The Roots of Memphis Music Bollard Project at FedExForum illustrates the history of WDIA

WDIA was the nation’s first radio station with all-Black programming and radio hosts, including B.B. King and Rufus Thomas. 

After the rising popularity of radio legend Nat D Williams' "Tan Town Jubilee" radio show, the radio station switched to all-Black programming. A dramatic increase to 50,000 watts in the early '50s meant that WDIA reached 10% of the African-American population in United States.

B.B. King got his first big break in show business as an advertisement jingle singer for a medicinal tonic called Pepticon on the radio station. It was Rufus Thomas' radio celebrity on WDIA that caught the ear of local record producer and Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips, who would go on to launch Thomas' recording career.


All points of interest below are mapped from the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, just steps from the bollards and FedExForum.

Walk 10 Minutes

Snap a selfie with the WDIA sign. While the station has since moved locations, the neon WDIA sign still hangs above the station’s original studio on Union Ave. The site was added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail in 2020. 
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Walk 4 minutes

B.B. King’s Blues Club
Dubbed “The King of the Blues,” B.B. King cut his teeth as a singer and DJ for WDIA. Head down Beale Street to B.B. King’s Blues Club and experience how King’s legacy lives on today.
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Drive 9 Minutes

Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Before Stax Records’ star Rufus Thomas recorded hits like “Walking the Dog” and “Do the Funky Chicken,” he got his start as a DJ at WDIA. Explore some of Memphis’ most iconic music history, with tributes to Thomas and WDIA, at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
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