When Walter P. Lomax Jr. started WURD Radio in 2003, he envisioned it as the first independently owned, community-driven talk radio station serving African Americans in Philadelphia.
Fifteen years later, and five years after Lomax's death on Oct. 10, 2013, it's one of the go-to spots on the dial, where the city's black community turns to talk among itself about issues that are not typically discussed in mainstream media.
On Friday morning, one listener called Wake Up With WURD host Aaron Smith to discuss Philly rapper Meek Mill's recently published letter to his younger self about perseverance and race in America. Another listener called to criticize black men who question black feminists for joining organizations that largely cater to white feminists' needs.
"Why would you choose feminism over Africana womanism?" asked Smith, also known as "the Rappin' Professor." He probed further: "Africana womanism was created to serve the unique needs of black women. You should be at the center of your stuff and not on the sidelines of someone else's issues.
"In the traditional first and second waves of feminism, you don't hear names like Yaa Asantewaa," Smith continued. "You hear names like Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker, and sometimes they try to take Harriet Tubman, and we have to tell them to chill. You have to ask yourself, 'Is feminism African or not?'"
"I'll look into it," the listener said. "And I'll call you back."
"Philadelphia's a very unique city," says Lomax's daughter Sara Lomax-Reese, president and CEO of WURD. "It's about 43 to 44 percent black, and the city has always been very real, very direct, and very activist-minded. The fact that we can really give voice to a community and a population that isn't often seen on their own terms is very unique and very special."
On Saturday, a 15th anniversary event at the Kimmel Center will celebrate WURD and its contributions to its city.
The celebration includes an awards reception featuring a performance by singer and guitarist Toshi Reagon and an appearance by author and poet Sonia Sanchez. There's also a panel with DeRay Mckesson, Sanchez, and Philadelphia activist and entrepreneur Marc Lamont Hill, and an after-party hosted by Smith.
"Having a radio station is our unique identifier," Lomax-Reese said. "There's something about the democratization of information that is very, very powerful, especially for older demographics and less affluent demographics who don't have access to devices people take for granted."
In the last 15 years, she said, WURD has significantly expanded its signal and reach. The station is now broadcast on both 900 AM and 96.1 FM. Lomax-Reese is focused on building WURD's digital and social media reach and incorporating video along with audio.
Still, from a business perspective, WURD has never been in a better place, said Bennett Lomax, son of Walter Lomax and CEO of the parent Lomax Cos.
"As a brand," he said, "our soul and our essence is authenticity, coming from a place of deep concern and care about the African American community, something that people recognize from the boardrooms to the neighborhoods."
Though Jones has been away from WURD for a year, he sees the station as an important voice within the African American community.
"One of the things WURD does that I thought was unique was the ability to go into community venues fairly quickly without a lot of bureaucracy or delay to talk about things people wanted to talk about, like gun violence or education or poverty or other issues that affected the black community specifically and disproportionately," he said. "Their size and the fact that they were black-owned and nimble were advantages for them."
"Reaching this anniversary is definitely a milestone," said Cody Anderson, who co-hosts the high-energy show Electric Magazine on Saturdays.
"People trust WURD because it shows the community's perspective, instead of having other people from outside communities coming in to discuss issues," he said. "People of all different levels of education are able to speak out and express themselves through this medium.
"The people involved in the station are part of this community," Anderson said, "and listeners know that they care about bringing them information that's important to them."