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Askia Muhammad celebrates 40 years on the radio

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Apr 24, 2019 - 3:17:25 PM

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Askia Muhammad was recognized by the D.C. City Council for his 40 years on the air at WPFW 89.3FM and received a commendation also for the achievement
WASHINGTON—The year is 1979.  China institutes the one child per family rule, Iran becomes an Islamic Republic following the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Sony releases the Walkman, Michael Jackson releases his breakthrough album “Off the Wall” and Askia Muhammad starts a brand-new morning jazz show on WPFW-FM, “Yardbird Sweets,” in the Nation’s Capital.

“I didn’t have very much jazz music and I discovered in my limited collection that there was a recording by Charlie Parker. My name given by my mother was Charles, so I had some identification with that. Then I discovered that he recorded a song, his signature song, ‘Yardbird Suite’. The ‘Yardbird Suite’ was recorded on my first birthday,” he told The Final Call. 

 “So, I said it’s a natural. I’ll have a yard bird show and that was it and since I have this one double album with Charlie Parker songs, I have plenty of Bird, 27 songs on that album,” the longtime journalist reflected. “Bird” and “Yardbird” also were the nicknames of the iconic jazz composer and saxophonist.

“I was able to launch a show and that was the first song the ‘Yardbird Suite’.  I call my show ‘Sweets’ as in candy because I didn’t want to be confused with Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite.  There we went and that’s why,” said Mr. Muhammad.

Forty years later the show is still going strong and the Washington, D.C. City Council enacted a resolution, April 2, commemorating that achievement.  Despite his connections to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan who can be heard on the show on any given Tuesday, the D.C. City Council recognized Mr. Muhammad even though one council member said the Minister was not welcome in D.C.

Yardbird Sweets with Askia Muhammad airs Tuesdays from 5:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m.

Not only does the D.C. City Council recognize Askia Muhammad but he also received a commendation from D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton that was entered into the Congressional Record on March 29.

The show is still on Tuesdays and still broadcasts in the morning.  WPFW is a Jazz and Justice station. Yardbird Sweets is that as well.  Askia Muhammad, in addition to hosting the show for 40 years, is also the former editor of Muhammad Speaks newspaper and brings his Nation of Islam progressive mentality to the show. He is currently a senior editor of The Final Call newspaper and is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist.

“I was just following in the footsteps of Brother Wali Muhammad who had a show on a small AM station in Harvey, Illinois,” he said, referring to Wali “The Communicator” Muhammad, a pioneering broadcaster and radio legend and grandson of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. “This show is not about the teachings.  That’s who we are, it’s not about propagating the faith though we don’t turn away from that.  The purpose is not to teach.  The purpose is to entertain.  The Honorable Elijah Muhammad is here.  He paved the way with his grandson (Wali Muhammad).”

Many have grown up working with Askia Muhammad at WPFW. Netfa Freeman is with Voices with Vision.  He told The Final Call, “Before I was a programmer and Askia probably doesn’t remember this at all it was so long ago, I was also a member of the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party (AAPRP).   He would let me come talk about African Liberation Day. It was like my first time being on the radio and as a really young person to talk about African Liberation Day on his show, was impactful.”

“Those old timers then were really very supportive of us. They knew we were just trying to get our feet wet trying to do something like that,” added Mr. Freeman.

“Even now, Askia supports the station and other programmers. Another thing that comes to mind during a fund drive, Askia did a buddy pitch where people come and sit with you during your show and it was very different when he came in. All of a sudden people started calling in. One thing about him is that he listens to shows and will be able to talk about your show in ways to lift it up in ways you might not be able to yourself.”

He added, “He’s familiar with the content and sound of your show and how it fits into the context of the station overall and the fact that he can articulate to the listeners in a way that makes it very appealing and compelling.”

Mr. Muhammad’s 40-year impact can also be felt by his listeners.  “I’ve been a listener to Yardbird Sweets through four jobs,” Carole Turner, a D.C., government employee told The Final Call.  “I drive to work and listen to his show.  That’s how I get my music and my news.  It’s more music than news but if I want to know what’s really going on in D.C. I know Askia will tell me.  I love his mix of jazz.  He plays the old and the new.  He even has guest musicians on the show.  He has ticket giveaways also,” she added.

“I didn’t realize it had been 40 years.  I started listening in the 90s. A friend told me about it and it was a good recommendation.  I love jazz and I love it even more because of Askia.  He knows about jazz and the artists as well.  It’s been a love affair ever since the beginning.  I’m glad he’s getting this recognition.  It’s well deserved.”

What does the next 40 years hold for Mr. Muhammad? “I’ll be here every Tuesday morning, good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”   That’s how he signs off his show every morning.

Tune in to Yardbird Sweets with Askia Muhammad on WPFW 89.3 FM from 5:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. on