.com has social distancing floor decals. See all the styles we have and the uses for them at flagandbanner.com. Don't miss the 20% off in stock merchandise coupon code on the website. It's easy to find. Remember this, if you're working from home and attending online meetings, flagandbanner.com has the office backdrop you need to look professional and ready to work. The flagandbanner.com.
[0:21:31.5] KM: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with KABF’s Program Director, Mr. John Cain. John, you already told me you were born in Wrightsville, Arkansas, but you haven’t lived in Arkansas all your life. There was a time you did community theater and jazz preservation. I think I read Alabama and Georgia.
[0:21:52.4] JC: Birmingham where I did most of it, darling. Yeah, Birmingham, Alabama.
[0:21:56.8] KM: I want to tell our listeners that he calls me sweetie baby and darling every time you talk to him. He has a hip cool cat from — I’m waiting for him to say groovy, from the 60s. All right, you had already gone into radio in the 1960s at — What do you call it?
[0:22:11.8] JC: KALO. Yeah.
[0:22:14.5] KM: KALO. Not KOKY?
[0:22:15.2] JC: Not KOKY. I never went to KOKY.
[0:22:16.6] KM: I listen to KOKY and I listen to Bicker Street.
[0:22:19.3] JC: I did too. I love Bicker Street too, but KOKY didn’t have much intellectual stuff from my head. My head was getting like, “I don’t care.”
[0:22:26.2] KM: You’re a good reader and you’ve seen the world. Really, KOKY was more intellectual — KALO was more intellectual. That’s interesting. You didn’t stay. You came back to Little Rock in –
[0:22:36.8] JC: I stayed 8 years.
[0:22:37.9] KM: 8 years.
[0:22:38.5] JC: 8 years. It was 8 years. I got community theater and all that preservation stuff.
[0:22:44.5] KM: Did you do any acting?
[0:22:46.6] JC: I was chairman of the board of the black bar theater. I did basically fundraising –
[0:22:50.3] KM: You’re always the chairman of the board somewhere.
[0:22:53.2] JC: I did a lot of fundraising. I was good at producing, because I just worked hard to get good shows and good musicians gigs that were not there before. That jazz community started to grow, man it just impacted all of the other art disciplines. When I went down there, Kerry, I had the choice of living in the city, Birmingham proper, or the Verb. What I did, darling, I rode into the city every night, five miles on a bicycle.
[0:23:23.1] KM: Just like you are today. Why did you do that?
[0:23:27.2] JC: I had to prove a couple of things to myself that I’m going to Birmingham, Alabama and I really need to be just dedicated. I couldn’t rely on somebody else. I have to do this the way I could do it. I know I can do it and I just have to prove it to the people. That was the easy part. They did become overwhelming as I started to interact with a lot of different disciplines, artists, sculptors, so I had to change in my way of going to work. I’m getting up at 10:30 at night, I’m going to work.
[0:24:02.3] KM: On a bike.
[0:24:02.6] JC: On a bike.
[0:24:03.2] KM: Why not a car?
[0:24:04.4] JC: I had to prove that I could get there. I wanted — I can ride a bicycle. I rode a bicycle for all the years I was a kid. I used to ride from Wrightsville to Alexander.
[0:24:14.1] KM: You’re the original millennial.
[0:24:17.3] JC: I just had to prove it to myself. It’s not like I got to get there —
[0:24:22.1] KM: You weren’t afraid? It’s so late at night in Birmingham, Alabama, and they’re not exactly really to black people down there.
[0:24:28.3] JC: I’m a night person. Yeah, I actually live on both sides of the clock.
[0:24:35.1] KM: The clock.
[0:24:35.9] JC: When I say the clock, I’d rather be up at night doing things when I got myself just alone, I can focus. I’m not interrupted. I think things through.
[0:24:47.3] KM: At night. You’re a night person.
[0:24:48.7] JC: I’m a night person. I’ve always been like that.
[0:24:51.6] KM: That’s nice.
[0:24:53.1] JC: I just found a way to channel all of that into I could do this myself.
[0:24:58.4] KM: You decided to come back to Little Rock. Why?
[0:25:01.1] JC: I come back to Little Rock on a preservation project for the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.
[0:25:05.3] KM: In 1984? You came back that long ago?
[0:25:07.8] JC: Yes.
[0:25:08.4] KM: For the Mosaic Templars?
[0:25:09.7] JC: See, I started the Mosaic Templars project one year before I left Alabama. I’m still in Birmingham. I’m calling the Preservation Alliance up here to be a warning to those people about what did I do about saving that building. My sons who were still here were writing me and telling me, “Dad, they’re cutting those sick 30 across — you know that ditch thing. Tearing it down.” They would send me photos. I left in ’76. I stayed until ’84. I come back about a month and a half before this station went on there.
[0:25:43.3] KM: Then you started here as a volunteer.
[0:25:45.4] JC: Started as a volunteer. I said, “I’ll help you out man, because I know the demographics, the people.” I said, “But I don’t do top quality radio.” They talked to him, “Well, we need this.” I’m not that guy.
[0:25:55.9] KM: What did you do for a living?
[0:25:57.7] JC: Worked.
[0:25:57.9] KM: Where?
[0:25:58.4] JC: Record shops, peaches.
[0:26:00.8] KM: Oh, peaches. I can’t believe we haven’t been hanging out before this.
[0:26:07.6] JC: Yeah. They had a chain. I also did the same kind of thing in Birmingham. The chain was in Atlanta, headquarters.
[0:26:15.5] KM: You didn’t go back straight into radio. You did pretty quick. You got a job at KUAR, didn’t you?
[0:26:20.2] JC: Yeah.
[0:26:20.7] KM: Doing –
[0:26:21.9] JC: Jazz.
[0:26:22.4] KM: Doing jazz again for them. You’re still doing that I think.
[0:26:24.9] JC: I’m still doing it. Yeah.
[0:26:26.1] KM: How long you’ve been doing that? 30 years, I guess.
[0:26:28.4] JC: Okay. We’ve been on air since 1984 here. I probably went there in ’86.
[0:26:33.6] KM: You said about your early days on radio and I quote, “I featured material that you don’t hear normally. It was overnight radio that really gave me the opportunity to become a preservationist of sorts, a musicologist, a mixologist, or whatever you want to call it.”
When I think of a preservationist, I think of buildings, like you said the Mosaic Templar. Are you thinking about music or are you in preservationist for buildings too?
[0:27:01.3] JC: Everything that is –
[0:27:03.6] KM: All that you want to say.
[0:27:03.9] JC: There’s an art, a craft discipline, because that’s what it is. It’s a vehicle that anybody that want to dedicate themselves to a specific part of that. You make it work for yourself. This is your dedication. I just embrace it all.
[0:27:23.4] KM: You have a specific genre in music you like, and I think it’s jazz.
[0:27:27.1] JC: It’s jazz.
[0:27:28.3] KM: You’ve seen — You’re talking about old school jazz, not Kenny G.
[0:27:33.5] JC: Not cool jazz, or whatever they called that stuff.
[0:27:37.1] KM: Smooth jazz.
[0:27:38.2] JC: Yeah, smooth jazz, because it is not intertwined with the errors and timelines of jazz itself.
[0:27:47.0] KM: The originals.
[0:27:48.2] JC: The originals. The older musicians don’t really accept that as a new genre.
[0:27:53.8] KM: That’s like country music. There’s an old school country music and then there’s the new country music. If you’re a purist, you like the old country music.
[0:28:01.9] JC: Yeah. I became an audio pal purist kind of person.
[0:28:05.2] KM: You’ve seen a lot of changes in radio. What did a studio look like back then when you first started compared to today?
[0:28:11.2] JC: Our studio, or –
[0:28:12.4] KM: No, all studios. Did the headsets look like this? Did the boards look like these? Has it changed much?
[0:28:19.4] JC: Yeah. The boards didn’t have sliders. They had knobs. You turn the volume up. Things like that. They were not composites like these materials are now. They were American made.
[0:28:35.1] KM: These are all probably made in –
[0:28:36.0] JC: Metal. Yeah, these are made everywhere. When a slider goes out here, you can’t repair it. You usually could do that metal to metal with spray, contact spray. Clean it all. If you do that now, it welds together. So that’s about a whole damn new part.
[0:28:53.3] KM: Speaking like an engineer, plus we’ve got call-in. Did you have call-in back then? I think so.
[0:28:59.5] JC: Yeah. Yeah, we had callers. You did everything. We did just like we record the transmitter reader. I had a phone connected to the transmitter.
[0:29:08.6] KM: It really hadn’t changed a lot. The industry really is one of the industries that hasn’t changed a lot except for we use computers now. You don’t have records up here spinning. That has changed.
[0:29:20.1] JC: Yeah, that has changed.
[0:29:20.5] KM: We found a change. There’s no turntables with records spinning, although I bet there are some stations going back to that now.
[0:29:26.5] JC: They are.
[0:29:27.3] TB: There are shows here on KABF where the DJs bring turntables up here.
[0:29:31.4] JC: Yeah. Turntables are in here.
[0:29:32.7] TB: World War Room. They bring their own turntables.
[0:29:35.0] KM: Who does?
[0:29:35.8] TB: Tuesday night show, World War Room.
[0:29:37.8] KM: Interesting.
[0:29:39.8] JC: We got a turntable sitting back there, dual turntables. Donated. Probably worth a thousand dollars, but we won’t put them in here because they would ripped up, the rapper is doing that. Man! That’s hard on equipment.
[0:29:55.5] KM: I see, because doing that is scratching the record.
[0:29:58.6] JC: Scratching the record. That’s what it is. Scratching the record, which makes it bad. I would really listen to a scratch on a record that’s been played 10,000 times that somebody really cared about.
[0:30:09.8] KM: Right. John, you kind of already told us that you came back here to save the Mosaic Templar. Maybe that’s why you started your foundation, but tell us how the John Cain Foundation came to be.
[0:30:23.1] JC: Okay. First, there was a preservation society that did a campaign work for the building. Here’s what I was told when I come in and says – as I try to convince people, “Come on and help us do this.” They said, “Well, you need a foundation.” I said, “You got it exactly back. We want a society of people.” If I’m putting together a foundation that means I got to buy the building. We can’t buy the building. We want the programs and that protocol and procedural stuff that make it put to that perpetuity window. As long as somebody is working on it, stay positive, the building is there.
[0:31:01.6] KM: The building being the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center.
[0:31:02.9] JC: Mosaic Templar. Now the foundation was put together because in the legislation carrier that made it a museum and cultural center, it was a part of the legislation that call it business incubator.
[0:31:16.9] KM: Oh, small business incubator.
[0:31:18.8] JC: Small business incubator. That’s the foundation’s initiative. In other words, we’re actually trying to recreate what John Bush and his partner, Mr. Keith, did.
[0:31:28.9] KM: In 19 –
[0:31:30.2] JC: In 1800s.
[0:31:31.9] KM: Late 1800s.
[0:31:32.6] JC: Yeah, when that came together. We’re actually going chapter and verse about, “Okay, we need to do it as close to —
[0:31:40.7] KM: You mean reading the old book that he originally – Chapter and verse, meaning reading his old book and how he –
[0:31:46.1] JC: How they put the business together and stuff like that.
[0:31:48.3] KM: Oh, you’re recreating his vision.
[0:31:50.4] JC: Recreating the vision.
[0:31:51.7] KM: Oh, I love it.
[0:31:52.5] JC: On the way to getting the building restored, of course, the big part, it was a tragic fire we had which destroyed the original building. That was so much — Like that building you got now. I know the building. I’ve been in it a lot —
[0:32:06.9] KM: The Taborian Hall.
[0:32:08.1] JC: Yeah. I feel things that a lot of people never been in it before don’t feel. You know what I’m saying, darling?
[0:32:12.9] KM: It’s very spiritual.
[0:32:14.0] JC: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. To lose that building, devastated, the society, but we’re able to hold it together. The thing that kept it together because we had real historians, real educator people that knew people, talk people and the kids and they became business people, had businesses in 9th street. We had a million dollar policy. Lloyd’s of London.
[0:32:39.7] KM: On the building before it burned.
[0:32:41.0] JC: On the building before it burned. We just called a meeting, got the legislators together. Went to the rotunda there and asked the government legislator match this for us so we can build a new building. We went from restoration to a new building. That’s what had actually happened.
[0:33:01.1] KM: You had feeder money because of your insurance claim, which you probably wouldn’t have gotten before. In some ways, it was a blessing even though you lost the original –
[0:33:09.0] JC: Yeah, we lost a lot. Yeah.
[0:33:11.9] KM: Yeah, because if you walk upstairs to the Dreamland Ballroom, your skin will crawl. The hair on my arms goes up. Not everybody does that to you.
[0:33:20.7] JC: First time we went in the building, we went in with May Construction Company.
[0:33:23.6] KM: Which building? Mine or yours?
[0:33:26.7] JC: The Mosaic Templars Building. The original building. It was dirty. What really prompted me to start a process was I knew what went on in that building before I left and went to Birmingham and Atlanta. When I come back, I just took what I do and start organizing. The reason why, because I worked in the building when they had a machine shop on the first floor down there.
[0:33:51.3] KM: Oh, at Mosaic Templars?
[0:33:52.3] JC: Yes.
[0:33:52.8] KM: Yes, I remember that. Yes.
[0:33:53.9] JC: They had the machine shop. The building across the alley from it used to have all the auto things before Autozone came.
[0:34:02.7] KM: Auto Parts.
[0:34:03.1] JC: Auto Parts. They have all the way up to the third floor, so we go up and pull our orders. They said you can’t go in to the — We don’t want you on the third floor. We go up to the second floor. I went up there and saw all of that. It just brought me straight to the Taborian Hall. I used to go in there as a kid, go upstairs the waiters club late night, where all the waiters are. That’s where it was happening, the music and stuff. It just made me really work hard. It took four years now once I hit the ground here.
[0:34:34.7] KM: After you got the million dollars, it took four years?
[0:34:37.1] JC: No, no. After I come back from Birmingham, it took me four years to really organize people — Come on and help us. That’s how we got our 501(c)(3). We got the right people who wanted to see that happen. That’s how we did it.
[0:34:51.9] KM: That’s takes some organizational skill right there.
[0:34:53.4] JC: We were timely in that backyard burger wanted to come in from Memphis, buy the building and tear it down. When they did that, we made a call to action. David Jones with [inaudible 0:32:51.2] and Company — My gosh! I can’t think his name now, but he worked —
[0:35:10.7] KM: Bill Worthman.
[0:35:11.3] JC: Not Bill Worthman. He owned the building.
[0:35:15.9] KM: Oh, he owned the Mosaic Templars.
[0:35:17.4] JC: He actually owned the building. We got a partnership agreement with him and the city to help the society save the building.
[0:35:26.9] KM: That was nice of him.
[0:35:28.5] JC: Yeah. Actually. We asked him. We didn’t have office space. The city gave us office space at Markham and Maine.
[0:35:35.2] KM: Is that the Arkansas Heritage Building? Was it the Arkansas — Because I know right now it’s under — Your building is —
[0:35:43.6] JC: In the Department of Heritage.
[0:35:44.7] KM: Yes, because your email say Department of Heritage.
[0:35:49.0] JC: Yeah. We didn’t have office space. Tommy Jameson was instrumental in that once we got the top architect in the state, fishery. We felt good about all of these developments. We celebrated a bunch to ourselves. There wasn’t much you could do. What’s the next thing we do? That’s how we rolled that thing out.
[0:36:12.9] KM: Organizing people for a building is hard. It’s not like sick children or starving children, it’s a building with — It’s very important to save but it doesn’t quite pull at your heartstrings like some other nonprofits do. I really admire you for doing that. What made you decide to do the John Cain Foundation?
[0:36:36.2] JC: The John Cain Foundation wants to do this incubator business breakout, so developing programs to help startup businesses.
[0:36:45.4] KM: So you can get grants. You had to start a foundation so that you can get grants. You’re going to apply for grants. Who’s doing that? Are you doing those? Are you applying for the grant yourself?
[0:36:53.1] JC: We got it. We’re 501(c)(3) officially.
[0:36:55.5] KM: Who’s applying for the grants to start these small businesses? Do you fill them out?
[0:36:58.3] JC: We got a grant writer — Yeah, on specific program things and we’re looking at the disadvantaged kids as a way to really —
[0:37:07.0] KM: In Little Rock?
[0:37:07.4] JC: In Little Rock and the entire state.
[0:37:09.8] KM: In the state of Arkansas.
[0:37:10.2] JC: Yeah. As a way to develop programs because they don’t have opportunities. They’re in bad situations. How do you help them? Let’s get a program.
[0:37:21.3] KM: Most of them, a lot of kids don’t realize — Because I’ll do tours sometimes with kids. One of the things they love to hear about me is nobody really has a plan and they can do it too. I think poverty children have limited visions for themselves.
[0:37:42.4] JC: They do.
[0:37:45.0] KM: That’s one of the things I love to talk about is don’t have those limiting thoughts. You’re just as good as everybody else. If you work hard and go to the right places, even if you get a job as an engineer, you may end up being a radio personality that changes music in America today like you. Who knew being an engineer you were going to change the world?
[0:38:10.7] JC: You know, they can’t think like that. They look at things — If I not had good mentors —
[0:38:18.0] KM: Your parents.
[0:38:18.6] JC: My parents, starting with them, and then meeting other people. I was put in programs as a kid in school. Charles Bussy put me in the junior deputy sheriff program. I was a junior deputy chair and not a boy scout. I actually was the chief of our little junior deputy sheriff in Wrightsville. We come up here to the courthouse once a month, have a meeting in the chambers, whatever person that’s in there; judge, and legal person. Those mentors showed me how to pull this stuff I’m reading about civics together. How to do things. I didn’t really ask people a lot of questions. I thought I had it figured in mind. I would just start something.
[0:39:03.3] KM: Just start.
[0:39:04.3] JC: Just start.
[0:39:05.1] KM: That’s the key. Just start. If you’re laying on the couch, you’re never going to start.
[0:39:09.0] JC: You’re never going to start.
[0:39:10.1] KM: Before we take a break, and then I want to come back and talk about race relationship in America, a very sensitive subject, but you and I are friends. This is safe place. I’m a safe person. You’re a safe person. We’re going to talk about it. We don’t have a lot of time. You are invited to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and I love their slogan; A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Story. Is that not great?
[0:39:30.0] JC: Yeah.
[0:39:30.1] KM: KM: Did you love going up there?
[0:39:31.4] JC: Yeah.
[0:39:33.0] KM: How did you get invited? Just because you’re a rock star?
[0:39:35.4] JC: Well, here’s what happened. Working with the University, Central Arkansas, fine arts department and Annie Abrahams, we wanted to celebrate Annie Abrahams’ birthday.
[0:39:46.3] KM: She was one of the Central Arkansas nine —
[0:39:48.0] JC: Yeah. Not now, but one of the commissioners that made the thing apart. Got it into the —
[0:39:55.4] KM: Wasn’t she a central high school — One of the nine?
[0:39:57.1] JC: Ah-ah.
[0:39:57.9] KM: I’m sorry. I thought she was.
[0:39:59.0] JC: Not Annie. Annie is about four years older than I am. It was that thing that got us focused on, “Okay, they’re going to have a real thing.” We knew that they were working on this building, getting funding for it. It was a long time to make it come to reality. We said, “Okay, let’s take a bus load of Arkansans up there.” We got with Pat Ort Rogers and start organizing. Bus trip, lodging, all that stuff. To see the museum itself, I’ve probably seen more ephemera, that’s what they call exhibits before it becomes —
[0:40:42.5] KM: The finished display?
[0:40:43.6] JC: Yeah.
[0:40:45.5] KM: What do you call it?
[0:40:46.4] JC: Ephemera.
[0:40:47.6] KM: Oh, okay. I learned a new word today.
[0:40:49.7] JC: Yeah. It’s not a history piece yet until it gets in a place to be viewed and analyzed. That’s what they’ve got in these departments where they keep their artifacts. It’s Ephemera in the buildings where they store it. It’s on exhibit when they bring it out.
[0:41:09.7] KM: Oh, nice. Thank you, John, for educating us.
[0:41:13.1] JC: I learned so much, it was incredible. I never thought I would be learning about preservation and I was actually doing it. It’s weird, darling. Seriously.
[0:41:23.9] KM: There’s another darling.
[0:41:26.8] JC: It wasn’t like the crazy weird, but I’m in this place where I’m never really thought I would be just with what I knew.
[0:41:37.1] KM: We’re going to take the fastest break ever on the planet, and when we come back we’re going to talk about the cultural revolution and Mr. John Cain’s opinion on the State of Affairs of the African-Community Day today. You’re listening to Up In Your Business. My guest is the legendary Mr. John Cain, program director at KABF Radio in Little Rock, Arkansas.
[0:42:02.2] ANNOUNCER: It’s Patriotic Season and bunting makes a real impression in your neighborhood. It also has practical applications for crowds. By land or by sea, we have all of your flag needs covered at the flagandbanner.com, your flag display experts. Open Monday through Friday 8 to 5:30 and Saturday 10 to 4.
[0:42:22.2] KM: Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with KABF’s program director, Mr. John Cain. You’ve seen a lot. You’re like a millennial. You walk everywhere. You ride the bus. You’re an 80-year-old millennial. You live downtown. You’re living the life that all millennials want to live these days. You’ve always been hip, darling.
[0:42:43.6] JC: Thank you.
[0:42:44.6] KM: You’re welcome. You’ve always been hip. You really have.
[0:42:48.8] JC: I learned it from nature, Kerry. I’m a naturalist. You want to call it that. I grew up what we called a country now. I didn’t grow up on a plantation. I was poor, but I worked all the time so I had money in my pocket. Honest money.
[0:43:06.2] KM: Honest money.
[0:43:06.7] JC: Honest money. I worked for it. I didn’t do something crazy just to get it. I had my grandfather as a mentor, mother —
[0:43:14.4] KM: Where’s your father?
[0:43:15.4] JC: He passed in — Dad passed in ’70, 1970. My mother passed four years ago. She died in ’94.
[0:43:25.3] KM: How old was she? Oh, she was 94 when she passed.
[0:43:31.1] JC: She lived 40 plus years after my dad passed in 1970. He passed on a stroke.
[0:43:36.1] KM: No wonder you got such good genes.
[0:43:38.2] JC: I’m a lucky guy.
[0:43:39.8] KM: You keep saying that. Just keep saying it brother, that’s what makes you lucky right there. Okay, I’m going to give a warning. For the next few minutes you and I are going to have a candid conversation, an uncomfortable conversation for some. This is a warning to our listeners. Anybody that knows me all knows that I’m a safe person. This is a safe place. This is not to say that everyone has to agree with me or John. After all, this is America and everybody gets to have their opinion. Let’s start with what I think is the hardest question first and then we’ll lighten up.
Something people don’t like to talk about is racism, and it goes both ways. Find the Taborian Hall, I found out the hard way. I’m the white girl that bought a significantly important African-American building. I just want to say that it kind of hurts my feelings.
[0:44:27.8] JC: I wouldn’t worry about that. You’re doing the right thing. If not for you, Kerry, that building would not be there.
[0:44:35.6] KM: See, that’s what I want someone to tell me. Thank you, John. You and I are both interviewed in the Dreamland documentary that’s airing on PBS, and I see you every week at this radio station. We have become friends and sometime talk and sometime rant about black and white relations in America today. Our discussions often in with you saying, “We can’t forget our history lest we repeat it.” Me saying, “White people want to quit feeling guilty about what our ancestors did and move on.” Can you speak to that?
[0:45:07.4] JC: Yeah, I can. Racism is a many layered thing. It begins with tribalism, which becomes eventually classism, that whole thing of dividing people up. People want certain things. Once I really got the definition down of what this is, instead of hating, I just decided to embrace everything, the things that I don’t like, I just get away from them. I’m looking for the positive.
[0:45:40.7] KM: You really are.
[0:45:42.6] JC: Rather than be fighting with people about my rights, I’m just going to do what I think is the right thing. I can embrace it all and make a decision that way not have popular opinion change my way of living. When I say that, I mean that’s why I want to stay close to nature. When you see me walking down the street, I’m not actually looking for a ride. I’m actually assimilating nature.
[0:46:11.3] KM: Don’t offer him a ride if you see him.
[0:46:13.1] JC: Don’t offer me a ride. I’m going to get where I’m going. On a snow day, I might walk three miles to get here. When all the people can’t, I walk. I’m driven by nature, really. Most people think I’m just being casual about it, but I’m not. I prefer cooking my own organic foods the way I want to eat it.
[0:46:34.4] KM: He is an 80-year-old millennial. After the 60s and 70s revolution, I think many people thought equality for all at last. I know I felt that way. I know LBJ thought that when he tried to create what he called a great society. LBJs quote is as follows, “A great society is to build a great society. A place where the meaning of men’s life matches the marvels of men’s labor.” You are exactly an example of that because you work hard and you’ve had a wonderful life.
Shortly after LBJ passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act, became the era of riots and destructions of property by African-Americans on their own business districts and neighborhoods. You were a young man living during that time. It was a little before my time. Can you tell us how you felt and give us your theory on what happened?
[0:47:26.6] JC: I was scared about — Happening in my town. When remove things, Detroit on fire, it wasn’t as serious but although I’m getting friends returning home because they lost a job, they lost things. They made a reverse migration. The migration of blacks to the large cities went on for about 70 years.
[0:47:57.5] KM: How many years?
[0:47:58.1] JC: 70.
[0:47:59.1] KM: Yeah.
[0:48:01.6] JC: When LBJ implemented that policy and stuff and people didn’t get what they wanted, that’s when the large cities went on fire.
[0:48:12.6] KM: What did they not get that they wanted? I don’t know. I have no idea.
[0:48:16.1] JC: The program wasn’t implemented immediately. Yeah, they made the legislation happened but it was 10 years after before a lot of that stuff was actually implemented in the neighborhoods that they were — In places where they needed to help people.
[0:48:30.2] KM: Really?
[0:48:30.7] JC: Yeah. For instance, in 1962, I saw Gremlin College Football Team on TV. That was a major breakthrough, that marching band.
[0:48:43.1] KM: Is that an African-American school?
[0:48:44.6] JC: Gremlin College.
[0:48:45.6] KM: Oh, okay.
[0:48:47.9] JC: In — What? 1962 and 1975, I was calling a football for Gremlin College on the radio.
[0:48:57.1] KM: Oh my gosh! I am going to rewrite your bio.
[0:48:59.0] JC: I did that about five years. The thing I’m trying to show you is, yeah, he implemented legislation, but it took a while and so people like me waiting to see this happen never happened. I was still doing the same things I wanted to do just try thing out on my own.
[0:49:17.3] KM: Were you frustrated?
[0:49:18.3] JC: Yeah.
[0:49:19.2] KM: But you didn’t want to burn your city down.
[0:49:21.1] JC: I never burned a city. Never burned — Never do anything, I did anything that took me on crazy, frustrated marches, no. When ACORN came into being in 1970, I was one of the few people outside of the usual block of on-air people that talked about their programs and stuff. They couldn’t get any help. The local news, TV news call them that local group. They wouldn’t identify as, “Oh, this is an organization out there.”
[0:49:53.2] KM: I don’t think a lot of people know ACORN. A originally stood for Arkansas.
[0:49:57.3] JC: Yeah.
[0:49:57.8] KM: Yeah, it became a nationwide program.
[0:49:59.5] JC: Nationwide program.
[0:50:00.7] KM: Started by the same guy that started this radio show.
[0:50:03.8] JC: Yeah. To be doing that was I guess what I was told to be doing as supposed to be out there, out in the street burning building. I went on a few marches in Birmingham.
[0:50:14.0] KM: ACORN wasn’t just about black people. This is just about poor people.
[0:50:16.1] JC: It’s about poor people, marginalized people losing their housing.
[0:50:19.8] KM: Which I guess probably was mostly African-Americans probably.
[0:50:23.2] JC: A good part. Look at what happened in 9th Street, it impacted. Then they moved a lot of the people to the suburbs. That’s where they usually winded up.
[0:50:31.9] KM: Yeah, when I moved down there to 9th Street, I learned from — You probably know him, Milton Crenshaw.
[0:50:38.5] JC: Yeah.
[0:50:39.7] KM: He was the first gentleman to come see me and he took me down and showed me where his building was and where his wife and him had lived and all of that he said he lost his business when his customers started shopping on Main Street. He said, “I lost all my customers.”
After desegregation, I learned from being down there that the African-Americans getting to shop on Main Street. The white people decided to do white flight and moved out to the suburbs because the African-Americans were shopping on the Main Street. Then the poor black business district just lost all its customers and folded all across America. I don’t think people realized that that’s what happened to most of these African-American black business districts.
[0:51:19.8] JC: I think that was a pushback from LBJ.
[0:51:24.4] KM: I think they were just shopping price.
[0:51:26.0] JC: That too.
[0:51:27.4] KM: Look what Walmart has done to small towns. You come in with good price, this mom & pop cannot compete with Walmart. I don’t think the African-American stores could compete with the white stores.
[0:51:39.4] JC: They couldn’t. No.
[0:51:41.2] KM: On price. Oh my gosh! Our time is up.
[0:51:43.9] JC: Is it?
[0:51:44.2] KM: Oh, I just noticed. Okay, you have got to come back because I didn’t get to a lot — We didn’t even talk about the mindset of people today and get your wisdom and advice on what we think you and I can do. You’ve got to come back. We’ve got to talk again. You’re here, so I’ll just get you any day. I’m going to rewrite your bio because you don’t have enough. You have done so much stuff. I want to thank you.
If you have a great entrepreneurial story you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to email@example.com and someone will be in touch.
Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but it’s also been for me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy, and I’ll see you next time on Up In Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:52:47.0] G: You've been listening to Up In your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest. If you'd like to sponsor this show or any show, contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week.