What's New

Stveie at H.O.B.

BY KATHY GRONAU

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 their community.

Young Stevie

"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 there."
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 publicity-hungry.


"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.


"How many hip-hop stations can you have in one market?" Winston said.


"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 musical genius:


"Whenever 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.


"It is held to a higher standard," Slade said.


Karen Slade

KJLH G.M. Karen Slade

| back |