NewsBlack History Month

First Black-owned television station in the nation WGPR dates back 50 years in Detroit

Posted at 6:21 PM, Feb 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-27 23:48:51-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — WGPR’s history dates back 50 years – that’s when William Banks and a colleague attended a White House dinner – pressing then-President Richard Nixon during the evening for a broadcast license in Detroit.

“Channel 62 was becoming available. They made a pitch for it,” said Joe Spencer. “President Nixon made sure that they talked to the right people to get the license.”

Joe Spencer, a long-time WGPR employee, guided me through the station’s history in a museum space that originally served as the station’s primary studio.

On September 29, 1975, WGPR went on the air as the nation’s first African American, owned --and operated-- television station.

“We are now recognized as a national historic site, as well as a Michigan historic site, and it’s because we were the very first in the nation,” said Spencer. “We had many, many significant accomplishments during the life of the station.”

That included original programming and daily newscasts.

WXYZ’s Dave LewAllen asked, “And in the museum, on the television, we’re seeing the very first Big City Newscast.”

Amyre Makupson first appeared on television in Detroit on WGPR, eventually moving to channel 50, where she anchored the news for years.

“A young Amyre, on her very first day on our newscast, and so, yes, this is historic. One other key was Jerry Blocker,” said Spencer.

“Well-known at Channel 4,” said LewAllen.

“And he left Channel 4 to come here and direct the news division and he was, in fact, the one who brought me here,” said Spencer.

In addition to Monday through Friday newscasts, WGPR produced hours of other original programming.

“One of the most popular shows we had was The Scene,” said Spencer.

“I remember it well,” said LewAllen.

“The music, the fashion, the dancing was all part of it and part of what was a reflection of the city,” said Spencer. “It set the style for many, or magnified the style, let’s put it that way.”

“Kind of Detroit’s version of Soul Train if you will,” said LewAllen.

“Absolutely, it was, you know, and a lot of people compared it to that. Soul Train had their own style and we had ours,”

During our tour, Joe pointed out with pride other Detroiters who got their start in the television industry at WGPR.

“This board is an example of the legacy of this station. We call it our career springboard,”

“And training broadcasters of the future is an important part of the legacy of WGPR,” said LewAllen.

“This is our legacy. You know, we put so many people in this business,” said Spencer.

“They came here, they got their first two or three years of experience and then they were able to go on to stations like 7 and 4 and 2,” said Spencer.