A UMC.org feature by Crystal Caviness*
Clark Atlanta University’s radio station, WCLK, can add a new tagline to its logo: the number one jazz station in the nation!
The accolade was earned recently by the smooth jazz-formatted station owned and operated by Clark Atlanta University (CAU). CAU is one of 11 historically black colleges that receives funding from the Black College Fund supported by The United Methodist Church.
The numbers are impressive, with Nielsen reporting 265,000 listeners per week, a 30 percent increase for August 2019 over the previous months. This gain resulted in the station’s highest ever ratings, pushing WCLK to the top spot among U.S. jazz stations.
WCLK, known around the Metro Atlanta area as Atlanta’s Jazz Station 91.9, has been on the air for 46 years, offering music, news and hands-on opportunities for CAU students in the mass media arts program. Programs with names such as “Café Jazz,” “Jazz at Sundown,” “Joy in the Morning,” “Jazz Tones” and “Soul of Jazz” make it clear that the station’s programming is aligned with its mission to increase the “awareness of the significance of jazz music as an American art form,” while also working to “uplift, education and inform the Atlanta community and worldwide audience.”
Uplifting his audience is a part of the station’s mission that Morris Baxter takes seriously. Host of “Morning Jazz with Morris in the Morning,” Baxter, a lifelong United Methodist who now attends Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, has been working WCLK’s 6-10 a.m. morning shift for the past 14 years.
“This is what I do and I love what I do,” Baxter says, adding that he focuses on sharing music and stories that motivate his listeners.
“With the stories, my purpose is to empower and enlighten,” he shares. The show “helps people get the cobwebs out and serves as a really good reminder of how good it is to be alive and how important it is to be positive.”
Instilling positivity into the Metro Atlanta listening area may sound like a big job, but Baxter credits his faith for his own optimistic outlook.
“I’ve been in church since I was a young kid; church has always been a part of my life,” says Baxter. “One of the reasons that I believe I’ve reached so much success is because of my spiritual foundation, which allows me to stay balanced. I thank God for everything.”
In fact, Baxter turned his philosophy into his show’s closing signature phrase (which his mother taught him): “Worry about nothing, pray about anything, thank God for everything.”
Baxter is seeing results from his routine. In addition to receiving calls and letters from listeners expressing appreciation for his show, the radio veteran received a city-wide honor. Last year, Creative Loafing, an Atlanta lifestyle magazine, named Baxter the 2019 radio personality of the year.
Baxter acknowledges that he is only one in more than a dozen experienced and knowledgeable WCLK on-air personalities working at the NPR affiliate. It’s the collective talent that has resulted in the No. 1 ranking, he asserts.
“We appeal to our listener’s lifestyles,” he says. “The music is a wonderful blend. There is so much improvisation; it really creates theater for the mind.”
In addition to the music, WCLK features programming that offers Q&A sessions with leading medical professionals, provides the latest casting opportunities for films shooting in the area, highlights the accomplishments of local leaders, and more.
“We are a part of the community,” Baxter states.
*Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.
This story was published February 19, 2020.