I hate Los Angeles talk show radio station KFI 640 AM. Really I do. I once wrote an article about how their morning show host Bill Handel, who I think is as a racist as they come, "could kiss my fat Black a**" and even led a protest against the station. Afternoon shock jocks (and they hate being called this but ask me if I care) John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou -well they're the worst of all. I'll never get over their "Kill Tookie Hour" referring to California death row inmate Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Believe me when I tell you that I have no fans over at KFI. And even with that said, I can't help but listen to that damn station everyday Monday through Friday. However, I do draw the line at that self-righteous Dr. Laura and the every so boring duo "Kennedy and Suits" (I miss you John Ziegler). I'd rather sit in my car in silence in the middle of the 405 freeway at 6 p.m. than subject myself to that crap.
I'm telling you this because of an article I read in the Los Angeles Times ("KFI's John & Ken: No time for nuance," February 25, 2009) criticizing KFI's "John & Ken Show" and their listeners. Now normally, I'd be emailing the author kudos and a "right on," but not this time.
As much as I hate to admit it, Bill Handel and the "John & Ken Show" talk about the issues that matter to me, albeit most times from a conservative point of view. I rarely agree with them on anything. So much so, that it's not unusual to find me screaming and yelling in the car, only not at other drivers, but rather my radio.
You see, for those of us living in Los Angles interested in local and state politics, there are very few options on radio. For me, a 31 year-old Black female Democrat, there's almost none. I thank God and Stevie Wonder for KJLH 102.3 FM's "Front Page" show heard locally from 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. Wonder, who owns KJLH, is the reason that I drag myself out of the bed at the crack of dawn to listen to host Dominique DiPrima engage Black Los Angeles on the political issues that I care about...from an unapologetically Black point of view. For 90 minutes Monday through Friday, I get politics from a Black perspective. And as a bonus, on Saturday, I can tune in and listen to "L.A. Speaks Out" with host Jacquie Stephens for an hour on the same station and KDAY's (92.3 FM) "Beat of the Community" with host Niele Anderson. Hardly enough to feed me what I wish I could have 24 hours a day without having to subscribe to satellite radio or be in front of my computer. Nevertheless, I am grateful for what I have. I supplement the rest by forcing myself to listen to KFI's Bill Handel and the John and Ken Show.
Believe it or not, all Black people don't need their news watered down with comedy. Some of us don't care about celebrity gossip. We all don't want to listen to the same R&B and hip hop songs repeated hourly.
In Los Angeles, those seem to be my only options when it comes to urban radio. 2 minutes of news, weather, and traffic, packaged between 58 minutes of music, banter, and commercials doesn't' cut it for all of us, and in my opinion, is part of the reason why Blacks are so ill informed on the critical local and state issues that affect us the most. Whether or not that's by design, I have yet to conclude. I find it hard to understand why out of all of Los Angeles' radio stations, when it comes to Black people, our choices are limited to music and comedy. Maybe the powers that be think that if they can keep Black people dancing and laughing, we'll be too distracted to notice what's happening at City Hall and in Sacramento, because let's face it, we don't read the newspaper and rarely watch the news. Or so they think.
Not even L.A.'s two public radio stations, KPCC 89.3 FM and KCRW 89.9 FM see the value in African-American listeners. Neither National Public Radio affiliate carries NPR's only national African-American focused news program "News & Notes." And with NPR's recent announcement that NPR is canceling "News & Notes," I guess they didn't see value in it either.
Yes, I agree the hosts at KFI are obnoxious, cra**, and rude. They're also very white, and in my opinion extremely conservative. And from the on air calls that I've heard (and I've heard many) and the emails that are read on air, I'd say most of their audience is the same. And even with all that said, I still have to respect an audience of people of that is willing to get up off their a**es and pick up the phone and call their local and state lawmakers to protest whatever the issue of the day is. True, most times they're taking a position opposite of mine, but they are doing something when the majority of people are doing nothing.
I wonder what would be different in Black L.A. if we engaged in the same discourse and activism that KFI's listeners too.
In a perfect world, I could tune into a Black owned radio station or a station that caters to a Black audience and hear in discussion the same local and state political issues that I hear on KFI, but from a Black point of view. I would rather be asked to make a call to my councilmember on an important issue than to be the 39th caller for a pair of concert tickets. And I'm not knocking the "urban" stations that Los Angeles does have. But what I am saying is that as an African-American, my options for local and state politics are far and few between and I take it in where I can get it and for the past few years that's been by listening to KFI.
You can criticize John and Ken, I have and I probably will again, but don't overlook the fact that they been able to motivate a city into political action just because you disagree with action being taken. There's a reason why they are the most loathed, feared, and at the same time listened to show in Los Angeles. Who else do you know locally on radio who can get thousands of people to send toilet bowl cleaners to the Mayor, tea bags to Sacramento, make phone calls to lawmakers, and then get those same targeted officials to appear on their show and explain themselves and the position they took? My point exactly. I'd rather have angry frustrated constituents sending toilet bowl cleaners and tea bags to lawmakers than showing up at the office and taking everyone out.
Everyone who listens to KFI doesn't listen because they want to or they even enjoy it. Everyone who listens to KFI isn't a Republican or an Independent. Everyone who listens to KFI doesn't hate immigrants. Everyone who listens to KFI doesn't believe their hosts speak the holy gospel and await their every command. Everyone who listens to KFI isn't white, granted most are, but not all.
Some of us listen because we feel that there's no other option if we're interested in being engaged in local and state news. For some of us it's a love hate relationship.
I only wish I didn't have to listen to what I deem as conservative racist white shock jocks to get my political fix for the day.
Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, cla**, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, and Ebony Magazine. A regular contributor to NPR's 'News and Notes,' she was chosen as one Essence Magazine's 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.