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[February 20, 2007]

J.D. Lewis Jr., black broadcast pioneer, dies: He was host of 'Teenage Frolics'

(News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 20--Before broadcast journalist J.D. Lewis Jr.'s last day on Earth, he etched a number of firsts.

Lewis, 87, went to work at WRAL-AM in 1947 as the state's first black radio announcer. He went on to serve as the first human resources director at Capitol Broadcasting Co. and as host of "Teenage Frolics," an "American Bandstand"-style Saturday show on WRAL-TV.

On Friday, the night before he died in Goldsboro from complications related to pneumonia, he was honored with as one of the first Triangle Urban League Legend Awards for changing the landscape of the broadcast industry.

"This is what I hear from people when I see them on the street: He was the first black man that they could see on TV that wasn't pushing a broom," said Lewis' daughter, Yvonne Lewis-Holley of Raleigh.

"Teenage Frolics," which Lewis hosted from 1958 until 1983, was his most sustained run in the public eye. The show included Isaac Hayes, Lou Rawls and other nationally known performers as well as interviews with community and civic leaders.

But he also directed the consumer-advocacy program "Call For Action" and was host of the public-affairs program "Harambee," in which he made "Let's get it together" a catch phrase. He did on-air editorials that addressed education and other subjects that were dear to him.

"Almost any blacks over the age of 55 that were raised in Raleigh probably would have known J.D.," said Clarence Williams, a producer and director at WRAL who began working at the station as a cameraman on Lewis' show at age 15.

Growing up in Raleigh

John Davis Lewis Jr. was born July 7, 1919, in Indianapolis. His father moved the family to Raleigh in 1923, and the younger Lewis grew up on Bloodworth Street near Shaw University. A football and track star at Washington High School, he went on to graduate with honors from Morehouse College in Atlanta, his father's alma mater.

He met his future wife, Louise Cox, while working at a Raleigh convenience store after graduation. He also worked for his father in the insurance business. During World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt integrated the Marines, Lewis was one of the first 200 black men accepted. He became a "Montford Point Marine," named for the swampy area where he and his fellow African Americans were stationed, separated from the whites at nearby Camp Lejeune.

Lewis was assigned to teach fundamental electricity and radio physics to members of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. He was later deployed to the Marshall Islands, where his outfit tracked Japanese movement.

When he came home in 1947, he set up a radio and TV repair business and built a mobile public-address system. He drove through Raleigh neighborhoods in a mobile sound truck and announced local Negro League baseball games. He also did play-by-play at the games.

Fred Fletcher, Capitol Broadcasting's general manager, attended one of those games and spotted Lewis, who went to work as a morning disc jockey at WRAL-AM.

"He had a great voice, so he was an excellent announcer," Williams said.

'J.D. was a gentleman'

Lewis is credited with helping Capitol Broadcasting get an FCC license for its television station in 1957. And Jim Goodmon, Capitol Broadcasting's president and CEO, hired Lewis as the company's first human resources director in 1974.

"First of all, J.D. was a gentleman," Goodmon said. "There was just a kind spirit, and he really loved young people. A new employee would come in the company, and J.D. would make sure that young employee did well."

Lewis' interest in young people wasn't limited to company business. When he retired, he declined a traditional gift and asked that the money instead be directed to his favorite charity, the Garner Road YMCA. Capitol Broadcasting's A.J. Fletcher Foundation provided $100,000 in seed money for a multi-purpose center that opened in 2005. Lewis, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, was unable to attend the dedication ceremony.

In April 2000, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People presented Lewis with the Humanitarian of the Year Award.

This past Friday, the Triangle Urban League Legend Award was his final honor.

Lewis is survived by his children, J.D. Lewis III, Evelyn Lewis, Yvonne Lewis-Holley, Patricia Waddell and Lee Lewis, and nine grandchildren.

A wake will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street in Raleigh. The funeral will be at the church at noon Saturday.

Staff writer Danny Hooley can be reached at 829-4728 or dhooley@newsobserver.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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