For nearly two decades, Faye Blackwell has owned and acted as general manager of KZWA-FM (104.9) at 305 Enterprise Blvd. The station first went on the air in August 1994. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, May 04, 2013 10:57 PM
While Faye Blackwell said she is proud to be the first black woman to own and operate a radio station in Lake Charles, it was not something she dreamed about doing as a child.
“To tell you the truth, I can’t say it fulfilled my childhood ambitions,” she said. “But we’ve been blazing the airwaves ever since.”
For nearly two decades, Blackwell has owned and acted as general manager of KZWA-FM (104.9) at 305 Enterprise Blvd. The station first went on the air in August 1994.
Blackwell was also the first black woman to serve on the Lake Charles City Council, representing District B from 1981 to 1993. Before that, she taught for nearly 20 years in the Calcasieu Parish school system.
“She has always been a very energetic person,” said Freddie Brown, pastor at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, which Blackwell attends.
Brown, who worked with Blackwell’s husband, Fred, said she started the radio station “more for the community than for herself.”
“She just wanted to have a voice for them,” he said. “It was a difficult task getting started from scratch, but it’s amazing how quickly the station grew.”
Blackwell was born in Monroe and was the oldest of nine children. As a child, she said she learned early in life about taking care of others.
“I had responsibility for my brothers and sisters,” Blackwell said. “
She said her family’s faith was a large part of her life.
“Our parents instilled in all of us the Christian values that have helped us in every area of our lives,” she said.
Blackwell graduated from Southern University in 1964 with a degree in elementary education. She briefly attended graduate school, leaving in 1965 to teach English and history at Washington High School.
Blackwell spent four years there before moving to Forrest K. White Middle School. She said she retired from teaching in 1984 to focus solely on the City Council.
“I didn’t feel like I was giving enough,” she said. “I never liked to do two things at once. You betray people’s confidence when you’re just there.”
Brown said one of Blackwell’s biggest accomplishments on the council was helping approve a reapportionment plan with three predominantly black voting districts.
In the early 1980s, the Federal Communications Commission had the Docket 80-90, which Blackwell said set aside frequencies to give minorities the opportunity to own their own radio stations.
“At the time, only 2 percent of all the frequencies in the U.S. were owned by blacks,” she said. “That became an issue.”
Blackwell said the qualifications required one person to have radio experience, one to have experience in the community and another a legal expert.
“That’s really how I became interested in it,” Blackwell said. “This was five or six years in the making.”
Blackwell said her application was chosen out of at least six different ones. She said she teamed up with Carol Collins, who had a radio background, and Constance Abraham, who was in the legal field.
In 1994, Blackwell said the station opened at a building on Rosteet Street. From the beginning, she said her main concern was following the FCC’s rules and regulations.
“I have to be very shrewd about my programming,” Blackwell said. “The community values always come first.”
Blackwell said she was pushed to play rap music on her station, but refused.
“People said, ‘You’re not going to make it,’ but I was determined to prove that it wasn’t true,” she said. “Even though it was a tough decision, I stuck by it.”
Blackwell said her students and employees have called her strict, an attribute she said is important to have.
“I’m very careful of who I employ,” she said.
Tammy Tousant has worked with KZWA since April 1998. She started as a receptionist, but later became the on-air personality “Brown Suga.” Tousant said Blackwell came up with the name.
Tousant said she knew Blackwell through the church and had heard about the radio station. After serving in the Army, Tousant said she “applied for whatever position they had available.”
“We got on-the-job training,” she said. “She makes us feel like there is nothing we can’t do. I’ve done things that I never would’ve done otherwise.”
Tousant said Blackwell leads by example and is more than just a boss.
“She’s been our mentor and counselor,” Tousant said. “She is such a role model. If any woman could operate a radio station, she could.”
Bernice Lawson was teaching at Washington High when she met Blackwell, who was teaching at F.K. White. But she said they became close after Blackwell joined Mount Pilgrim when Lawson’s husband was pastor.
After his death, Lawson said she became involved with the radio station, volunteering for events like the annual Juneteenth celebration. She also works for the MLK festival and breakfast that Blackwell founded 30 years ago to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
“We’re really like family,” Lawson said. “Whatever she wants us to do, we do it. As long as it’s for the betterment of the community.”
Brown said Blackwell lets him air the segment “Word from the Word” three times a week. He said Blackwell is a “very community-minded person” and a “good organizer.”
Brown said she served on the Mount Pilgrim Women’s Auxiliary Missionary Union and was the superintendent for the vacation Bible school.
“She is always positive and has a big heart,” she said.
Posted By: Dr. Rosemary Gray On: 1/24/2015
Title: Faye Blackwell
Faye Bkackwell was a Louisiana treasure. May her personal, professional, and civic work continue to inspire those who desire to make a difference in diversity and inclusion.