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Smiley radio vision cuts through conservative imbroglio KBLA-AM offers progressive mix of culture and comedy

During a recent culturally themed and timely orchestrated roundtable Chef Marilyn soul food lunch discussion with Black media outlets, veteran media pundit and renowned activist Tavis Smiley reintroduced himself.

Not that Smiley, 57, really needed to do so. After all, for two decades he’s been a fixature on television at BET and radio at NPR (National Public Radio) and Public Radio International, but on two occasions the final chapters were not written the way Smiley would have preferred.

Smiley hosted BET Tonight until 2001 when, in a controversial move, the network then owned by Robert L. Johnson refused to renew his contract, sparking outrage from Smiley followers who rallied to his defense on his radio broadcast.

Always adamant about owning content much like Ray Charles owned his masters, Smiley sold an interview to rival network ABC, he said, only after CBS passed on the interview, and suggested that his firing was payback for the publicity he gained as a result of providing an exclusive interview to ABC.

His stint at Public Radio International also ended acrimoniously after he was fired following sexual misconduct allegation which he has vehemently denied.

During his stints first on NPR as host of The Tavis Smiley Show until December 2004, leaving citing a lack of diversity that inspired a weekly version of his radio program The Tavis Smiley Show in 2005 distributed by NPR rival Public Radio International (PRI).

Smiley was silenced during the most consequential Black social movement during the modern era, as the Black Lives Matter fueled protest of police brutality and racial injustice ignited economic progress across multiple platforms.

Smiley quipped to the community scribes that he’s been in quarantine for three years, well before COVID-19, but is roaring to go now.

He officially launched the 50,000 watt station during the weekend of Juneteenth, so this particular gathering was one month in for KBLA which can reach as many as 12 million listeners.

Standing Room Only: Tavis Smiley, owner and host of KBLA Talk 1580 talks to the Black press about acquiring the legacy radio station at the BIRTH OF A STATION MEDIA DAY. KBLA Talk 1580 is Los Angeles’ first and only “Unapologetically Progressive” talk radio station for the African American listening audience!! Helmed by Smiley of Smiley Audio Media Inc., KBLA Talk 1580 is the only Black-owned and operated talk station in Southern California! PHOTO BY KARIM SAAFIR PHOTOGRAPHY

Emotions from Smiley spilled throughout Smiley Studios located in the Leimert Park district of Crenshaw Blvd., a region of South Los Angeles steeped in African American culture with sprinkles of culinary eateries, artifacts highlighting the last predominant Black community.

Although born in Mississippi and educated in Indiana, Smiley roots run deep in Southern California which essentially made for a sublime homecoming to a place where he cut his teeth on the political landscape before his orator genius took fold and forged him into ownership in a fraternity that is as racist as the new Republican Party under Donald Trump.

KBLA Talk 1580 AM is built on the three E pillars; ENLIGHTENS


He raided Stevie Wonder’s KJLH for talent, which speaks volumes for KJLH deep roster of executives and on air personalities.

Dominique Diprima, a staple at KJLH for 17 years and well connected throughout Southern California political community sphere was Smiley’s signature hire and is on air with First Things First from 6a.m. to 9a.m. a far better time than the jail slot at KJLH.

Smiley, frequently stated his station will be a flagship as he aims to pierce other markets throughout the nation with a progressive format to counter punch conservative stations which continues to dominate the industry.

And while he also indicated that KBLA was not about him, pointing to his rich roster of personalities such as Middays with Danny Morrison, The DL Hughley Afternoon Show

Alonzo Bodden: Who’s Paying Attention?; Let’s Get Intimate with Dr. Jeshana Johnson; Don Amiche vs. Everybody + Crysta & Kiara and BLM’s This Is Not A Drill.

The reality is, if not for Tavis Smiley this probably would not have happened.

Smiley invested real money, $1.5 million of his own, towards the station purchase price of $7.5 million.

On the merits of his reputation and name alone he was able to secure other investors such as  prominent liberal commentator Bill Maher, the ever evolving businessman/actor Ice Cube and political news commentator Vance Jones among others.

However, his most significant hire is Elson Howard Butler as president and general manager, who was responsible for navigating KBLA to progressive talk, a monumental achievement in radio to start a station from scratch.

 “The eyes of the future are looking back at us, hoping and praying that we get it right this time. I have been in and around L.A. my entire life, and now more than ever in this moment of racial reckoning for America, I feel a deep responsibility to help put our city on the right track,” Howard said in a published interview.

It is a dynamic team, led by a man who has made the safest bet in betting on himself. Tavis Smiley in talk radio and on any platform has always been successful. Why not own it ?

Inglewood Today coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.


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