Jerry Lopes is a hero in a very Herculean struggle.
As a small number of corporations swallow up more and more of the world’s media outlets, the quest for coverage of the issues affecting the African Diaspora becomes an epic one. Enter the American Urban Radio Networks, the largest vehicle for reaching black America. As president of program operations and affiliations, Lopes is the driver of that vehicle, and because he’s committed to using the airwaves to deal with the AIDS pandemic, he’s helping to deliver and disseminate a lot of information that can best be described as life-changing and life-saving.
The AURN has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Pittsburgh, and serves over 400 affiliated radio stations across the US. It’s the largest black-owned radio network company serving urban radio stations and audiences across the country. Under the direction of Lopes, millions of listeners to urban radio have been exposed to concepts rarely touched on in “mainstream” media: concepts like the fact that AIDS is decimating the African American population of the United States of America.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Lopes says of the pandemic. “The problem affects the entire country, but it affects the black community disproportionately. Black media has an obligation to make sure the correct and proper information is available. If we can help, we should.”
Lopes has done more than help. He’s gotten involved. His passion ignited while attending a roundtable with the Black AIDS Institute during a World AIDS Day event,
“[Congresswoman] Maxine Waters was there and said ‘I need you to be involved’ and that was it.”
The AURN has partnered with the Black AIDS Institute on several occasions to reach out to the black community, including airing public service announcements featuring high profile African Americans such as Danny Glover and Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher. Their message was one of responsibility and action, urging people to get tested and to know their treatment and prevention options, if needed.
“We are trying to be responsible broadcasters,” says Lopes. “The reality is, as company, we have a vested interest in our people being healthy and alive. Our life depends on our audience. We all have to step up. We try to do it as a company because I believe we have an obligation to try and do all we can and hope others follow our lead.”
Lopes attended Johnson & Wales Jr. College in Rhode Island and Boston University, where he majored in communications. He’s also a member of numerous civic and trade organizations. His broadcast career dates back to 1970 when he began with the Armed Forces Radio and Television service while serving in the Air Force, where he was honorably discharged in 1973. Originally from Providence, Rhode Island, Lopes worked at several radio stations in the Ocean State as an on-air news talent. In 1974 he joined the staff of WILD-AM in Boston, where he later become news director before moving on to WHDH/WCOZ in 1976.
During his tenure at WHDH, Lopes would become one of the city’s top political reporters, covering both city hall and the state house. Among some of his more prestigious assignments are the Presidential primaries throughout the six-state New England region; the historic first United States visit of Pope John Paul II; and the opening of the John F. Kennedy presidential library.
In 1980 Lopes became one of the youngest news directors of a major radio network when he joined Sheridan Broadcasting. In 1990, he was promoted to the position of vice president of programming and operations, overseeing Sheridan’s Pittsburgh corporate headquarters network operation. In 1992, Sheridan Broadcasting and the New York-based National Black Network came together and created the American Urban Radio Networks. Lopes was promoted to executive vice president of programming, and in 1993, he was promoted to president of program operations and affiliations, where he oversees all program elements of the network, from program creation to the actual talent hosting, to negotiating with stations across the country to air AURN programming.
Lopes is married to the former Rhonda Wade of Atlanta, GA. The couple resides in Sewickley, Pennsylvania and they have no children. And while he hasn’t had anyone in his family acquire AIDS (to his knowledge), he remains as committed and passionate beyond the call of professional duty:
“Forget the business side. We have a major crisis and we have to find a way to help those helping our people, help those fight the battle.”
He also speaks of being personally enriched by the work he’s doing.
“Here I am, a country boy from Rhode Island, and it’s helped to see all the work all the soldiers are doing. As a result of me being involved, [the work] has touched me and sensitized me. You see that it’s not just this kind of people or that kind. It’s tremendous motivation just to see all the courageous people involved.”
And still he wants to do more.
“There’s no question we’ve progressed, but we have such a far way to go. I’ve got to do better job using our shows, not just news and public service announcements.”
Lopes is determined to bring the message of empowerment to as many urban radio listeners as possible, especially younger audiences that tune into the shows targeted for them. He also has a distinct vision for what’s needed in the community.
“We have a great problem with testing and people knowing their status. I wish I could find a way for everybody to get tested on an annual basis. And we need more African Americans to be part of the clinical trial process. And the churches need to warm up, step up and smell the coffee. Churches—not all churches—many of them are not doing all they can.”
With the potential to reach millions of African Americans every single day, Lopes is making sure he’s doing all he can to influence and enrich the lives of his people.