KJLH’s Pivotal Role During the LA Riots Garnered the Community Station a well deserved Peabody Award but would corporate urban radio be able to handle and cover and event of this magnitude today? I’m sure we all know the answer.
I had just been in LA for two years when the “Not Guilty” verdicts of the four white policeman who used excessive force during the videotaped arrest of Rodney King were read. I was working at Urban Network which was in Burbank California miles away from Crenshaw and Florence and Normandie where the rioting began. I remember we were glued to the TV at Urban Network watching the developing coverage of the riots. It was endless, when I got in my car to go home I tuned into the various radio stations KKBT, KFWB, KACE, KFI and then KJLH. At the time, I was working for KKBT when it was THE station to work at in LA. KKBT was in the process of embracing the LA Gangsta rap culture and the station wanted to appeal to a multi cultural audience with that genre of music so KKBT was not in a position to cover the riots. None of the stations in LA did as good of a job covering the riots as KJLH. The community station came through with flying colors to give non stop coverage and a much more in depth account from all sides of the riots. Here’s more coverage of the Riots from J.J. Johnson and Isidra Peson Lynn. Kevin Ross
I received calls from rioters:
“Yeah, I looted! I’m mad about Rodney King!”
“So, that makes it OK to loot and burn?”
“Hey, man, I’m real mad about this!”
“I got that. So am I. But, here’s my question; is it ever OK to steal from somebody – anybody – and burn their place down?”
“What they did wasn’t right!”
“Agreed. Now, is it OK or not to steal from a person and burn their place down?”
“Well”¦ Uh”¦” (Pause)
“Hey, man, just do what you know is right. And, thanks for calling.”
I had given him relief and had vicariously spread a modicum of relief to others by our on-air exchange. That’s what we did for three solid days and nights. All of us. In addition, we provided a forum for opinion leaders from State Senator Diane Watson to Jesse Jackson to the comedian, Sinbad, among numerous others.
We offered to receive any loot from anyone feeling bad or having had second thoughts, no questions. We ended up with a lobby full of loot waist-deep from people who’d gone crazy, returned to sanity and felt bad for their actions.
By Saturday morning, the worst was over. Disturbances were not entirely concluded, but the big explosion was done. The clean-up along Crenshaw was about to begin. People in the area were out with their brooms and shovels. People shuttled in from the predominantly white San Fernando Valley, where I lived, equipped with clean-up gear and ready to help their neighbors.
I once saw a nice little movie where the alien, in a human body, observed that humans are “at your best when things are the worst.” Black people had taken it upon themselves to rescue their non-Black neighbors, including the severely injured Reginald Denny, when the disturbances began. Some had stood in the path of firebomb-armed looters intending to burn down non-Black-owned businesses whose owners were known to be good people; “Not here!” And, in the Valley, white people who lived miles from the violence thought they should throw in and help to get things back together for their fellow Angelenos. That’s real.
The following year, KJLH received the prestigious Peabody Award for its “timely, exhaustive and important coverage of the Los Angeles riots.”
It was well-deserved. I was part of that.