By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — It’s only been on the air for a month, but already the buzz is building for KBLA Talk 1580, the Los Angeles radio station that made its debut on Juneteenth, launched by media personality, author and philanthropist Tavis Smiley.
After almost four years off the air, Smiley is back on the airwaves with the only 24-hour, seven-days-a-week Black-owned and operated talk radio station in Southern California.
“We have never had talk radio that is Black-owned in Los Angeles,” Smiley said. “The line in talk radio has always been all day, all night, all white.”
Smiley held a media luncheon July 15 to brief those in attendance about updates on the station, which he said is already becoming a powerhouse after being on the air for a month.
The former PBS host, who calls his new station “unapologetically progressive,” said the station carries 50,000 watts of broadcasting power with a reach of 12 million people in its coverage area. The station will not only cover local news, but national and international news as well.
And with a provocative lineup of talented radio hosts, he said he hoped listeners will be captivated by the round-the-clock stimulating talk.
Award-winning radio host Dominique DiPrima, who after 16 years at radio free 102.3 KJLH-FM, is now the host of KBLA’s morning drive time show “First Things First. DiPrima made history by becoming the only African American woman in Los Angeles to host her own commercial talk radio show, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Some were surprised when DiPrima joined KBLA after 16 years at 102.3 KJLH-FM. But Smiley said there are no hard feelings with KJLH’s owner Stevie Wonder, adding that KJLH is primarily a music station while KBLA 1580 is 24-hour talk radio.
“Stevie and I have been friends for years,” Smiley said. “I felt our friendship would be over once DiPrima joined KBLA, but Stevie got on the air and said, ‘I want to congratulate my pal Tavis Smiley.’ There’s no competition between me and Stevie. There is room for two radio stations.”
DiPrima is followed by Smiley, whose “Tavis Smiley” show airs from 9 a.m. to noon.
Comedian Alonzo Bodden brings his commentary to KBLA Talk 1580 with his own show, “Alonzo Bodden: Who’s Paying Attention?”
Listeners also can call in to chat with comic and political commentator DL Hughley, whose “The DL Hughley Afternoon Show” is heard around the country and can now be heard in Los Angeles on KBLA Talk 1580 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Other shows airing on KBLA 1580 include “Middays With Danny Morrison” Monday through Friday from noon to 2 p.m., “Let’s Get Intimate with Dr. Jeshana Johnson” Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 p.m., and “Don Amiche vs. Everybody with Crysta and Kiara” Monday through Friday from 9 p.m. to midnight.
“The Best of KBLA Talk 1580” runs each night from midnight to 6 a.m. Weekends are anchored by Black Lives Matters’ “This Is Not A Drill,” featuring co-founder Melina Abdullah along with “The Best of State of the Black Union,” heard exclusively on KBLA.
“There’s nothing like word of mouth,” said Smiley, who added that local listeners have been tuning in to the station at a rapid rate while listeners across the country have been tuning into the station by downloading the KBLA Talk 1580 app.
Smiley is optimistic about the station’s chances and said that he is in it for the long run.
“What makes the venture unique is that it is not about me, it’s not a Tavis Smiley project because I have a great team on board carrying the load,” he said. “It’s about the community having a platform and we’re definitely off to a good start.”
Smiley has plans to expand KBLA to other cities as well.
“Los Angeles is the flagship station,” he said, adding there are a number of Black populated cities that lack a Black talk show radio station.
“The plan is to buy and lease other networks across the country that will take our programming,” Smiley said. “We have already talked to investors and calls to syndicate KBLA 1580 are already pouring in.”
Smiley, who said he was good friends with the late musician Prince, said that the artist passed on some lifelong valuable advice.
“Remember when Prince scrawled the word ‘slave’ across his face?” Smiley asked. “That’s because Prince didn’t own any of the masters of his own music. He said to me, ‘Ownership is everything. Make sure you own all the copyrights to your work.’
“I took that to heart and I have made certain that I own all of my material,” Smiley said.
Smiley said that being off the air for four years due to allegations of sexual misconduct that resulted in PBS taking his show off the air was one of the toughest periods in his life. During his four-year absence, Smiley said he went into a period of introspection and was angered and appalled to hear about the rash of police shootings that were killing Black men across the country.
“They’re covering us now because we are in the streets, but what happens when we’re not in the streets anymore and folks supporting us have dissipated?” Smiley reflected. “[Cops] are not going to stop killing us.”
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.