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Putting the Rap on Gang Bangers : As KDAY's King News, Lee Marshall uses his on-air pulpit to bully gang members into changing their ways

July 29, 1990|GREG BRAXTON

It was just after 7 a.m., and King News was looking anything but royal.

The strain of producing several newscasts while most people were still sleeping was evident as King sipped coffee in a small, spare studio at KDAY-AM, the voice of rap in Southern California.

Suddenly, with a flick of a switch on the console in front of him, King's face and eyes brightened. He turned to the microphone and declared in a deep, authoritative tone that demands your attention:

"I'm KING NEWS . . . and I come to you this morning with the TRUTH."

The "truth," delivered three times each weekday morning on KDAY (1580), is basically The World According to King News--four-minute newscasts spiced with outspoken, personal commentary on happenings around the city, particularly in South-Central Los Angeles. His observations are aimed mainly at black teen-agers who make up rap's core audience. The targets: street crime and gang members.

On a recent morning, King News reported how the "gangbang b.s." was behind a shooting during a graduation party in Norwalk in which one youth was killed and nine wounded. "Oh, yeah, you gang bangers sure know how to party," he said sarcastically.

On another day, he taunted gang members who had participated in a fatal shooting the night before--suggesting the police were already on their trail. "We have two gang bangers that, in the split second it took them to pull the trigger on their guns, went from being just a couple of street gangsters to being wanted and hunted cold-blooded killers."

Since King News' debut last summer, many in KDAY's audience, including some gang members, have embraced him. They visualize him as a black prophet who is intimately familiar with the harsh realities of street life in their communities--someone akin to Mr. Senor Love Daddy in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing." They say he fits right in at a place that calls itself "The World's Most Dangerous Radio Station."

So, they're probably shocked when they discover that this inner-city voice actually belongs to a white, 40-year-old former bodybuilder who used to be a sportscaster for KABC-AM (790). "People are always surprised when they meet King News and find he's not an African-American," Lee Marshall said matter-of-factly, referring to his alter ego.

"I think Caucasians are most surprised. But when blacks meet me, they say, 'Oh, you're him ? You're the one we've been waiting for--a Caucasian who cares about what's happening in my community.'

"The fact that I'm white has never been an issue. The message is what's important. I have yet to get a negative reaction. It certainly doesn't compromise what I'm saying."

KDAY'S morning personality Greg Mack said of King News: "Rap is about the streets, and our news is about the streets, as opposed to a regular newscast. In the rap world, we call King News' newscast 'raw.' He's seen as someone that's totally honest, someone that they can believe in."

Mack added that when it comes to King News, Marshall's race is a non-issue. "He talks about black issues, but he doesn't perpetrate himself as a black spokesman," he said. "People are shocked when they see him, but they know he's a hip guy. They wish more white people were as aware as King News is."

Black or white, the news about "King News" is spreading, and his hero status appears to be growing in South-Central Los Angeles. Teachers and others in the community say kids who won't always listen to them pay attention to King News.

"I think he's becoming the voice of conscience among gang bangers," said Donald Baaker, an English teacher at Manual Arts High School who works with gang members. "He's got a straight-up, almost corny style. But he's got a deep, resonant voice, and a wit that makes him appealing."

The words of King News are even reaching beyond Los Angeles. He is featured on the new anti-violence anthem by the West Coast Rap All-Stars, "We're All in the Same Gang," the No. 1 rap single in the country, according to Billboard magazine.

Marshall's voice can be heard behind a wall of police sirens at the start of the record: "I'm King News . . . with the Truth. . . . The mean streets took six more lives last night, all because of gang banger stupidity. By the way, you gang bangers should know that one of your victims was a 3-year-old girl. You gang bangers still don't get it, do you?"

There is also talk of syndicating King News nationwide, and of expanding the local newscasts beyond the morning time slots.

When talking about King News, Marshall will often use the third person. "King News . . . he's an interesting guy," he said. "I'm not nearly as overt as he is. He's a very concerned person. All he really wants people to do is think, make the right decisions and be strong. The main messages are to vote, to stay in school and to stay out of gangs."

The "King News" name and concept was the brainchild of KDAY president and general manager Ed Kerby.

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