Jerry Lopes, former president of program operations and affiliations at American Urban Radio Networks. Lopes first hired April Ryan du Grio as a White House correspondent. (Courtesy of Jerry Lopes’ family)
Jerry Lopes, whose US urban radio networks interviewed presidents, delivered old-school R&B and speeches and championed battles for black influence and AIDS, died Saturday.
Lopes died of natural causes at his home in Pittsburgh, according to his fiancée, Marcia Martin. He was 72 years old.
For years, American Urban Radio Networks called itself the only African-American owned and controlled radio network. Lopes served as president of program operations and affiliations, and was often the public face of the network.
He hired April Ryan to cover the White House. This year, working at leGrioRyan turns 25 and is the oldest black woman to cover the beat.
Lopes brought in Bob Ellison, who became the first black board member of the White House Correspondents’ Association and sat proudly as Ellison, as president in 1990-91, chaired the annual dinner of his correspondents.
Prior to AURN, Lopes was with the Pittsburgh-based Sheridan Broadcasting Network, a stalwart of black radio. As president of Sheridan, Skip Finley hired Lopes and was his roommate for a time. “You didn’t want to get into a debate with Jerry,” Finley said leGrio. “He was always ready and had a fantastic sense of humor.”
Lopes quickly immersed himself in Sheridan’s lineup. Sheridan became the first black organization with a workspace in the White House press room. In 1991, Sheridan merged with the National Black Network to create AURN, known for radio personalities Bev Smith and Tanya Hart, the gospel music service “The Light” and black college football.
Lopes was a news junkie and the idea man behind the Black College Football Hall of Fame. He has also served as a board member of national and Pittsburgh organizations.
Personally and professionally, Lopes “really tried to help anyone who needed help,” his fiancée said.
Lopes became a spokesperson for the Drumbeat Project, a coalition of African-American print, broadcast and online media that launched a “massive” campaign in 2003 to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. His messages would be broadcast on the networks’ 400 affiliates and distributed to “every black station in America,” Lopes said at the time.
AURN partnered with the NAACP and other black organizations to organize the vote. In 1994, the network aired a half-hour support special when the NAACP fell into a financial hole.
During Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s, Lopes attempted to arrange a presidential interview for black media, but it failed. Reagan had complained publicly that black people resented his civil rights record.
Still, Lopes didn’t let politics interfere with a good friendship. Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator and owner of the broadcast station, said Lopes was the first media outlet he encountered when Williams came to Washington after graduating from college in 1981, working as a legislative aide to Rep. Strom Thurmond. (RS.C.).
“What a class act!” Williams said leGrio. Lopes assured Williams that it was important for black people to be represented in both parties. They were playing horses together.
Born Gerald Allan Lopes on July 28, 1949 and a native of Providence, RI, Lopes was an Air Force veteran whose career in radio dates back to 1970 and in the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. He worked at several Rhode Island stations before joining WILD in Boston, then owned by Sheridan, in 1974. It was there that Finley discovered him.
In 2016, Access.1 Communications acquired the 51% of AURN it did not already own, and three years ago Lopes retired.
Martin said Lopes’ body would be cremated but there would be a celebration of his life later.
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