July 2015

J. D. Lewis, Jr.

Broadcasting Pioneer

Broadcasting pioneer John Davis (J.D) Lewis Jr. was a man of many firsts.

A graduate of Morehouse College, Lewis enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942, one of the first African-Americans to join. He completed basic training at Montfort Point Camp before deploying overseas in the Marshall Islands as a radar technician.

After the war, Lewis opened an electronics repair business in Raleigh. He created a mobile public address system for his community’s use with announcements, updates and events.

In 1948, he came to the attention of Fred Fletcher, general manager of Capitol Broadcasting Company, who had heard of Lewis’ reputation as a play-by-play announcer for area Negro League Baseball minor-league teams. Fletcher hired him as the first African American radio announcer in the state, launching a 20-year career during which Lewis’ show delivered local news, interviews with public figures, and music.

When Capitol Broadcasting applied for a television license from the FCC, his technical expertise was crucial. Later, he hosted “Teenage Frolics,” which was the first show of its genre to be hosted by an African-American and paved the way for programs like “Soul Train” a decade later.

Lewis also wrote editorials for WRAL. Lewis’ daughter, Yvonne Lewis Holley, says her father made his “biggest impact” on the civil rights movement through those editorials. “It was a gift,” she says. “He put the words to the movement, to help you come to the right conclusion.”

Lewis served with the NAACP, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the First Baptist Church. He served many years as chairman of the Garner Road YMCA board.

At his retirement from WRAL in 1997, the station and Capital Broadcasting gave sizeable contributions to the Garner Road YMCA, helping fund the J.D. Lewis Multipurpose Center.

Lewis died in 2007 at 87.  Biography written by Amanda K. Lee