Austin radio personality reflects on career, Black History Month

Black History Month

AUSTIN (KXAN) — He’s been on the Austin airwaves since 1974. And, today John L. Hanson Jr. remains a trusted voice in the African American community and beyond on Austin’s two public radio stations, KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9.

He has a unique place on the dial. Hanson is both a serious interviewer and a celebrated old school disc jockey.

Since 1980, he has produced and hosted the nationally syndicated radio series, “In Black America.” The program airs at 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays on KUT.

His more than 745 interviews have featured chats with influential members of the black community, encompassing topics as varied as politics, literature and show business.

“The first interview I had when I took over ‘In Black America’ was with Yolanda King,” Hanson recalled. “And that was interesting. We talked about her dad. We talked about her growing up as the eldest and what was it like to be the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Other notable newsmakers interviewed by Hanson include Maya Angelou, Dick Gregory, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bill Cosby and Stokely Carmichael.

P-HH_ JOHN HANSON, JR..transfer_frame_1150
John L. Hanson Jr. in his younger days (Courtesy John L. Hanson)

The Detroit native is particularly proud of how he persuaded the agent for a Motown legend to give an interview.

“‘Well, I’ll try this,'” he remembered telling himself. “My grandmother attended her father’s church. And I dropped that on her manager. And it worked. So I interviewed Aretha Franklin.”

Hanson’s other job on the radio is dedicated totally to good times and great music.

Once a week he takes on the persona of a fun-loving disc jockey — calling himself “John E. Dee.” The Old School Dance Party is broadcast every Friday afternoon from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. on KUTX.

Here’s how he kicked off a recent program:

“They say I got game and swag. Oodles and Oodles of rock. Plenty of jive. Liquid soul by the pound. Got carbonated liquids to wash it down. Playing the music that got you in trouble!”

His approach to the show is old school. He totes his own CDs to the studio where he decides what to play.

“I always script the first six songs and after that, it flows,” Hanson said.

On a personal level, Hanson says his career has embraced the best of both worlds.

“I’ve been fortunate at KUT and KUTX to play music that I enjoy without interference — doing ‘In Black America’ and interviewing individuals and doing programs that I deem necessary without any interference,” Hanson said. “I’ve always been interested in individuals and what they do, and then the fun part of playing records and getting paid for it. Other than working for National Geographic I don’t think there’s a better job!”

Black History Month is a time for Hanson to reflect on how the local African American community has fared since he’s spent nearly 50 years in Austin.        

“Somewhat better, somewhat stagnant,” Hanson said. “I would have like to have seen a little more progress. I’ve never gotten beyond why there is only one African-American on the city council.”

He added, “The gentrification in east Austin is disheartening because you have a lot of old families that are moving out. And those that are there probably won’t be there much longer.”

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