On Wednesday, August 31, WURD Radio is hosting its ninth annual Founder’s Day celebration at the Parkway Central branch of the Free Library in Philadelphia. Honoring the legacy of WURD founder Walter P. Lomax Jr., MD, this is the first in-person Founder’s Day since 2019. WURD is the only black-owned and operated talk radio station in Pennsylvania, and one of only three across the country. .
The day-long event features community and business leaders discussing independent media, community health and black wealth creation. There will also be a career and resource fair, a conscious movement class, exclusives for station members and live music from local artists.
WURD President and CEO Sara Lomax-Reese remembers the first Founder’s Day as a small event held on Dr. Lomax’s birthday before he passed away in 2013. It was originally conceived as a promotional event. “After my father passed away,” Lomax-Reese says, “it took on like a much bigger kind of celebration, and really, a preservation of his legacy. I feel much better about the evolution of this one because he blessed him while he was alive.
The Lomax Legacy
Dr. Walter P. Lomax Jr. was an accomplished physician, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Born in South Philly, he attended La Salle College (now LaSalle University) and Hahnemann Medical School (now Drexel’s College of Medicine). Opening his first practice in 1958 in a South Philadelphia townhouse, Dr. Lomax cared for the underserved and marginalized people of Philadelphia. Eventually, he expanded his practice to six medical centers and 22 physicians, establishing Lomax Health Systems in 1982.
The compassionate doctor reinvested his success in Philadelphia. His healthcare organization Correctional Healthcare Solutions has provided medical care to inmates in 10 states. Lomax Health Systems has partnered with another healthcare company to serve Medicaid beneficiaries in South and West Philadelphia.
WURD is the only black-owned and operated talk radio station in Pennsylvania, and one of only three across the country.
After retiring from medicine, Dr. Lomax founded The Lomax Companies, where he invested in real estate, developed technology businesses, and purchased WURD in 2002. At the time, WURD was a Spanish language. Black Talk’s flagship radio station, WHAT, owned by Cody Anderson, ceased to focus on the black community when it was sold in 2007. Lomax-Reese recalls Anderson telling his father: can they give a voice, and that’s what you are able to do with WURD.
The voice of Black Philadelphia
“My father was a revolutionary, you know, and brilliant, generous and conscious, unique and self-taught, and beholden to no one,” she proudly states. “There are very few free black people in this world. And that’s why I’ve been such a champion of media ownership.
Dr. Lomax’s business prowess may not have extended to the media industry, but he believed in the mission that the black community in Philadelphia needed to have its own platform to speak and be heard from its own authentic voice. Radio is a difficult business model to sustain and the station has been losing money for years. Lomax-Reese, one of six Lomax children all working in healthcare, was the only sibling with media experience.
She initially resisted joining the station, but eventually changed her mind. “I just thought, wow, it’s family malpractice for me not to try to do something, because it was something that my family name was publicly attached to, and it wasn’t working at the level you want.”
Lomax-Reese hosted the 2009 first anniversary celebration of Barack Obama’s election at the Kimmel Center. Following this success, she began working on the strategic business plan and developing the idea of transforming the radio station into a multimedia outlet serving the black community. She was President and CEO in 2010.
From promise to profitability
“Since then, I’ve been in the trenches, working very hard so that we’re constantly in the red, in balance, in profitability,” she says. “It has been very, very difficult, but rewarding at the same time. And I’m so thankful that my dad and mom got so invested in this work, because a lot of black media never gets that lead.
The current philanthropic phenomenon of big business recognizing that Black-owned businesses and organizations and the media should be funded and supported is brand new, sparked by calls for social justice in 2020. Rarely does a business have 15 years to achieve profits, especially in the media industry and especially for a broadcast entity during the rise to the digital age. For a black-owned media outlet in America to successfully survive and thrive, it required the foundational resources and legacy that the Lomax corporations brought to the table, along with the dedication of the “ride or die” audience whose station is so grateful.
“To be relevant in any media, you have to evolve. You have to be multi-channel, multi-platform. You must watch not only what do we do, but how do people consume media? » said Lomax-Reese.
“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, you know, doing black media, serving black communities,” Lomax-Reese says. “And it’s been a fight and a struggle every day. And so two years into 2020, people are starting to, like, wither away, and be like, Oh, do we really still have to deal with this systemic racism stuff?
“There’s a lot of fatigue that happens when it comes to supporting black stuff in America. I say all of this, but there is now more support and recognition than I have ever seen in my career for black media, but it’s still not enough. And it’s not fast enough. »
Since podcasts, streaming, and YouTube have supplanted much of radio’s bandwidth, WURD has developed a sophisticated social media presence. Their programming is available to stream from the website. They leveraged their interactive strengths – crucial interviews and conversations – to engage with audiences, creating what Lomax-Reese calls “destination listening.”
“It’s not just the radio; media consumption has changed so much,” says Lomax-Reese. “And so, to be relevant in any media organization, you have to scale. You have to be multi-channel, multi-platform. You have to watch not only what do we do, but how do people consume media?”
A day to wait
The Events Calendar is jam-packed with expert panels on current events and imperative issues for Philadelphia’s black community. “My father believed in economic empowerment and self-determination for black people,” says Lomax-Reese. “He wasn’t shy about advocating for wealth and wealth creation, and so our Founder’s Day celebration reflects the kinds of things he was truly passionate about.”
Andrea Lawful Sanders, host of The Source, Charles Ellison, host of WURD’s Reality Check, and Lomax-Reese herself will moderate panels on addressing violence through the lens of public health, creating generational wealth through to ownership, and Black Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs. WURD hosts will host a panel discussion on the role of independent black media, especially in the run-up to the midterm elections where Pennsylvania will play a crucial role.
Lomax-Reese considers Founder’s Day to be a very personal event. “It’s a labor of love. And it’s easy to get carried away with all the work it takes. And it’s important to remember that we do this in a spirit of gratitude, in a spirit of acknowledgment and celebration of a life well lived, and that because my father did the work that he did, we are able to do the work that we do.
Founder’s Day is free and open to the public. You can also listen to the celebration by tuning into 96.1FM/900AM, visiting wurdradio.com or through the WURD app. WURDTV will be broadcast live on Facebook and Twitch. For more details on the program and panelists, visit WURD’s event page.
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Dr. Lomax and President Barack Obama. Photo courtesy of WURD Radio