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KKBT's Programming Goes Beyond the Airwaves

Radio: The station is bringing together sports, arts and deejays for workshops at community centers around L.A.

July 09, 1999|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Barbara McAlpine remembers enjoying extracurricular activities hosted by a local radio station when she was in junior high school in the late '50s.

"They would come out and have dances for us after football games," she says.

That, more or less, has been the model of community interaction for radio stations since those early days of youth-oriented music broadcasting. There may not be sock hops today, but appearances of air personalities now usually aren't much more than promotional activities involving giving away T-shirts and signing autographs.

That wouldn't do McAlpine much good in her current job as recreation service specialist at the Jackie Robinson Park Community Center in Pasadena. Her job is trying to compensate for cutbacks in educational and recreational activities in the local schools--not exactly the territory of a radio station.

But it's exactly what KKBT-FM (92.3) has in mind with its Summer Arts Series. The station, known as the Beat, launched the endeavor last year, sending deejays and other station personnel to community centers around L.A. to hold sessions not just in radio activities--Julio D. did a deejay mixing class, for example--but acting, dance and comedy as well.

This summer it's being expanded to include sports--with players from the Dodgers, Kings, Galaxy and various UCLA Bruins teams--and a wider range of art activities. The daylong programs will be held on four consecutive Saturdays starting this week at the Kedren Community Health Center in Watts and Virginia Park on the Santa Monica-Venice border in addition to Jackie Robinson Park in Pasadena, with sports in the mornings, a lunch break (the meal, like everything else, is free) and arts in the afternoons.

"Sports and arts are what are getting cut from our schools, and we wanted to fill the gap in our little way," says Dominique DiPrima, KKBT community action director and host of the community affairs show "Street Scene," heard Sundays from 9 p.m. to midnight.

"For a lot of kids, those are the things that make them go to school," she says. "Sports promotes unity and teamwork, so it seemed natural to combine that with the arts series."

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Sports, of course, also draws some attraction with the players coming down. Last year's sessions were attended by anywhere from 20 to 60 kids at each location.

Kurt Schwartzkopf, director of marketing and promotions for both the Kings and the Staples Center, says participating in this program is a natural--even if on the surface Canadian hockey players and urban hip-hop and R&B seems an odd combination.

"With the Kings and Staples Center, one of our biggest efforts to support is the [Los Angeles] Inner City Arts Program," he says, noting that Sean O'Donnell, one of the Kings' top young players, will be among those pitching in for the Beat. "The correlation of arts with sports for kids is great. Whether a kid is playing sports or playing piano, it contributes to growth and keeps them out of trouble and that's what it's all about."

Of course, if it also contributes to the growth of the team's fan base, so be it, and in recent years, Dennis Cruz, one of the cast members of morning man John London's House Party crew, has been a rabid Kings booster on the air.

For her facility, McAlpine says this is a godsend.

"I've really gotten the word out to lots of parents and I expect a big turnout," she says. "And I can use this as a model and maybe I can get a volunteer to come in and continue some of the workshops. Once the interest is there, I can put in the effort to try and make it a regular class."

For the station, it's also not entirely an altruistic effort, but a way to build for its future as well.

"We're all about music and the arts," DiPrima says. "If we don't nurture the next generation of artists and of music appreciators, then we're pretty shortsighted. When you see cuts in the schools and the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts], and the government taking less of a role in promoting arts, that's when it becomes the community's responsibility."

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For her it was a natural outgrowth of the job she started at the Beat in 1994. After the 1992 riots, KKBT became a vehicle for dialogue and discussion. A desire to be proactive rather than reactive led to DiPrima's hiring and the creation of her community action department, as well as the advent of her "Street Science" show, which used to be heard on Sunday mornings.

"We were given a lot of leeway about how to go about it," she says. "And we have four full-time people on the community efforts, and that's all we do. This has become a big part of the station's identity, not just an isolated area."

With the Summer Arts Series now established, she says, the tangible effects of her work are really clear, with the emotional rewards mounting.

"I'm really looking forward to the 31st when we'll have football with the Bruins in the morning, then lunch and then [deejay] Dennis Cruz teaching a comedy class in the afternoon," she says. "I can't wait to see all those tired faces. We're going to wear them out! And that's definitely a plus for their moms."

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