Dorothy E. Brunson, who became the first African-American woman in the nation to own a radio station when she bought WEBB-AM in Baltimore, died Sunday of complications from ovarian cancer at Mercy Medical Center.
The Northwest Baltimore resident was 72.
"Thanks to the pioneering work of Ms. Brunson, the world of broadcast media was opened up to African-American entrepreneurs and business leaders," Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "Her vision and commitment to excellence at every level of the business led to her success and paved the way for others to find success in cities across America."
"Baltimore is proud to be the place where Ms. Brunson led the way as a true pioneer in radio broadcasting," she said.
Dorothy Edwards was born in Georgia and raised in Harlem, N.Y.
A graduate of New York City public schools, she hoped for a career in the arts and studied drama, fashion, photography and advertising.
"But I needed something more," she told The Baltimore Sun in a 1986 profile.
She returned to college and earned a bachelor's degree in finance and accounting in 1960 from the State University of New York Empire State College in Saratoga Springs, and went to work in 1962 as assistant controller of WWRL-Radio in New York City.
Ms. Brunson advanced very quickly and within three months became controller. Before she left in 1969, she was the station's assistant general manager and corporate liaison.
"When I first came to WWRL, yearly advertising billings were around $700,000. By the time I left, they had grown to nearly $5 million," Ms. Brunson said in the 1986 Sun article.
In New York City, she co-founded Howard Sanders Advertising, which was one of the first African-American advertising agencies in the U.S., and Madison Avenue's first.
The next year, with $115,000 in buyout money, she was hired by Inner City Broadcasting to assist black investors purchasing WLIB-AM Radio, New York's first station focused on the African-American community.
Within four months, the station was reeling, with more than $1 million in debt, and Ms. Brunson was hired as its general manager.
She turned the station's operation around, reducing staff and debt, and eventually expanded its ownership to include WLIB-FM, which was renamed WBLS, and six other stations.
By 1978, annual sales rose from $500,000 to more than $23 million, and as manager of WBLS, Ms. Brunson had turned the failing operation into the sixth-largest radio station in the nation.
She gained listeners by initiating a Top 40 format that also leaned heavily on rhythm and blues.
Ms. Brunson turned her attention to Baltimore after leaving the New York station in 1979, when she established Brunson Communications Inc. and purchased WEBB for $485,000. WEBB was established in 1955 and named for the legendary Baltimore-born and raised swing-era musician, William Henry "Chick" Webb.
With the purchase of WEBB, Ms. Brunson became the first African-American woman to own a radio station in the United States.