King Biscuit Time sold flour—and the Delta blues.
Delta blues found its voice and audience on the airwaves of KFFA’s King Biscuit Time, a daily broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas. Bluesmen like Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood Jr., who would go on to become legends, interspersed their own songs with advertising jingles. King Biscuit Time, which launched in 1941, gave unprecedented exposure to African American musicians while selling everyday grocery staples like flour and cornmeal. And it’s still on the air. Reporter-producer Betsy Shepherd travels to Helena to tell the story for Gravy.
Betsy Shepherd is a freelance writer, radio producer, and all-around music obsessive. She earned master’s degrees in ethnomusicology and journalism from Indiana University, and previously worked at The Oxford American magazine, the Archives of African American Music & Culture, and the nationally syndicated radio program American Routes. When she’s not cutting tape, Betsy is deejaying underground sounds and B-sides around New Orleans and on her favorite radio station, WWOZ.
Thanks to Marcus Cartwright for providing live music for this episode.
Thanks to Arhoolie Records for archival recordings of Sonny Boy Williamson and KFFA for King Biscuit Time audio.