Radio became channel for listeners' rage during riots

May 05, 1992|By Fred Shuster | Fred Shuster,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- For the past two days, the city's African-American music stations have devoted their airwaves to listeners' comments as a means to try and head off physical manifestations of rage at the Rodney King trial verdict.

"When the trial decision came down, we were afraid because we knew people would react badly," said Karen Slade, general manager of urban contemporary KJLH-FM (102.3). "We wanted to try and stop what ultimately happened. We decided to take as many calls as we could handle so listeners could get their frustrations out."

KJLH, located on Crenshaw Boulevard and 39th Street in South Central Los Angeles, is an African-American-owned station that's been in operation for 27 years. Ms. Slade said the station "has always been connected to the community."

At first, KJLH disc jockeys told upset callers to register to vote, but "when people are frustrated and angry, they don't want to to be told to go out and vote," Ms. Slade said, adding that more than 1,000 voter registration forms were picked up by listeners at the station Thursday.

The station then began urging peace in the streets, suggesting callers attempt to clean up their community. Entertainers Barry White and Sinbad, plus Jesse Jackson, came to the station.

J.L. Martinez, news director at soul oldies KGFJ-AM (1230), said a tape warehouse across the street from the station on La Brea Boulevard, near Olympic Boulevard, burned down Thursday night.

The station reverted to a talk format in the evenings Thursday and Friday so listeners could talk about the situation.

"The first day gave them a chance to express their emotions," Mr. Martinez said. "It helps to avoid the physical confrontations. We've been able to be more personal than television in a lot of cases."

All-news stations KNX-AM (1070) and KFWB-AM (980) both had vehicles damaged in the riots. No staffers were injured.

KFWB reporter Pete Demetriou was broadcasting Wednesday night near Normandie and Florence avenues in South Central when his Chevy Blazer mobile studio was set upon by a crowd wielding bricks and bats.

"He kept on reporting and got out of there," said KFWB news director Scott Gorbitz. "Good thing he wasn't driving a stick shift."

The same night, a rioter threw a tire iron through the window of a news car driven by Tom Vacar of KNX. He sped away.

And Michael Ambrosini, also of KNX, rescued a television reporter who was being chased and beaten, said Bob Sims, KNX news director.

Mr. Gorbitz said KFWB was operating with a double staff of more than 50 reporters, including four or five staffers in the field around the clock.

"This is a bigger story than an earthquake," Mr. Gorbitz said. "When a quake strikes, there's that primary moment, then it diminishes. With this story, you just don't know what's going to happen next. The story is so dynamic, you don't have to sensationalize it."

KNX's Mr. Sims said he had several reporters on their way to South Central Wednesday night when "this very cold feeling went through me and I immediately got on the two-way and told everyone to get out of the area. Nobody's getting much sleep."

Other radio stations also dropped their formats to devote time to the crisis.

At Long Beach public radio station KLON-FM (88.1), general manager Rick Lewis said the jazz station was broadcasting round the clock news coverage.

"We've got three or four reporters in the field and an anchor at the station," Mr. Lewis said. "We're playing less music as required to cover the story in Long Beach and L.A."

Chuck Moshontz, who reads the news on KLOS-FM's (95.5) top-rated "Mark and Brian Show," said the Thursday and Friday morning shows were devoted to the situation.

"We played no music, but spent all our time covering the story through news reports, calls from listeners and officials, and our helicopter pilot," Mr. Moshontz said. "We've been talking to people about their experiences and feelings. They're unanimously upset by the verdict, compassionate for the frustration and hopelessness some people feel and outraged at the senselessness of the violence and looting."

On Thursday, the station simulcast part of KJLH's morning show so Mark and Brian could speak with KJLH morning host Rico about the issues. KLOS also simulcast with a station in Birmingham, Ala.

"We've been trying to serve as an emotional clearinghouse for our listeners' views," Mr. Moshontz said.

Even Howard Stern spent a good part of his program Friday talking about the civil unrest in Los Angeles, where he is heard on KLSX-FM (97.1). He supported the not-guilty verdicts in the King trial.

KFI-AM (640) afternoon talk host Tom Leykis said he went through a similar riot situation in 1984 while working on a radio station in Miami.

"The most important word to follow is 'caution,' " Mr. Leykis said.

"Emotions must be kept in check. What you say on the air has to be responsible. It shouldn't inflame passions. I realized in Miami that the right thing to do is give out useful information, give people a place to vent their rage and be responsible."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.