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Another Voice : Valley-based Bailey Broadcasting produces programs focusing on African-American issues.

July 16, 1993|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The radio broadcast began with a Langston Hughes poem:

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?

For the next two hours, "Up From the Ashes: The Los Angeles Rebellion and Beyond" provided alternately concise, angry and hopeful analysis of the destruction that raged through the city in the spring of 1992. When it aired on a Washington radio station, dozens of listeners called in. The same thing happened when KJLH (FM 102.3) broadcast the show here.

"People wanted copies," said Frankie Ross, KJLH's program director. "They wanted to know where they could buy it."

"Up From the Ashes" was neither the first nor the only recapitulation of the rioting. But it was unusual because it dealt specifically with the emotions, opinions and history of the African-American community. The show originated from Bailey Broadcasting Services in the San Fernando Valley, one of the independent producers scattered across the country that operate outside of radio's predominantly Caucasian mainstream.

"We make no bones about it--our programs have a black edge," said Lee Bailey, who runs the company with his wife, Diane Blackmon-Bailey. "If you're black, being black is on your mind 24 hours a day. There are always issues being raised."

Not all of these issues are weighty. Bailey produces two weekly music reports, "Inside Gospel" and "Hip Hop Countdown." His company's flagship--a program called "RadioScope" that airs daily on KJLH and 100 other stations nationwide--offers 3 1/2 minutes worth of often gossipy tidbits on the likes of Janet Jackson and Bobby Brown. One installment featured James Brown talking about his 1989 prison sentence.

"I did the one thing that we all do when we get in a lot of trouble. I went back to God," Brown said on the show. "If you're in any kind of pain, oh Lord, you find a way to call him. So I called him every day, all day."

Such lively fare earned "RadioScope" a nomination for best nationally distributed program at the 1992 Billboard Radio Awards. The show was nominated again this year, with the awards to be presented in September.

Bailey's success as a producer seems fitting. Although he spent nine years as a disc jockey, the 45-year-old says he was never much good at inventing rhymes or cute phrases, the sort of talents that dominate Top-40 airwaves. It was only natural that he gravitated toward the other side of the medium, the radio of words and ideas.

"There are always people hanging around radio stations because they love radio so much," Bailey explained. "They physically gravitate toward the station."

As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, he was one of them. The disc jockeys let him hang around because he was willing to go for coffee or do chores. They also let him practice in studios that weren't being used.

By 1969, his voice had grown appropriately deep, as if he'd been born into the business. Bailey was in the U. S. Air Force by then, stationed in Sacramento, and still hanging around broadcast studios. A local station agreed to give him a late-night soul show.

"It was pure love," he recalled. "I didn't realize I was working hard."

Soon after, a Flint, Mich., station offered him a spot. From there he lived a deejay's life, bouncing from Stockton to Washington and back to Los Angeles, where he worked for KUTE-FM.

It was during this time, in the mid-1970s, that he met Steve Ivory, a columnist for Soul magazine. The two men devised a nightly information feature, the forerunner to "RadioScope." In 1979, Bailey left his place behind the microphone and switched to doing commercial voice-overs while building a makeshift studio in his garage. He prepared for a new career in much the same way that he had prepared for his previous one.

"The idea of doing these sorts of information programs had always been in the back of my mind," he said. "I just bugged the hell out of people who would talk to me about being a producer."

The format for "RadioScope" soon developed: short weekday programs and an hourlong spot on the weekend. By 1983, the show was on the air.

"My problem was," Bailey said, "I didn't know squat about business."

Then he met Diane Blackmon, who had worked on and off the air in radio. She knew the money side of the trade. They formed a company.

These days, Bailey Broadcasting employs more than a dozen writers, researchers and technicians. Some work full time and others contribute to special projects. The production company occupies a series of offices that are substantially larger than the Baileys' garage.

All of the stations that carry Bailey programs are "urban," the industry buzz word for stations that cater to African-American audiences. Bailey says he has tried to break into other markets.

This is where the producer grows frustrated, describing how general managers don't return his calls.

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