Los Angeles radio station KJLH-FM (102.3) was awarded a prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting Thursday for its "timely, exhaustive and important coverage of the Los Angeles riots" last year.
"I think it's great," said Carl Nelson, KJLH news director. "But I don't think we did anything different than what every other radio station should have done during the civil disturbances. Most chose to play music rather than to be responsible to what was going on in the community. But I think it's incumbent upon stations, especially those that appeal to ethnic minorities, to provide some kind of informational material."
Another local station, KTTV-TV Channel 11, was also awarded a Peabody for its gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Rodney G. King civil trial.
Among the other 33 winners for 1992 were "Roseanne," "Seinfeld," "Northern Exposure," C-SPAN, "Nightline," "Larry King Live," Daniel Schorr and Fred Rogers.
Just after the verdict in the first trial of the police officers accused of beating King, KJLH abandoned its "straight-up black music" format, Nelson said, and opened the phones so listeners could call in and vent their anger with the verdicts and the disturbances that followed.
KJLH dumped all commercials for more than three days and invited such prominent African-Americans as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ice-T and Barry White into the station to field calls in an effort "to find nonviolent solutions to the community's frustrations."
Once the violence subsided, the station became a resource and aid center for South-Central.
"Everyone thinks that most people in South-Central were watching the disturbances on TV, but most of the people didn't have power and couldn't watch TV," Nelson said. "Many of them were listening to us on little transistors and we tried to help them just by telling them such things as where the nearest open gas station was."