Hal Jackson, 96, who broke through the color barrier on the radio in Washington in the 1930s and became the first black host on a national broadcast network in the 1950s, died Wednesday at a hospital in New York.
Jackson still hosted a weekly music show on a New York radio station he once owned.
Through most of the second half of the last century, many black New Yorkers grew up knowing Jackson as the man who introduced them to the latest R&B hits, a radio DJ whose smiling face appeared on billboards across the city. For decades before that, Jackson's was a household name in black Washington.
A broadcasting and civil rights pioneer who repeatedly found ways to smash through barriers, Jackson as a Howard University student was determined to get on the radio, at first as a sportscaster.
In the mid-1930s, he won free entry to Griffith Stadium by volunteering to clear trash during Washington Senators games. But no blacks were allowed in the press box, even when the Negro League's Homestead Grays were playing. So Jackson climbed to the rooftop and made himself useful to the stadium announcer, who eventually allowed Jackson to narrate some Grays games to the crowd in the ballpark.
Jackson "was certainly one of the legendary figures in radio," said Ron Simon, a radio historian at the Paley Center for Media in New York. "He really broke down the color barrier in radio, both as a broadcaster and then as owner of a station and network."
Henry Denker, 99, a prolific novelist and playwright who may be best known for writing a long-running radio dramatization of the life of Jesus, "The Greatest Story Ever Told," died May 15 at his home in New York City.
Denker practiced law before giving it up to write radio scripts in the 1930s. Throughout his long career, which included more than 30 novels, he addressed such powerful themes as justice, religion and treason, though his critics said he sometimes demonstrated more earnestness than finesse.
In a review of the 1963 play, "A Case of Libel," about a war correspondent who sues a gossip columnist, a Time magazine critic wrote: "Playwright Denker ringingly declares for a responsible free press and due process of law, which is about as audacious as sponsoring the Ten Commandments."
Religious ideas figured heavily in many of Denker's works, including a series of 1950s TV dramas set in biblical times. From 1947 to '56, he was the writer, director and producer of "The Greatest Story Ever Told," for which he won a Peabody Award and many other honors during its 10-year run.
He noted in a 1948 New York Times essay that he called on an ecumenical panel of clergy to review each episode.
"No script was broadcast till it had been approved by all of them," he wrote. "This has kept the program out of the realm of controversy. ... It has proved that there is far more in common among all religions than any mere observance of the ritual differences would indicate."