Listeners get an earful in the number one market
By Shirley Hawkins
OW Staff Writer
Thousands of African Americans in Los Angeles tune into black radio daily, but seldom do listeners get a chance to find out what’s behind the scenes of their favorite radio stations.
On-air personalities from several popular radio stations attended a forum on “The State of Black Radio” at the Lucy Florence Coffeehouse in Leimert Park on May 13.
Attending the forum were on-air personalities Dominique DiPrima of “The Front Page” talk show and Jacquie Stephens of “L.A. Speaks Out” at 102.3 KJLH and The Poetess “Real Talk” of 100.3 The Beat. The forum was moderated by political commentator Jasmyne Cannick and Lita Herron of Mothers on the March.
Attendees discussed the recent mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Latinos who marched for immigration rights May 1 after Latino-driven radio stations urged Hispanics to protest. “Spanish language radio is credited for mobilizing entire communities,” observed Cannick. “They put competition aside and worked for the community. Why can’t black radio do the same thing?”
“Latin people are more unified as a people as a whole,” The Poetess responded, who added that she has been with 100.3 The Beat for 13 years. “I’ve never seen more than 300 black people rally for a cause.”
“I think that in terms of mobilizing our community our black radio stations very seldom work together,” Cannick pointed out. “Although I feel we can better mobilize the community, it seems to be a difficult task.”
Stephens, who is the news director at KJLH, said that timing played an important part in mobilizing Hispanics and that radio stations are inundated with events to publicize. “Our news department is extremely small. Radio is up to the minute and we have other things on the calendar,” Stephens pointed out. “It’s a big community and I need for the listeners to tell me what’s going on.”
Pausing, Stephens added, “As far as the brown issue is concerned, they were really united. Blacks can come together over a singular issue, but the Hispanic audience is different from our audience.”
Cannick recalled that the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams produced the largest gathering of African Americans that she had witnessed in the black community. “I was surprised how prior to his execution, the radio stations didn’t alert the community until he was dead,” said Cannick. “If they had been alerted, maybe the community could have organized several rallies or protests. They couldn’t even get 50 people out before he was executed,” recalls Cannick, although she recalls that thousands showed up at the viewing of Williams’ body at his funeral. “If these thousands had rallied when he was alive, they might have been able to save him.”
“Tookie Williams’ execution was a split issue in the black community,” Stephens pointed out. “Not every black person was supportive. The issue was covered on the stations from a news standpoint. I think there was a fascination around Tookie Williams’ funeral and the drama caused people to come out.”
“I think our community has been split about how they felt about Williams’ execution,” said the Poetess. “I know personally I did what I could to support the issue. I think radio can only do so much.”
Cannick asked whether radio stations plan to inform listeners about the issues with the 48th Assembly race approaching. “Here in Los Angeles we have a heated primary election and the 48th Assembly race is by far the hottest,” Cannick observed. “In the past, there’s been a low voter turnout in the 18 and 34 demographic. Many disc jockeys don’t educate the public about the issues that are on the ballot and a lot of young kids only get information from radio stations. What are your thoughts?” asked Cannick.
“KJLH does a lot to educate people in the community,” said Stephens. “But I hear very little on the station on the issues, especially the hip hop stations.”
“We did a major voter registration drive during the last election cycle,” said The Poetess. “We had the candidates on my show. I think we put together a great effort during the last election cycle. But this election cycle is not as charged at the last one.”
Stephens added that the FCC no longer requires radio stations to have a community affairs department but that KJLH’s is committed to keeping the community informed. “We’re really fortunate that we do have as much affairs programming as we do,” said Stephens, adding that KJLH has battled with the FCC to increase the station’s frequency. “The problem is that the airwaves are crowded in L.A.,” said Stephens.
“I think we have a tremendous responsibility about what the public wants to hear on the radio stations and it’s important for people to write a letter or to send e-mails about what they hear on the air,” pointed out DiPrima. “I don’t think the community holds the radio stations accountable enough. If a listener doesn’t like what they hear on a radio station, they can make a difference.”
Cannick observed that a significant number of local radio personalities are being replaced with on-air talent from syndicated shows. “How do we lobby to keep local radio local?” Cannick inquired, adding that John Salley at The Beat was no longer at the station and was being replaced with Tom Joyner, a syndicated disc jockey. “I think someone from Los Angeles will be a better fit for our morning shows,” observed Cannick.
Stephens disagreed. “I don’t really have a problem with syndication except for the elimination of jobs,” she said.
The Poetess said she agreed that on-air personalities should be local. “I know Los Angeles is a unique market and it needs special programming. I always felt we should have local disc jockeys, although I know that Tom Joyner is very community oriented.” The Poetess added that The Beat plans to “localize” Joyner by briefing him about the Los Angeles market. The Poetess said that Joyner will debut on the station on June 19 and will be broadcasting three times a week.
Cannick brought up the observation that seldom do black-oriented radio stations talk about important issues. “I know when I listen to KFWB or KNX, whatever is in the news, they talk about it,” Cannick said. “But seldom do I hear black radio talking about the issue, such as the universal pre-school bill.”
“No one has approached me about the universal pre-school bill,” replied The Poetess. “But I’ve never denied anyone access to the airwaves who has a worthy project. I read all my faxes and emails. I do more outreach and make calls to schedule and book guests on my show. If the topic is something that is beneficial to the community, I open up the airwaves as much as I can.”
The topic of a black-oriented talk radio station was discussed, a subject that DiPrima admitted she was passionate about. “Our readers listen to the other stations and they call me and say, ‘Girl, did you hear what they said on KFI?’ If we could make a list of African Americans who listen to talk radio and show how black people are not fully being served, I think it would make an impact.”
With more radio stations being taken over by large conglomerates such as Clear Channel, which Cannick pointed out owns 80 percent of the on-air market, the question was brought up as to how to get more black-oriented radio on the air.
“When you talk about radio stations now, you have to have big money,” observed DiPrima. “Internet radio is an option.”
“Anyone interested in starting their own talk show could start one on the Internet,” said The Poetess.
Audience member Jihad Sharif observed, “We want to hear issue-oriented black talk. I believe that the listeners and the money are there. Black folks will get up at 4:30 a.m. to hear something important on KJLH. The media today is about power, but somehow we keep singing and dancing. It’s about time that we get some power,” said Sharif.
“If you compile the data, we can possibly take over one the Hispanic radio stations,” said DiPrima. “African Americans do listen to talk radio and I know if we launched a black talk station, we would patronize the station.”
“The market is definitely there,” said The Poetess.