Gil Noble: The Man Who Told It ‘Like It Is’

He was dedicated to preserving black American culture as a journalist, TV host and documentarian.

He was tempted by broadcast journalism after taking a course in announcing school and working a stint of radio and TV voice-overs. After “striking mud” at a few stations, the 30-year-old prospect was hired in Harlem at white-owned, black-oriented WLIB radio by news director Bill McCreary, a broadcast pioneer who later moved to TV.

Initially, Noble shunned the lecturing of Malcolm X as a plague out on 125th Street; after Malcolm’s assassination, however, he doubled back to the laser-sharp message with profound regret that he had avoided in the flesh what became his single greatest influence in spirit.

“Malcolm changed my life,” he would say fondly and often. “[His] autobiography did more than acquaint me with his life — it motivated me to study history. Malcolm made it clear that his power and effectiveness came from knowledge.

“My presence in television is the direct result of the black struggle,” Noble wrote in his 1981 memoir, Black Is the Color of My TV Tube. “But for the social upheaval of the ’50s and the ’60s in America, I believe that I would not now be working in television as a news correspondent, weekend anchorman, producer and host of a one-hour program.”

In the wake of the urban revolts in many cities following King’s assassination, blacks pressured TV stations for inclusion on the airwaves that supposedly belonged to all of the public. Replacing their weekend morning diet of Tarzan movies, Hour of Power and The Three Stooges, several TV stations scheduled black-oriented public-affairs shows that mainly dealt with local issues, personalities and culture. 

In 1968 Noble began splitting his duties as WABC-TV news reporter and co-host with actor Robert Hooks of Like It Is, a one-hour, weekly magazine show. After changing the title from The Way It Is, the duo scuttled the original rock ‘n’ roll theme song and persuaded the white managers to hire jazz saxophonist Jackie MacLean, Noble’s childhood friend, to compose a jazz theme. Hooks left to star in the crime series N.Y.P.D., and Noble hosted the magazine show under producer Charles Hobson, who oriented the format toward strong black themes and documentaries on significant heroes.