JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mention the name Ken Knight and many people think of the street Ken Knight Drive, a thoroughfare in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Northwest Jacksonville.
But Ken Knight Drive is named after Adrian Kenneth Knight, a legendary broadcaster who broke barriers in radio and television broadcasting. His niece Martha Washington George is a radio historian who says her uncle got his start at a Daytona Beach country radio station in 1947. He had a significant following that got the attention of people in Atlanta.
“They asked him to come up to Atlanta and be the program director to open up the first Black radio station in the United States,” his niece said.
While working at that Atlanta station, Knight became a bigger radio personality with more listeners. But he eventually moved to Jacksonville to marry his fiancee who was working in the River City as a teacher.
“He decided to come to Jacksonville while there was still an opportunity to work at a radio station there,” Washington George said. “As a matter of fact, he ended up working at two at one time.”
In 1961, Knight made the transition to TV while still working in radio. He once again made history by becoming the first Black person to host a weekly gospel show on WJXT Channel 4. Ritz Theatre Museum historian Adonnica Toler says Knight used WJXT’s airwaves to showcase African American performers.
“It was a regular show that would broadcast sometimes three nights a week,” Toler said.
But radio was his true passion. During the fifth anniversary of the first Black radio station in Atlanta where he once worked, Knight took to the airwaves in Jacksonville and honored the people he worked with.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. May I come in? This is Ken Knight. You know, family, I was program director for WERD, and I’m here to say hello to you on this fifth anniversary celebration,” he can be heard saying in audio of the broadcast.
He even mentioned Jacksonville in that broadcast.
“I’m no longer with the station but connected with a station in Jacksonville,” he can be heard saying.
Knight is credited for starting a movement in broadcasting in which more African Americans would ask for their music and announcements to be on the airwaves. He is also credited for starting training programs that prepared Black people for careers in broadcasting.
“He and his peers had a great impact on the industry because it gave people the opportunity to come into broadcasting who would not have otherwise gotten that opportunity,” Washington George said.
“If you’re in broadcasting or an entertainer of sorts, Ken Knight played a big part in opening the door for you,” Toler said.
Knight died in Jacksonville on Sept. 12, 1973. He was 64.
He will be known as one of the most accomplished African American broadcasters in history who helped create the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers.
Three years ago, Knight was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame.
Later this month, he will be inducted into the National Black Radio Hall of Fame.