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RADIO : The Talk of the Town? It's White : In L.A.'s melting pot market, minority radio talk show hosts need not apply . . . : except maybe on weekends

August 22, 1993|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Judith Michaelson is a Times staff writer. and

"I don't think there's been any real commitment to change since the riots. It's very evident that there are no new minority voices (as talk-show hosts) on the air. I believe the commitment should be there (and) all of us general-market stations are very exposed on this issue."

Howard Neal, vice president and general manager, KFI-AM (640), April, 1993

*

Entering KFI's mid-Wilshire offices, the first two faces you see are black: the gray-haired security guard at the front desk and, up the plush, orange-carpeted steps to the main floor, the perky, post-college receptionist.

Yet a photo display of the station's talk talent on June 8 told another story: a sea of white faces, including Rush Limbaugh, the conservative velociraptor of talk radio, who has snapped up 616 stations so far for his syndicated program--or more than half the stations in America that do talk. Appropriately, Limbaugh was at the top.

As the hour neared 4 p.m., talk-show host Daryl F. Gates--at KFI, the former Los Angeles police boss is still known as "Chief"--was heard through the station speakers saying that if Los Angeles elects Michael Woo as mayor this day, Los Angeles will become "a Third World City."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 29, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Page 91 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
The replacement for KABC-AM nighttime host Dennis Prager was weekend host Joel Roberts, not Gloria Allred. Allred got the evening slot, replacing David Viscott. Prager now airs at 1-4 p.m. in place of Steve Edwards. A story last Sunday provided incorrect information.

At her desk, the receptionist sounded a long, low "Booooooooooooo."

To a large degree, the photos on KFI's wall reflect what is happening at other talk stations in Los Angeles and the nation.

Scattered among the 1,000 or so general-market stations with talk or news/talk formats, The Times was able to identify only a dozen minority hosts in full-time weekday slots--three of them in non-commercial radio. Weekenders and fill-ins, whose influence is considerably less than that of a weekday host, were not counted.

While the Los Angeles market's adult listening audience is measured at more than 40% minority, there is only one full-time minority talk host on the three stations that define themselves as mainstream talk radio.

He is Errol Smith, 37--and he has to pay for one day out of the five that he's heard on KIEV-AM (870), a small station in Glendale. At L.A.'s two talk-radio mainstays, KFI and KABC-AM (790), there are no weekday minority hosts. Tom Hall has had a weekend overnight show at KABC for 15 years; Mark Whitlock, a staffer at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, began a regular weekend gig at KFI in July. (In September, Hall gets a more prominent role at KABC as host of a 9-p.m.-to-midnight show on Saturdays and, most likely, an afternoon slot on Sundays.)

Station executives say they recognize a need for minority hosts. But they say that openings are rare, and that it's difficult to find candidates who are qualified. And before anyone goes weekdays, they add, they have to prove themselves on weekends or in another market.

So the minority communities of Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans--a 59% majority in Los Angeles County alone--wait.

Kerman Maddox, a business consultant who has a Sunday evening talk show on KGFJ-AM (1230), a black-formated or urban station on La Brea Avenue near Olympic Boulevard, recalls driving to KABC not long ago to be a guest on the Hall show. "As I'm driving, I'm thinking to myself, 'Why am I doing this?' Now, there are people that listen (to Hall) but, c'mon, give me a break. Saturday night at midnight? Doesn't count. He's not on every day like (KFI's) Ken & John, like Daryl Gates, like Rush. You cannot convince me there's no one in this market who cannot do that work effectively through the week, mainstream, prime time."

While talk radio is open to guests and callers of any ethnicity, it is the host who sets the agenda and steers the conversation in the direction he (and the hosts are mostly he 's) chooses.

"We need diversity of opinion if we're all going to get to know each other and get along," says Esther Renteria, who chairs the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Coalition. "There is a different amount of influence if you're there 300 days a year--your platform is so much broader."

"By staffing the airwaves with this sort of homogeneous pool of middle-aged white guys, (programmers) are stifling the most important element of talk, which is the flow of new ideas," says Randall Bloomquist, Radio & Records' talk-radio editor. "It's a real mistake not to have not courted (minorities), to have not gone out and said, 'Gee, there's a black deejay and he's on a music station but here's a guy who's outspoken, has a strong personality, I want him.' "

National Public Radio has a talk-show host of Puerto Rican lineage in Ray Suarez, but "Talk of the Nation," though carried on 130 stations nationwide, has no berth in Los Angeles. At KCRW-FM (89.9) in Santa Monica and KPCC-FM (89.3) in Pasadena, station officials say that carrying it live would cut into music and local public-affairs programming.

"What about all the minority stations?" asks KCRW's general manager, Ruth Seymour, whose only full-time interview/talk show is Warren Olney's widely acclaimed "Which Way L.A.?"

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