My Memories and Experience of Community/Neighborhood Storytelling via Radio Stations in LA as a Tween-Teen in the 1990s to Early 2000s and Today

Welp, I think I've really nailed my real interest in life, meaning I've found something that kinda ties all my various interests in together:  communication infrastructures, particularly in LA.  I'm particularly interested in how our physical and social environments, our "scapes", our "communication infrastructures" are designed in ways which serve to discourage/encourage actions.

One of the main interests in study of communication infrastructures is with "strong community or neighborhood story-telling."  The idea is that a community thrives if we have a "strong storytelling community." The "storytelling community" consists of the following:  a)  residents in family, friends, and neighbor networks, b)  nonprofit organizations, and c)  geo-ethnic media.  So if each of these elements are talking with each other, then we could see a strong community developing.

Today, a piece of story-telling that's piqued my interest under "geo-ethnic media":  radio in LA.

One day early in the 1990s amidst the heightened popularity of KIIS FM and Rick Dees when I was being babysat alongside my godsister, we decided that we wanted to play radio.  Our idea was to sit around our boom box and play music.  After a while, it got boring to me.  "What else do they do?"  I asked.  She replied, "I don't know, sit around, and talk to each other.", which also seemed boring, and thereby ended our imaginary game of "radio."

I never remember ANY story on local radio or TV speaking directly to either Filipinos, Atwater Village, or hell even Los Feliz.

This is why one of my most memorable moments of my childhood was picking up and reading a list of the FBI's most wanted at the local Lucky's on Hillhurst and Ambrose, and seeing the picture of Conrado Baylon Fiel.

I wrote a post last year about radio.  I was planning on writing more follow-ups, but it kinda fell by the wayside.  I was originally trying to be scientifically methodical and go year-by-year about my radio station habits, but I found it a little tedious and incorrigible with my schedule, so I'm opting for an approach looser on the exact dates and years, and focused more on delineating my most vivid experiences or at least my memories of what I experienced.

Anyhow, I've been reading various academic papers about communication infrastructures, and came up on an article about two radio stations in LA:  one, a commercial radio station, KKBT, what was once known now as 92.3 or 100.3 "The Beat", and the other, being former Minnesota Public Radio affiliate, turned NPR member station KPCC on 89.3.

The article concluded that each of these stations were successful "storytellers."

What's fascinating about the article:
  • Captures points in time in 2002-2003 when I was actually in Santa Cruz for college
  • The Beat doesn't exist anymore, though Steve Harvey is still on radio and even bigger on National TV
  • Larry Mantle, whom I occasionally listen to today, and only really discovered about 2 years ago, was one of the interviewees.  Kitty Felde was a host back then, I've only known her as some kind of a reporter from either DC or Sacramento. 
  • KKBT by the time of the study in 2002-2003 was noted primarily as a black radio station for people living near Crenshaw
  • The article mentions community activism taken by KKBT.  Wow, I had no idea whatsoever.

For me, the radio for a good chunk of my life was there for one thing and one thing only:  music.  Any music I liked.

The music stations seemed to be divided by race rather than any geographic region, with mostly black and Mexican people liking Power 106.  We Fiipino kids flipped between Power 106 and 92.3 the Beat.  Once I got to high school I tried KROQ, which I thought to be code for "white people music."

Radio was "never" for talk, much less story-telling unless I wanted to know about traffic, weather, and news, at which I'd switch to AM radio.

Stories and storytelling did not exist, unless they were embedded in songs, one of which was Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise, which had help from being a song for a movie trailer, Dangerous Minds.  I recited the lyrics but didn't really know what they meant by them, as would be the case for legions of songs.  I just wanted my ears to feel stimulated.

I do remember a few particular things about "The Beat" from the 1990s-2000s, in particular that in retrospect, are quite interesting, and perhaps have influenced me to think about issues, while I was waiting for those songs.

  • The Peace Symbol Sign as their logo, it made me think of them as a "cleaner" version of the excesses and dirtiness of Power 106 with Baka Boyz and Big Boy and more gangsta-ish music, though Power 106 had more "sticky" personalities
  • Their tag-line "no color lines" was befuddling to me, why would there be any color-lines, but I went with it, which in retrospect probably isn't a bad message to stick

  • Theo, whom I later found out was Asian.  That fact blew my mind.
  • A smallish K-8 school, radio stations occasionally provided us with talking points:  we talked about how deep Theo's voice was, but people talking was usually seen as a "distraction" to the music
  • It was all about the music for me, and not really about community action and politics, though I do vaguely remember these conversations on Saturday mornings during high school.  One quote I remember had to do with race and mentioning Michael Jackson's Black or White song, and the caller saying, "sorry Michael, I think it does matter..."
  • Steve Harvey during his time at the Beat was not that funny to me;  I cringed.  I didn't have anything against him, and even kind of liked his sitcom on the WB, but his jokes seemed to be too stale.  But as I see him today, I could see why he would appeal to a different audience of which I am not really a part.   

In contrast to such vivid memories of the Beat, talk and/or news-oriented radio was simply something on AM radio, was interesting only for sports news, so I didn't know anything about public radio until recently.  "Stories" for me meant "news" and white people talking "all business-like." I didn't want any of that as a kid.

Nowadays, I live in what would be considered "the hood," Compton, untouched by Hipsters, but known widely in mass media via stereotypes.  My wife speaks fluent Spanish, but were not integrated very much into any network here, other than small-talking our immediate neighbors.  We speculate about what people might think about us:  I wear my glasses, I go out and run like I'm in Redondo Beach, we're the only ones in our block with only two people living in the house.

But I feel connected to some of the issues and have a hunger for the stories here. I'm completely plugged into public radio, (though NPR is still primarily a domain of white people), makes up most of what I know.  However, I must say that KPCC's vibes feel slightly different than the national NPR news programs. On Facebook, I have the technology to see who also "Likes" KPCC, and there is a good healthy sub-section of my friends, who tend to be all of college-educated, civic-minded, and yes, progressive.  I only started really listening to NPR member station KPCC after the shootings in Newtown, CT.  Now, I know the schedules on weekdays and weekends on KPCC. I've become a "member" of the station.

I really think given their constraints that KPCC does a great job of covering my particular city, and at least initiating conversations. I occasionally hear the local KPCCers dig into various issues from universal preschool education to the fact that they were going to allow law enforcement to carry rifles in the schools.  And it feels great, I do feel connected to the city, though it seems like my wife and I are the only ones in the neighborhood here in Compton, who even knows about this station and would be able to converse with others.  It's great and vastly entertaining for us, but it doesn't seem like the folks here even know of the station.

Though I find myself wondering what are they listening to?  What are they watching?  I know that one side is probably on Spanish language media, the other is sports...

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