Bob Slade, Distinguished Voice on Black Radio, Dies at 70
Bob Slade at the studios of WRKS-FM in Lower Manhattan in 2000. His program “Open Line,” first heard on WRKS 1989, provided an important forum for the black community.CreditMichelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Bob Slade at the studios of WRKS-FM in Lower Manhattan in 2000. His program “Open Line,” first heard on WRKS 1989, provided an important forum for the black community.CreditCreditMichelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Bob Slade, a prominent voice on African-American radio in New York City as a creator and longtime host of the call-in commentary program “Open Line,” died on March 23 at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 70.
His wife, Tina McCants, said the cause was complications of kidney disease, which Mr. Slade had had since the 1990s.
Mr. Slade’s mellow voice was recognizable to radio audiences in the tristate area, where he spent more than three decades as a disc jockey, radio reporter, host and commentator.
“My philosophy has always been I’m not really a newscaster, I’m not what you call a broadcaster, I’m a communicator,” he said in a video interview included in a tribute to him by his most recent station, WBLS-FM.
His longest tenure was at 98.7-FM, then an R&B station known by the call letters WRKS and more colloquially as Kiss-FM, where he worked from the mid-1970s until WBLS and WRKS merged in 2012.
It was at Kiss, in 1989, that Mr. Slade helped create “Open Line,” which now airs on Sundays from 8 to 9 a.m. on WBLS.
“Open Line” provided an important forum for the black community, which many say has long lacked sufficient representation in the mainstream media. For many years Mr. Slade hosted the program with Bob Pickett, who still hosts it, and the musician and activist James Mtume, who left the show in 2013.
They discussed the news with callers and guests like Mayor David N. Dinkins and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who also has a program on WBLS.
“For a quarter of a century we struggled together,” Mr. Sharpton wrote on Twitter after Mr. Slade’s death. “You are irreplaceable.”
“Open Line” developed a following: Skip Dillard, WBLS’s operations manager, said that about 60,000 people tune in each week. Mr. Pickett described Mr. Slade as the program’s “chief operator” and a “historian.”
“Bob was a great storyteller and activist in getting our audience involved in certain big issues,” Mr. Pickett said in a telephone interview.
Among many other topics, “Open Line” addressed politics, the O. J. Simpson trial and police shootings of black people. It was one of the first programs to question the conventional news media narrative about five black and Latino teenagers accused of beating and raping a white woman who was jogging in Central Park in 1989.
The so-called Central Park jogger case became one of the biggest crime stories of the late 1980s, and many news outlets were quick to trust police accounts and a prosecution based largely on confessions that the youths claimed were coerced. On “Open Line,” Mr. Slade pointed to DNA evidence that appeared to exonerate the suspects and criticized other outlets for playing it down.
“We’re telling the story the way it should have been told — the way everybody else should be telling it,” Mr. Slade told The New York Times in 1990.
All five of the youths were convicted of various crimes, and served years in prison. In 2002 a convicted murderer and serial rapist confessed to the rape, and the convictions of the five men were vacated.
Mr. Slade told The Daily News in 2012 that he considered the exoneration of the Central Park Five, as the men came to be known, a vindication of his journalistic approach.
“Everyone thought we were just defending these kids because they were black and Hispanic,” he said. “I kept saying it’s not black and white. It’s right and wrong.”
Bob Slade was born Robert Reed McCants III in Harlem on Nov. 10, 1948, to Robert McCants Jr., a city bus driver, and Doris (Stokes) McCants, a homemaker. He grew up in the Abraham Lincoln Houses, a housing project there, and acted in shows staged at the YMCA before graduating from Haaren High School in Midtown, which has since closed.
“I had no idea that I would ever get into radio,” Mr. Slade once said, adding that he hoped to be an actor, “the black Paul Newman.”
He studied journalism and communications at Queens College and honed his radio voice as an announcer at a department store in Brooklyn. His first radio job was for a small station on Long Island, and in the late 1960s he moved to Troy, N.Y., to work at WTRY-FM. A program director there persuaded him to use the radio-friendly name Bob Slade.
Mr. Slade returned to New York in 1975. He was WRKS’s news director for a time and also hosted a weekly news roundup called “The Week in Review” and a series called “Soul Beginnings,” which charted the growth of soul music from the 1950s to the ′70s.
In 1994 Mr. Slade earned a Peabody Award for WRKS for another music-themed project, “The Rise and Fall of Vee-Jay Records,” a documentary about an influential Chicago R&B label for which he and Johnny Meadow were executive producers.
He spent several years balancing his hectic work schedule with regular dialysis treatments before receiving a kidney transplant in 2005.
In 1973 he married Tina Mendez. In addition to his wife, with whom he lived in Jersey City, he is survived by a brother, Reed Robert, and two sisters, Dorry and Jody McCants. Another sister, Rande McCants, died in 2010.
Mr. Slade’s last appearance on “Open Line” was on March 3. Fatiyn Muhammad, the executive producer, said the show would continue, with Mr. Pickett and himself as hosts.
Follow Daniel E. Slotnik on Twitter: @dslotnik