Stevie Wonder once wanted to be
a DJ, but his musical gifts swept him to stardom of
another kind. In 1979, the pop superstar (real name:
Stevland Morris) fulfilled his radio destiny when he
became the sole owner of KJLH 102.3 FM. He kept the
original call letters (founder John Lemar Hill's
initials) because they happened to stand for
"kindness, joy, love and happiness."
With 19 Grammys to his credit and a career spanning three
decades, Stevie Wonder is a man of many talents:
songwriter, singer, producer, arranger, performer and
musician. He is a master of the harmonica, drums, piano
and the organ.
"He as an artist personifies the theme of kindness,
joy, love and happiness," KMPC talk show host Kevin
Ross said. "With his Afrocentricity, his commitment
to giving back to the community, his identifying with
causes like Martin Luther King Day, his life seems to
reflect that goodness."
Ross, a prosecutor with the L.A. County district
attorney's office in Inglewood, said that he - like many
African-Americans - grew up with KJLH and that for most
blacks in Los Angeles, it is still the station.
"They have created a niche where I can check in and
see what's happening," he said. "I can hear if
there's a new song."
The adult urban outlet is one of only two black-owned
radio stations in L.A. This rare 3,000-watt community
station stands out among outlets owned by mega-merged
conglomerates run from corporate headquarters,
responsible to boards and stockholders. KJLH strives to
achieve its famous owner's goals: to entertain with the
best music and to serve the African-American community in
a socially responsive way. "It is a family
operation, with a personal touch," station Program
Director Cliff Winston said. "It's like a
neighborhood grocery, as compared to Ralphs."
The superstar's concern for urban problems - expressed in
such songs as "Living for the City" - is
manifested in the station's acclaimed public affairs
morning program. KJLH is known around the world for its
Peabody-award-winning show, "Front Page" hosted
by Carl Nelson (Monday through Friday, 4:30 a.m. to 6
a.m.). The program played an important role in deflecting
anger and calming fears during the 1992 riots. People
desperately needed to talk and exchange information about
"During the whole upheaval, we did
not play any music," Nelson said. "We just
interviewed people who were involved - and local and
nationally elected officials. It blossomed from
Stevie Wonder helped to define the mission of "The
Front Page." Winston said that his station's owner
uses his power of the airwaves to showcase the world's
greatest minds and to allow listeners to talk directly to
them. "We do phone interviews from around the
world," Nelson said. Nelson's program attracts a
steady stream of high-powered guests who sit in and take
listener calls. They include: comedian/health guru Dick
Gregory, lawyers Johnnie Cochran and Christopher Darden
and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Authorities in
health and nutrition offer their expertise, empowering
listeners with the information needed to help themselves.
Entertainers such as Gil Scott-Heron and Al Bell from
Stax Records are occasional visitors, but Nelson won't
allow his show to become a doormat for the
"Entertainers, if they have something to say, [are
invited to the show],
"not just to sell records," Nelson said.
The views expressed on "Front Page" are
often taped and sent to friends around the world.
African-Americans, according to a recent study by the
Radio-TV News Directors' Association, do not trust news
from the regular media. But they trust the news people at
KJLH to tell them the truth. "They are sick and
tired of seeing negative stories about themselves on
TV," Nelson said. "The people who control the
media understand but just don't care." Mainstream
media often call on KJLH as a source for a black
perspective on current issues.
All of KJLH's public affairs projects aim to empower
listeners economically. Rather than just complain, they
focus on solutions. Wonder insists that his general
manager, Karen Slade, employ two news people and a
producer for the public affairs programs. Dominique
DiPrima, community action director for urban contemporary
KKBT and host of the Sunday "Street Science"
talk show, acknowledged the competitor's commitment to
issues affecting African-Americans.
many hip-hop stations can you have in one market?"
"KJLH has been doing a lot more lately," she
said. "They seem to be having renewed vigor - more
presence in the community." KJLH orchestrated two
simulcasts with Korean radio station. Collaborating with
the Korean Grocers' Association, KJLH and KBLA, panelists
discussed the cultural divide that led to the Korean
grocer shooting a black young person to death for
stealing. The broadcast also addressed the grocer's
five-year probation sentence. In September, KLJH and the
Congressional Black Caucus co-sponsored a town hall
meeting on the CIA's alleged selling of crack-cocaine in
the black community. Local politicians Maxine Waters, Tom
Hayden, Nate Holden and Diane Watson spoke to the 2,500
people gathered at the Vision Complex at Leimert Park.
CNN, C-Span and Geraldo Rivera were among the media
covering the event. Panelists discussed ways to get crack
out of the community and to get their neighborhood back
on its feet.
In the aftermath of the riots and of the peace treaty
between the gangs, KJLH launched a pilot show hosted by
three former rival gang members, who took listener calls.
The music programming at KJLH reflects Wonder's attitude
about music and society. "All songs that we play
have to have positive, uplifting lyrics," the
program director pointed out. Classic timeless love songs
are the main fare for listeners, including: Maxwell,
Luther, Anita Baker, Kenny G, Toni Braxton and R Kelly.
"Rhythm 102.3" plays softer music than most
urban stations. Rap is not part of the repertoire. After
testing the market and much debate, management decided
that their target listeners are 25 to 54. They did not
want to compete with KKBT and KPWR, which play rap and
hip-hop for younger listeners.
In comparison to other commercial stations in major
markets, KJLH's Sunday programming is voluminous. The
station follows a 30-year tradition of airing radio
ministries from nine churches for five and a half hours.
The recently-added urban gospel show follows for those
who need extra spirituality. One of the highest-rated
shows on the station, it keeps religious listeners tuned
in during the segue back into secular programming. The
popularity of the gospel show prompted management to
extend it from two to four hours. Fans of the show expect
to hear selections such as the "The Preacher's
Wife" soundtrack, Turk Franklin and the Family,
Shirley Ceasar, the Winanas, John P. Kee and other gospel
artists. Naturally eclectic, Wonder is passionate about
all types of music: He loves rap, calypso, opera, hip-hop
and innovative music.
Born blind in Saginaw, Mich. in 1951, the child prodigy
soon came to the attention of Motown founder and
president Berry Gordy, who signed "the 12-year-old
genius" to his fast-growing label. His first
national hit "Fingertips, Part 2" became a
runaway best-seller and was followed by a string of smash
hits still heard on pop oldies and contemporary stations
everywhere: "Uptight," "I Was Made to Love
Her," "My Cherie Amour" and "For Once
in My Life," to name just a few. By the end of the
'60s, he had secured a place for himself in the pantheon
of rock/pop superstars. In the '70s he attained even
greater heights of artistry with albums such as
"Music of My Mind," "Talking Book"
and "Songs in the Key of Life."
One of his latest albums, "Stevie Wonder - Song
Review," contains liner notes by Daniel Levin,
Stanford University music professor, who quotes the
I write, I try to capture the way I am feeling at that
particular moment. I sometimes go back years later and
listen to my songs to make sure that they still evoke the
same feelings in me I had when I wrote them. When they
do, I know I have been successful as a songwriter."
In the '90s, his song, "Pastime Paradise,"
was incorporated by rap star Coolio into a new smash hit
"Gangsta's Paradise." Wonder continues to charm
the world with his loving and complex music. "Stevie
is a really sensitive guy; it is reflected in his
music," General Manager Karen Slade said. His
greatness as an artist was reinforced when he was asked
to play at the inauguration ceremony for President
Clinton in Washington, which fell Martin Luther King's
birthday. He played a major part in the campaign to make
the civil rights leader's birthday a national holiday.
More recently, he has expressed deep concern about the
direction of America's urban youth. He does not approve
of lyrics that glorify street violence and encourage the
degradation of women. While his station does not cover as
much area as KKBT-FM (with 43,000 watts), it is an
essential radio station for African-Americans seeking a
sense of community and a place where their voices can be
heard and not misunderstood. Like most commercial
stations, KJLH carefully composes its playlist based on
testing songs with listeners and watching the national
charts. Because of Wonder's unique stewardship, the
playlist is considered in a progressive context.
held to a higher standard," Slade said.
|KJLH G.M. Karen Slade
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