June 5, 2020

Media professor Bernie Hayes reflects on career

Webster professor Bernie Hayes has worked in the media industry for over 60 years. 

Webster University boasts a diverse set of experienced and renowned faculty from all backgrounds. However, 35-year media professor Bernie Hayes, who teaches in the School of Communications, stands out as an institutional gem.

The Chicago native’s repertoire is staggering, ranging from news director to broadcaster to columnist to recording artist, Hayes has been there for it all. With over 60 years of unparalleled experience in the media going into 2020, he continues his achievements with his own television show on local Channel 24, his column for the St. Louis American, and his founding of the National Black Radio Hall of Fame, among a dizzying list of other duties.

Hayes’ far-reaching career began in Chicago radio stations before he moved to San Francisco as a soul jock in the mid-‘60s at the birth of Haight-Ashbury counter-culture, and then finally to St. Louis in 1965 as a D.J. for a host of radio stations before establishing the first area black radio show in 1980. His waves naturally extended to the music industry, starting with the founding of black music distribution label Wescott Records, to recording for legendary STAX Records, and to holding the title of interim executive director at the National Blues Museum today.

Despite the passage of the civil rights laws, racial tension and disparities in equality still persist across America, and St. Louis is no stranger to tumultuous socioracial issues of its own. Hayes has been at the forefront of that struggle with media activism as his sword.

“It’s very volatile, it always has been,” he said. “People like to play it down, but St. Louis is one of the most racially polarized cities in the world, along with Chicago and Detroit in the north, Memphis and the rest of the South. They’ve always had these problems but it’s more severe now.”

The city’s long history of strained race relations has been subject to no shortage of coverage and discussion, yet tangible progress has left Hayes disappointed.

“They’ve been working on solutions for the past 25 years, but nothing has really come to fruition,” he said.

However, despite the dissatisfying progress, Hayes’ commitment to change is unchallenged with his own radio program that helped put St. Louis’ first African American mayor, Freeman Bosley Jr., and other black elected officials into public office.

Hayes’ record of service to the St. Louis community continues every day both on and off campus, and his vision for the future unwavering.

“I’d like to see equity and a level playing-field for everybody,” he said when asked about his
anticipations for the coming decade. “People to recognize each other, to empathize with
their position—perhaps that way, they could lend a helping hand.”

Hayes heeds his students to pay attention in his media courses with core themes of diversity and socioracial awareness.

“But we won’t see the proof in the pudding for another five years,” he explained. “Their brains aren’t even quite matured.”

However, he is confident the course material is making an impact on his students.

“They’d have to be in a coma to not feel something,” he remarked.
It is impossible to properly contextualize a man like Hayes in print. His accomplishments are breathtaking and would take a lifetime to fully appreciate. His contributions, un-
quantifiable. His legacy, enduring.

Hayes’ parting advice for communications students is concise but profound.

“Learn as much as you can. Learn and observe, and realize that your voice is as loud as you make it. Don’t be afraid to be a pioneer.”

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