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Ken Jones; L.A.'s 1st Black Anchorman

May 18, 1993|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ken Jones, Los Angeles' first black television anchorman whose highly visible career went into eclipse after he was convicted of check kiting 12 years ago, has died. He was 54.

Jones died Friday in Los Angeles of cancer, his family said.

A respected reporter who covered the Watts riots in 1965 and the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Jones took over the daily anchor's chair on KTTV Channel 11 in 1972.

His visibility as a veteran newsman earned him cameo roles in the Robert Redford film "The Candidate" and on the television series "The Odd Couple," "The Brady Bunch" and "MacMillan and Wife."

Determined to serve the African-American community as well as make his mark in mainstream journalism, Jones created the black entertainment newsmagazine SOUL in 1966 and published it until 1982. He also founded the weekly black newspaper the Los Angeles Spirit in late 1978, but that folded in less than a year.

Trying to create a version of SOUL that would appeal to Anglos, Jones also started KIIS the Newspaper in connection with the FM radio station in late 1979.

That third publication, he later told The Los Angeles Times, set him on the road to trouble. The Spirit had left him $150,000 in debt, and KIIS The Newspaper failed to become the financial panacea he hoped would rescue him.

Jones started kiting checks, or illegally manipulating funds between financial institutions to take advantage of the time gap in collecting funds.

In a four-day period in 1981, Jones wrote 23 checks for less than $10,000 each and converted them to cashier's checks at 21 Security Pacific branches. There was enough money in the KIIS Publications account to cover any one of the checks, enabling bank employees to honor each check, unaware of the multiple transactions. The bank publicly accused Jones of the illegal transactions on March 5, 1981.

"It was the same day that Walter Cronkite resigned, and I was the lead story," the newsman later told The Times. "It was like watching my own obituary."

Jones was sentenced to six months in County Jail and seven years probation, and ordered to repay $184,000. He was released after four months in a work-furlough program.

He later hosted a medical program on the Glendale radio station KIEV and worked on a Southern California weekend news service called Sports Radio Network. But his journalism career never regained its momentum.

"If things work out and I would even do something like win a Pulitzer Prize," he told The Times in 1983, "the papers would all write stories about me, and the third paragraph will begin 'Jones, who was involved in 1981 on a check-kiting charge.' I will never be able to erase that. I will have to live with that for the rest of my life."

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jones began reporting high school sports for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1954. He worked as a copy boy, jazz disc jockey and Los Angeles Police Department radio dispatcher while attending night school at Los Angeles City College.

Jones worked for KDAY radio and KRLA radio in Pasadena before moving to KTTV as a features reporter and weekend anchor in 1968.

In 1976, Jones lost his post at KTTV in a management change that cut the news show to 30 minutes from one hour. He moved on to KNXT Channel 2 as a reporter and weekend anchor, and he was working there when he started the newspaper that was his financial and journalistic downfall.

Jones is survived by his mother, sister, two brothers, five children and three grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Angelus Funeral Home, with interment in Inglewood Park Cemetery.

The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

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