NABJ Mourns Broadcast Pioneer Dilday

By Lentheus Chaney

NABJ Monitor

NABJ has been remembering broadcast pioneer and NABJ founder William Dilday this week after he died July 27 at age 85.

Fellow founders recalled their experiences with Dilday at the Founders Reception at the NABJ convention in Alabama on Friday evening. 

In 1972 Dilday made history as the first Black manager of a network-affiliated television station, WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi. Under his leadership, the station became No. 1 in the Nielsen and Arbitron ratings, according to NABJ. Twelve years later, Dilday joined WJTV-TV as general manager and executive vice president. 

During his long career, Dilday served as a board member of the National Association of Television Broadcasters and the National Broadcasting Company Affiliate Board. He served as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus Communication Task Force, as well as a founding member of the 100 Black Men.

Dilday received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Peabody Award, the National Mental Health Association Media Award, and two Iris Awards from the National Association of Television Program Executives. 

NABJ Founder Allison Davis, former NABJ President Barbara Ciara and veteran correspondent and anchor Randall Pinkston remembered Dilday’s legacy and impact on journalism. 

Dilday, according to Davis, opened doors for people who looked like him and placed them in positions of power.

“Bill Dilday was the first black general manager. So, for him, you know, he was responsible not only for a station,” Davis said. “Bill was also responsible for making sure that he could pave the way for other black managers, general managers of stations.”

Ciara said that she recalls Dilday as a humble man who didn’t relish being the center of attention.

“He was the type of individual who, you know, you couldn’t shower him with too much praise,”  Ciara said. “He would smile and then kind of gently move the subject onto something else, not highlighting his own contributions.”

Pinkston, who was being inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame this week, said that he was hired by Dilday right out of college when he was 23 years old despite it being a risky decision.

“He appointed a 23-year-old kid out of the Columbia summer journalism program,” Pinkston said. “[A] huge risk because [a] 23-year-old black guy running the main newscast, he did it.”

Calling Dilday a “trailblazer” and “gem of NABJ,” President Dorothy Tucker said in a statement, 

“He will never be forgotten,” she said. 

Dilday is survived by his wife, Maxine, his daughters Erika and Kenya, son Scott Sparrow, brothers James and Clarence, and four grandchildren. Services for Dilday will be held Aug. 9 at 11 a.m. at Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

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