Destination Freedom Black Radio Days is an exploration into the magic of radio drama from a different era with a sharp focus on famous African-Americans.
No Credits Productions and donnie l. betts produce this award-winning radio series and podcast.
The original “Destination Freedom” premiered June 27, 1948, on Chicago radio station WMAQ. It consisted of 91 different scripts written solely by African American scribe Richard Durham (1917-1984). Durham wrote and produced a new episode every week throughout its initial two-year broadcast run.
Durham’s characters were written to cut across the pervasive stereotypes in popular culture that portrayed African Americans as clowns, menials or slackers.
In contrast, Durham’s historical characters were given complex personalities that were at turns rebellious, biting, scornful, angry and cocky, as the occasion called for. “Destination Freedom” highlighted the lives and accomplishments of prominent African Americans a full decade before the Civil Rights movement. This accomplishment earned Durham posthumous induction into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.
betts discovered the original “Destination Freedom” when, back in Denver, betts’s friend David Earl Jones was working in the Tattered Cover bookstore’s rare and out of print section. He dug up Professor J. Fred MacDonald’s book “Don’t Touch That Dial! Radio Programming in American Life 1920-1960” which had 10 of Durham’s scripts in it.
Upon reading the scripts, betts was inspired to revive this work. He attained the blessing of Durham’s widow, Clarice Durham, and reached out to Macdonald in Chicago, who surprised him again with news that Oscar Brown Jr. had been involved in the original productions. betts swiftly contacted Brown, the singer, actor, writer and activist, and piqued his interest in staging a reunion show of “Destination Freedom” in Denver.
Thus “Destination Freedom” returned to the airwaves in the spring of 1998 on KUVO 89.3 FM with the story of Gwendolyn Brooks featuring Maya Angelou’s niece in the lead role.
“Destination Freedom” made its KGNU Community Radio debut in 2003, with the broadcast performances sprinkled across various venues for the past 16 years. The radio drama series continues to break barriers in African American media representation as well as honor the history of Durham and other African American activists.
After over 20 years of producing many of Durham’s original scripts covering individuals from Jackie Robinson to Staggalee, 2019 marked the beginning of a new vision for betts.
A new generation is driving the conversation on race and inequality forward, producing incredible scripts and plays along the way. Listen to “Destination Freedom” as a vehicle for these important emerging stories.
The Destination Freedom Black Radio Days Podcast is available on:
About donnie l. betts
In a city increasingly known for excellence in the arts, donnie l. betts’s consistent contributions have created bridges across generational and cultural gaps to add to a greater understanding of history. betts’s highlight reel would serve to enlighten any curious mind, under the mantra of “elevate, educate, and entertain.” His unassuming character belies the fact that he has worked closely with movement icons such as Dr. Vincent Harding, Dolores Huerta, Oscar Brown Jr., Nichelle Nichols, Julian Bond, Angela Davis and Danny Glover.
betts’s career began in the small rural community of Dekalb, Texas. The youngest of 12 children on his family’s farm, he formed his work ethic and patience helping raise crops of cucumbers and potatoes, along with his beloved bunny rabbits. On the farm, radio listening was the primary entertainment thus betts developed a lifelong love of the art form through programs like Wolfman Jack and Randy’s Record Barn, who were spinning all the soul, gospel, R-n-B and country hits of the day.
In time, betts grew into a young giant and won football scholarships, first to Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, then to Fresno State in Fresno, California. At Fresno State, betts got his first experience with radio programming with a late-night slot playing Jazz on the campus station, 90.7 KFSR. Post-graduation, betts made his way to Denver, working at KADX radio station in sales, followed by a stint on KUVO with his art-focused show “Word of Mouth.” betts also has a passionate history in theater, having produced and directed shows through the City Stage Ensemble and the Denver Black Actors Company, as well as working regularly on stage at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
This lead betts to enroll at the Yale School of Drama for a postgraduate degree. While still a full-time student he persevered through the audition process to join the cast of acclaimed Broadway show “The Gospel of Colonus” as understudy to iconic actor Morgan Freeman.
After attaining his degree from Yale, betts set out for Los Angeles. He found work in television production on the set of programs like the popular Hip Hop variety show “In Living Color” and the final run of “The Carol Burnett Show” in the early 1990s.
Upon returning to Denver to be closer to his son, betts began his film endeavors by directing, co-producing and acting in “Dearfield, the Road Less Traveled,” an award-winning 1995 docudrama about the all-Black farming community founded in 1910, 30 miles east of Greeley, Colorado. Through his 1998 revival of the Destination Freedom radio series, he became the official film biographer of renaissance man Oscar Brown Jr. “Music is My Life, Politics My Mistress” is a stirring video portrait of the Chicago singer, songwriter, playwright, TV host and civil rights activist completed not long before his death. Another important film documenting a mission of peace with civil rights icon/MLK speech writer Dr. Vincent Harding to Israel and Palestine awaits completion.
What is the significance of intentionally omitting capital letters in his name? “To honor my ancestors and elders, to be humble in standing on the shoulders of giants like bell hooks, my dad Norris Betts, Gordon Parks or whoever the case may be. I always said there is no way I could ever be as great as they are because a lot of them laid their lives on the line for equality here in America. This is my way of honoring them, by lowercasing my name, to say that I am standing on the shoulders of giants, to use the old Proverb, to grasp the top, to move forward.”