Remembering news and radio executive Jerry Lopes — and the man who hired April Ryan

Lopes, whose American Urban Radio Networks questioned presidents and championed battles for Black influence and against AIDS, died Saturday.

Jerry Lopes
Jerry Lopes, former president of program operations and affiliations at American Urban Radio Networks. Lopes first hired theGrio’s April Ryan as a White House correspondent. (Courtesy of Family of Jerry Lopes)

Jerry Lopes, whose American Urban Radio Networks questioned presidents, delivered old-school R&B and talk, and championed battles for Black influence and against AIDS, died Saturday.

Lopes died of natural causes at his Pittsburgh home, according to his fiancée, Marcia Martin. He was 72.

For years, American Urban Radio Networks has called itself the nation’s only African American-owned and -controlled radio network. Lopes was president of program operations and affiliations, and often was the public face of the network.  

He hired April Ryan to cover the White House. This year, working at theGrio, Ryan is celebrating her 25th year and is the longest-serving Black woman to cover the beat.

April Ryan
TheGrio’s White House Correspondent and D.C. Bureau Chief April D. Ryan. (Photo: theGrio/Jon Hill)

Lopes brought in Bob Ellison, who became the first Black board member of the White House Correspondents’ Association and sat with pride as Ellison, as president in 1990-91, presided over its annual correspondents’ dinner.  

Before AURN, Lopes was with the Pittsburgh-based Sheridan Broadcasting Network, a pillar of Black radio. As Sheridan president, Skip Finley hired Lopes and was his roommate for a time. “You didn’t want to get into a debate with Jerry,” Finley told theGrio. “He was always prepared, and had a fantastic sense of humor.”

Lopes quickly was immersed in Sheridan programming. Sheridan became the first Black organization with 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 “The Light” gospel music service and Black college football.

Jerry Lopes
Jerry Lopes, former president of program operations and affiliations at American Urban Radio Networks. Lopes first hired theGrio’s April Ryan as a White House correspondent. (Courtesy of Family of Jerry Lopes)

Lopes was a news junkie, and the idea man behind the Black College Football Hall of Fame. He was also a board member of national and Pittsburgh organizations.

Personally and professionally, Lopes “really tried to help anybody who needed help,” his fiancée said.

Lopes became a spokesman for the Drumbeat Project, a coalition of African American print, broadcast and online media outlets that in 2003 launched a “massive” campaign aimed at increasing HIV/AIDS awareness. Its messages would run on the networks’ 400 affiliates and be distributed to “every Black station in America,” Lopes said then.

AURN partnered with the NAACP and other Black organizations in turning out the vote. In 1994, the network aired a half-hour special urging support when the NAACP fell into a financial hole.

During Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s, Lopes tried to arrange a presidential interview for  Black media outlets, but that fell flat. Reagan had complained publicly that Blacks didn’t appreciate his civil rights record.

Still, Lopes did not let politics interfere with a good friendship. Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator and broadcast station owner, said Lopes was the first media person he met when Williams came to Washington after his 1981 college graduation, working as a legislative aide to Rep. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

Jerry Lopes
American Urban Radio Network executive Jerry Lopes speaks at “World AIDS Day” press conference December 01, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Sebastian Artz/Getty Images)

“What a class act!” Williams told theGrio. Lopes assured Williams that it was important that Blacks be represented in both parties. They played the horses together.  

Born Gerald Allan Lopes on July 28, 1949, and originally from Providence, R.I., Lopes was an Air Force veteran whose radio career dates to 1970 and 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. That’s where Finley discovered him.

In 2016, Access.1 Communications acquired the 51% of AURN that it didn’t already own, and three years ago, Lopes retired.  

Martin said Lopes’ body would be cremated but there would later be a celebration of his life.


Richard Prince

Richard Prince writes the “Journal-isms” column on diversity issues in the news business.

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