“What are you going to do about it?” It’s a signature question that talk show host Joe Madison asks his listeners who tune in every weekday morning coast-to-coast on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio channel 128. For more than two decades, Madison has been a powerful voice on Washington’s morning airwaves, starting out his D.C. talk radio career at WWRC and later moving on to 1450 WOL-AM, where he was a radio personality for over 15 years.
Madison also known as “The Black Eagle” needs two wings to fly and for Madison that translates into successfully balancing the passions of talk radio and political activism. It’s a balancing act that has won him praise in the talk radio industry and civil rights community. When many of his peers are “all talk and no action,” Madison has spent his entire adult life in the trenches, engaged in the very issues he raises with his radio audience. It’s a sacrifice that has meant going to jail for civil disobedience countless times, taking part in hunger strikes in opposition to apartheid in South Africa, and genocide and modern-day slavery in Sudan.
In April 2008, Madison was awarded Talker magazine's coveted "Freedom of Speech Award." Previous recipients have included Howard Stern, Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O' Reilly and Brian Lamb. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Madison has been named Talker Magazine’s 100 Most Important Radio Talk Show Hosts ten times, an amazing feat for someone who started his career on Detroit’s legendary WXYZ-AM in 1980.
For Madison, it was activism that prepped him for a career in radio. In 1974, several years after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Madison was appointed Executive Director of the 10,000 member Detroit NAACP at 24. Madison not only became the youngest person appointed to this position, but displayed leadership well beyond his years. Four years later, he was rewarded with a promotion to director of the NAACP Political Action Department in 1978, by former president and CEO of the NAACP, Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks.
From 1984 to 1986, Madison led four separate voter registration marches called “The Overground Railroad” in which he and hundreds of volunteers walked from Richmond, VA to Harlem, NY; San Francisco, CA to Los Angeles, CA; Louisville, KY to Detroit, MI; and the final march from Los Angeles, CA to Baltimore, MD. His efforts to register new voters were entered in the Congressional Record by former Maryland Congressman Parren Mitchell.
In 1986, Madison’s talents were called upon once again, when NAACP convention delegates elected him to the national board of directors and re-elected him for the next 14 years. In 1996, Madison accepted the challenge of restoring prominence to the NAACP Image Awards when he was appointed its chairman. At the time of his appointment, the Image Awards was $2.5 million in debt and near termination. Under Madison’s leadership, the Image Awards regained its national prominence and reversed its debt position to $1 million in profit within two years.
Madison has been relentless in his efforts to protect those who suffer at the hands of powerful interests. He led demonstrations and arrests in front of the Sudanese Embassy for 90 straight days to end the genocide in Darfur. His efforts led first to the House of Representatives and U.S Senate, and later the Bush administration declaring genocide was taking place in Darfur. Madison followed this up by leading a campaign to divest $93 billion in Sudan. To date, Illinois, South Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, and California have divested from Sudan.
Madison has travelled three times to the war zones in southern Sudan where he participated in the freeing of more than 7,000 slaves and delivering survival kits to refugees. He organized a “Sudan Campaign” to end slavery and raised thousands of dollars to free slaves at a cost of $35 per slave. He participated in the victorious movement opposing the deportation of 15,000 Liberians from the United States in 2001.
Being someone who is proud to say he launched his radio career in Detroit, Madison is equally proud to say his activism brought justice and recognition to the legendary Motown group, The Four Tops. After 40 years in the music industry, The Four Tops had not received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. It was another “What are you going to do about it?” moment for Madison. In a yearlong campaign, Madison and his listeners sent letters to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce urging them to honor the group. After thousands of letters and calls, The Four Tops were awarded a star on the Walk of Fame in June 1996. Duke Fakir, a member of The Four Tops, said, “We will be forever grateful to Joe.” The Four Tops publicly honored him at the Wolf Trap Arena in Washington, D.C. with a replica of the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star as officially, “The Fifth Top”.
He and his wife Sharon have been married for more than 35 years and live in Washington, D.C.