KKBT 92.3 in Los Angeles, “The Beat” was all the rage in the late 80s and early 90s. But all that glittered was not gold for Black men.
Nationally, it was THE station and a place where black announcers wanted to work badly. The station, located on Yucca St in Hollywood at the time was historic and the very place I was working when the 1994 Northridge earthquake hit while I was on the air doing an overnight shift.
Radio Facts – Outside of pure talent and extremely good looks, I have no idea how I got in (laugh). Perhaps it was timing. Mike Stradford didn’t hire me but as soon as he was out, John Monds hired me when I sent in my, by that time, 20th air check. I am still friends with John Monds to this day.
Monds was a great PD and working at the station was like Heaven and hell at the same time but the money, compared to the urban stations I had worked at previously was like night and day
In urban radio, we were trained to think that we should be grateful to have ANY job at all in radio because the white stations didn’t hire black jocks. I used to hold that against Black owners when I was younger but I get it now. They were being honest and speaking from their own personal experiences years before my generation when radio was REALLY racist. Racism in radio has gotten better over the years but it was still bad in the 90s.
KKBT was a great place to work but at the same time, it was the most racist company I have ever worked for too. They really had a thing against black men. Black men at the station were mostly used to give up cultural secrets, slang and concepts to help program the station then we were quickly tossed to the curb. Oddly, the three Black men that outlasted everyone, MichaelMixxin Moore, Tre Black, and Captain G. are all deceased and died young.
Black Men Need Not Apply Unless You Surrender Your Cultural Concepts for Profit
Black women were able to work there but black men were not so fortunate. Ironically, black men as in artists, rappers and producers in hip hop, were the main people the station used to garner success. They were none the wiser, they didn’t see the exchange, they were being supported and used at the same time.
When John Monds left as a PD, and Keith Naftaly came in things changed drastically. First, the small office John had was relocated for the new PD to an office 5 times the size with a fireplace. I knew my days were numbered at that point. The energy at the station had changed.
The morning show was hosted by John London and the House Party, which included a mixture of people from all races but a white host which was very odd for an urban station at that time. London was somewhat distant and private and I never had a lot of conversation with him but I give him credit for completely being himself. He was not acting black or trying to fit it. He was being himself. The black audience in LA ate it up but I personally was never into that show.
Once new management came in just about all the black male announcers were out including Tavis Smiley who’s midday segment was canceled after a white woman at the station complained his segments were racist. Smiley’s segments were about empowering Black people.
The station opted to bring in men who could emulate black culture instead of hiring black men and that’s not to take anything away from jocks like Theo Mizuhara who I worked with who was an excellent jock and a great guy but I was confused as to why only stations playing black music had to be multicultural when all other formats didn’t.
“No Color Lines” … Starting with Black Men
The station had a slogan “No Color Lines” which the black male jocks made a joke about by saying … “starting with black men.” I don’t know who came up with that cheesy slogan but it made no sense since it was not and had never been an industry-standard in radio. I could never imagine a country radio station or a rock radio station having a slogan like that. The slogan wasn’t about acceptance as much as it was an excuse.
There was a black woman who worked at KKBT who was playing both sides and she helped the white management eliminate the black male talent by acting like she was compassionate with the racism that was taking place and learning how we felt. Then she took what we said back to the management members like the late Craig Wilbraham.
She played us and she played us well. To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse … the racist management or black people helping them BE racist.
All Hell Breaks Loose
The late Michael Mixxin Moore was brought in at the end of his career and he was considered a legend in the market. He remained when most of us were fired but he was eventually fired too… and he went left when it happened.
I saw Mike at an industry event after I was fired and he told me he was going to expose The Beat for being the most racist station in the industry. All of the former black male jocks felt the same way so that was nothing new to me. I asked him how he planned to do it. He told me he was going to get a helicopter and fly it over the station’s Summer Jam concert. I didn’t believe him and laughed it off. I never told a soul about it.
Then … Mike hired a helicopter and flew it over The Beat’s Summer Jam JUST like he said he would. He disbursed thousands of flyers while weaves and paper plates flew everywhere from the helicopter. The paper said the station should be called KKKBT and was racist and had homosexuals in management … These were the days when rumors like that could get you blackballed. The whole situation was historic and the station tried to press charges against Moore with the FAA to no avail.
The same woman who betrayed the black male jocks immediately took to the stage to defend the station for not being racist. Which was the furthest thing from the truth and that’s when we knew she had been playing both sides.
KKBT was as racist as the day is long and I was very surprised to see her do that … but then again after all that happened. I was not surprised at all.
Keith Naftaly left the station and radio sometime after that and he was replaced as the PD.
… And “The Beat” Goes On
In addition to Mike, the late Tre Black also had a dispute against the station for racism. I saw him at an Urban Network conference and he told me he was completely burnt out by their racism at the station and it was a matter of time before he was going to be fired.
Tre was an excellent jock. One of the best in the nation and shortly after I saw him he decided to send out a memo ON KKBT LETTERHEAD describing how racist they were to all the industry trades. Of course, Urban Network opted out of running it but had Radio Facts been around at the time, I would have run it. Tre was out after that.
Keith Naftaly came in and was promoted to the PD at KKBT from the San Francisco market station KMEL. Industry vets informed me that Naftaly was trained by respected radio vet Lee Michaels. In the entire time that he was at the station, I don’t think we spoke more than one sentence and I was fired shortly after he started.
He wanted to go more Hip-Hop for KKBT. So a lot more rappers were coming up to the station like Easy E, Ice Cube, Snoop and others to support the station on the air that they thought was supporting them. They were right and wrong. The support benefited them AND the station.
Unbeknownst to them, the station passed out memos as well as reminders telling the staff to make sure their desks and offices were locked because the rappers would be coming there during the weekends.
NAACP … Hard Lesson Learned!
After I was fired along with the other black jocks who the woman at the station betrayed, we decided to go to the Hollywood branch of the NAACP to file a complaint.
Around the same time, Arsenio Hall, who was super hot with his TV show and at the time had just had a huge falling out with the same branch and then president Willis Edwards as they were complaining that Arsenio wasn’t hiring other black people for the production of the show. Arsenio flat out said that Willis asked him for $40,000 and he refused to cough up money like other organizations did and THAT was the problem. It became a huge mess and Arsenio even talked about it on his show.
The NAACP organization at that time did not have the best reputation in Hollywood circles and we were aware of that but we didn’t know where else to go, we were young and a bit green.
By the time we approached the organization, Sandra Evers-Manly was the president. We told her what happened in a meeting and she agreed to meet with the station.
We followed up with the branch a week or so later and our call was not answered or returned. We called again the next week and the next and the next all to no avail.
Manly was very familiar with the racism problems at the station as our group was one of several black men that complained to the Hollywood branch of the NAACP.
Finally, there was a meeting called and the late Craig Wilbraham, who was white, declared the station employed a majority of black employees but that was not true and there were very few, if any, in management or decision-making positions.
By the time we went to the Hollywood Branch of the NAACP the complaints from Black men who had worked at the station shortly before us were mounting. KUDOS to Billboard for having the balls unlike the black trades at the time to run the story on the situation. See the story here.
After Manly and the station met several times, we were finally told that the situation had been resolved and KKBT would meet a list of demands one of which was sponsoring the NAACP’s breakfast meetings. None of the demands benefited the black men unjustly fired from the station. I lost all respect for the NAACP in that moment through today.
Unrelated but Related
Early on when I started Radio Facts I went up to another station to do a story on racism by a janitor who was used by the white morning team to do bits on the air. He was young and naive and they were really being racist with him and he ended up suing them.
The GM of the station flat out asked me what I wanted. I’m sure it was in lieu of running the story. That’s when I met face to face with understanding how the situation at KKBT had worked. I was a black organization that could profit from a black man suing if I played ball.
Finally, we went to BRE. We were pretty confident that he would help us (I know vets in the black industry reading the previous line are already laughing at our naivety) I’m embarrassed to tell what a mistake that was so I will leave it at that. I will say KKBT sponsored a pool party for one of the last BRE conferences after our meeting.
No Experience is a Bad Experience when it Comes with an Education!
I was fully educated at this point.
I had come to realize how much power the press and organizations have but I planned to do things differently than the experiences I had with KKBT. So right around the time, I started the magazine, I put the station on a complete blast and told the whole story in one of the first issues and the response was so phenomenal with other black jocks around the country who felt the same way I was encouraged to keep going.
The whole situation was a great lesson in not only racism but greed and betrayal and more even amongst our own.
All in all, I’m glad I worked at KKBT, as stated it was a far cry from the urban stations that I had worked at previously but I came to understand that what the elder owners said was now true.
It was a great lesson I will never forget
See the vintage KKBT’s Facebook page here.