The History of KJLH
1965... the midpoint of a very turbulent decade in United States history. The nation was embroiled in an unpopular and costly conflict across Southeast Asia. Here at home, signs of civic dissatisfaction manifested itself in various forms from state to state. Black America raged with aggressive and assertive demands for equal rights. Civil rights groups marched in Selma in a quest for voting rights. The Voting Rights Act became law – guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. Here in Los Angeles, Watts exploded in civil unrest in response to violent police brutality. Yes. It was against this backdrop of turbulent and restless times that a black businessman in Los Angeles named John Lamar Hill would see a need for a radio station that spoke to the black community. So he purchased KFOX 102.3 licensed to Long Beach, CA.
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KFOX had been a country and western station with its transmitter located at 220 E. Anaheim Street in Long Beach and served almost exclusively the Long Beach Area. When Mr. Hill purchased the station, he set up a makeshift studio in the “Garden Room” of Mottell’s Mortuary 325 E. Third Street in Long Beach. The Garden Room had been a meeting room that the mortuary made available to small community groups. Being a major fixture in the funeral business in Southern California, Mr Hill must have known someone or had some connection with Mottell’s which is why the studios moved there. The transmitter remained at 220 E. Anaheim until Mr. Hill moved it to Dominguez Hills with the goal of widening his audience. For a time, the Dominguez Hills location may have served as the main studio while Mr. Hill built a studio next to Angelus Funeral Home on Crenshaw Blvd.
Even as Mr. Hill moved his transmitter, he also sought to reinforce his civic impact with his move and went to a meeting with Compton Mayor Lionel Cade where he proposed that “the first black station and the first black city ought to be married”. The Mayor and the Compton City Council agreed and Mr. Hill moved his broadcast license from Long Beach to the City of Compton.
Opposition to the new station
Soon, Mr. Hill realized he needed a better transmitter position so that he could reach more of his target audience with the station, so he went to move to Baldwin Hills. This is were the opposition came. KIIS-FM opposed. KUSC opposed. Yet, Mr. Hill went before the FCC armed with 26,000 petitions signed by the people of the community. The petitions had been promoted mainly by the churches who had generated them in a little more than a week. However in Washington, the FCC would not admit the petitions into the proceedings. KIIS dropped out the hearing but still an FCC representative led opposition in the hearing – one who started as a neutral observer but now was actively opposing the transmitter move.
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KUSC opposed the move but Rev. Thomas Kilgore of the Second Baptist Church, who was on the staff at the University of Southern California, brought the matter to the attention of the President of the University. Rev. Kilgore was the director of community affairs and told the President that KJLH was the first black station west of the Mississippi and that USC was missing an opportunity to learn something by saying KJLH was interfering with the transmission of KUSC. But KJLH wasn’t interfering with their broadcast. The station had been on the air for years by then and they never had any opposition. It was only when the station had the potential to capture more audience that this objection came forth. Rev. Kilgore had the President of USC call a meeting and as a result, KUSC withdrew its objection.
So Mr. Hill and his engineers went to work. They purchased two brand new transmitters, a new antenna tower. And when they got everything in place they tested the new equipment. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration wasn’t to far from the facility so when the test went online, KJLH got a visit from the FAA claiming the signal from KJLH was interfering with their operations. After much investigation, tinkering and discussion, they discovered it wasn’t interfering with the FAA signal at all but rather a military signal. A signal that shouldn’t have been there at all. And so back to Washington for more hearings.
The origins of Kindness, Joy Love and Happiness
When Mr. Hill purchased the station, the sellers retained the call letters KFOX and Hill’s attorney in Washington DC requested the call letters (without permission from Mr. Hill) the call letters KILB. Mr. Hill didn’t like that request at all. The attorney tried to convince him, saying the calls stood for K in Long Beach. Mr. Hill instructed the attorney to install his initials JLH into the calls. Every station west of the Mississippi has to have K at the beginning of its call letters so the call letters became KJLH. This change was interesting and difficult. Up until that point, the black audience in Los Angeles was so accustomed and attuned to KGFJ, that they could not say KJLH. Instead they would often say KGLH. Mr. Hill describes it in the Black Leadership in Los Angeles oral history project conducted by UCLA in 1984:
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“When we drew our logo, we had a K and the the J-a big J, to get them to say it-and the LH. Phonetically it didn’t come out right. That caused a big problem. So I was thinking about it, while in that studio B, just off the top of my headm I came up and walked in to Jeanne McWells, who was on the air. I said to her “Jeannie, why don’t you tell them that KJLH stands for Kindness Joy Love and Happiness” So she said “Let me write that down”, and she wrote it down. But she could not say Kindness, joy, love and happiness.” Because there was no A for “and” So she kept saying Kindness, joy love, happiness.” Then Ollie (King Oliver) refined the thing down later when he said one night that “This is KJLH, kindness, joy, love and happiness... all the good things”. He tied it together. There were moments when you were a little bit proud of KJLH.
John Lamar Hill owned KJLH for 14 ½ years. He describes his years of owning the station as a hobby-fun: “working with KJLH, in the main, was fun. Working with Angelus (Funeral Home – he was the owner) is work. Not fun. But I felt that I should give up KJLH”. “You demand certain things that may be acceptable in a mortuary that would not be acceptable in a radio station. For instance, I had a rule that they had to wear a tie when they were on the air. The fine was $5 if they didn’t have it. Many nights I would go over and tap on the window (facing Crenshaw) and give them five fingers. Those were the rules. I realized that it was capable of producing more money than my funeral business. But I also knew that there were some differences in your life-style if you became affiliated with a station and I chose to divest of the station. I had to make a decision whether to go out and buy more, because there were stations to be had at the time, or whether I should get out of the business. I was a hobby for me. I had it fourteen and a half years, and I lost money for eleven, almost twelve years of it. Then it started to break even and make money. It was turning a good return when I sold it.”
“I sold it to a man that I felt would be appreciated by the community and I must say that he has been a tremendous asset to the community. He has given much of his time and his money to the community. I received some calls during the time of the sale, when it was announced, commending me on having selected him as the buyer. I had an opportunity to sell it many, many times to other people outside the community and I refused to do it.”
"It's a matter of record. I sold it to Stevie Wonder"
It's no wonder Stevie Buys KJLH
The 70’s had firmly established Stevie Wonder as a world icon, and by 1979 he was not only a multiple Grammy Award winning star whose commercial appeal was nearly unmatched, but his dedication to world peace, civil rights and social justice was becoming more and more widely known. It was against this backdrop that Stevie Wonder purchased KJLH. Stevie’s purchase would be the turning point towards a new expression of radio in Los Angeles. Although KJLH had already established itself as a cornerstone of excellence that embodied the family oriented, Kindness Joy Love and Happiness theme coupled with the innovative "360 degrees of musical enjoyment", Stevie set a new tone for KJLH, declaring that "We Are You".
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From the start Stevie made sure that the station’s music and air personalities set progressive standards that remain unmatched anywhere in the market, but the station also supports the community with encouragement, inspiration and participation. The KJLH air personalities and staff view their involvement at the station as a responsibility to insure the station remains intact for the next generation and beyond thus standing strong as a viable broadcast institution.
Maintaining a foundation of core principles which still stand to this day, Stevie Wonder has set a tone and vibe for the station which has continuously brought new dimensions to the varied musical styles of the urban format. In the early days, Stevie encouraged personable conversation integrated with dynamic music in a format interpolation known as "RadioVision" where images and feelings are created to enhance what is being talked about on the air. In today’s radio environment and listener access to a wide array of technology, Stevie encourages freedom of access to incredible music through a format adaptation he calls "RadioFree".
In addition, the station’s legacy of being responsive to the critical community issues of the day will always be a part of Stevie’s vision to serve the greater good in the world. Over the years, the station has taken editorial positions on important issues on everything from police shootings, to voter registration and information to health education and so much more ...
Today the station maintains a nationally recognized reputation for it’s commitment to community empowerment and development. Often the station remains at the epicenter of important issues and events from coast to coast and indeed the world. Consider the following:
In 1981 and 1982, Stevie led a march on Washing DC as he spearheaded the effort to make the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr a national holiday. Tens of thousands from all over the country descended on the nation’s capitol in support of the campaign. And the station was at the nucleus of the campaign, broadcasting live at each march, and providing vital information to the community regarding the effort.
Also in 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley embarks on a historical election Campaign for Governor of California. KJLH provided comprehensive coverage.
1983 - Jesse Jackson’s Presidential Campaign is covered extensively by KJLH and when Rev. Jackson is featured on the cover of Time Magazine, he is pictured in front of a KJLH microphone.
1984 - The Olympics come to Los Angeles and KJLH is front and center as the station broadcasts live.
1984 - It’s an election year, and KJLH broadcasts live from the Democratic Convention in San Francisco also from the Golden Gate Bridge and famed Presidio.
1984 - The Push for an MLK Holiday intensifies with KJLH providing cross country transport for listeners to Washington DC for the Rally on the Mall.
1985 - Stevie Wonder addresses the United Nations General Assembly, becoming the first entertainer to do so. KJLH broadcasts live.
1986 - KJLH broadcasts live from the World’s Fair in Vancouver, Canada
1988 - KJLH Broadcasts live from the Democratic Convention in Atlanta
1990 - KJLH sends a delegation of air personalities and listeners to Russia for International Exchange
1990 - Nelson Mandela is released from Prison after 27 years. KJLH is at the gates of Victor Verster Prison as he walks out a free man. KJLH is also the first to interview Nelson Mandela at his home in Orlando, Soweto.
1992 - Taking action in the midst of the Los Angeles Civil Unrest, KJLH stops the music, going to all talk, giving listeners news, support and information. This unprecedented action earns the station a NAACP Humanitarian Image Award.
1993 - In addition to the aforementioned NAACP Image Award, the station is award one of broadcasting highest honors, The Peabody Award for Meritorius Service.
1994 - KJLH exposes Kaiser Permanente and the Department of Health and Human Services vaccine scandal revealing the ineffectiveness of a measles vaccination using black and brown babies in LA County
1994 - KJLH relocates from Los Angles to Inglewood
1996 - KJLH broadcasts live from the Democratic Convention in Chicago and then the Republican Convention in San Diego
1996 - KJLH begins a Townhall Meeting Series: Financial Literacy and Transgenerational Wealth
1996 - KJLH holds a historic Townhall Meeting exposing the CIA and Cocaine. The news is international in scope as the CIA admits to having a hand in the proliferation of crack cocaine in the community.
1998 - KJLH Front Page Family trip to Ghana
1999 - Front Page trip to Ghana and the Ivory Coast
2000 - KJLH broadcasts live from the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles.
2001 - KJLH Front Page trip to Egypt
2002 - KJLH Front Page trip to South Africa. KJLH Broadcasts live from Melson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island.
2003 - Front Page Trip to Benin, Togo and Ghana
2003 - Live Broadcast from Grenada on the tenth anniversary of the US led invasion
2004 - Front Page trip to Ethiopia
2005 - Front Page trip to Brazil
2005 - Hurricane Katrina destroys New Orleans and surrounding areas. KJLH mobilizes the community and volunteer truck drivers to send supplies to the stricken area. Additionally made a cash donation to church organizations heading into the area to repair schools, churches and housing.
2006 - Front Page trip to Kenya
2006 - In the wake of the Jena 6 crisis in Oklahoma, KJLH supports a national call to descend on the small town in support of the wrongly accused by providing buses.
2008 - In a heated battle for the District 2 LA County Supervisor seat, KJLH hosts a live debate
2008 - KJLH hosts a townhall meeting seeking solutions to bolster the Compton Unified School District
2008 - KJLH Interviews Candidate Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and also interviews Michele Obama
2008 - KJLH takes on a major voter registration drive, deputizing its interns as official voter registrants, conducting live broadcasts and rallies resulting in thousands of newly registered and confirmed voters.
2008 - Hosts an election night watch party to witness the election of President Barack Obama
2012 - KJLH has a strong church and gospel music following and was recognized as such as it wins the Stellar Award for Radio Station of the Year.
2014 - KJLH listener trip to South African
World Leaders have been interviewed on KJLH Radio:
February 1990 British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher (England)
February 1990 Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda (Lusaka, Zambia)
February 1990 South African President Pik Botha (Pretoria, South Africa)
February 1990 South African President Nelson Mandela (Soweto, South Africa)
February 1990 Namibian President Sam Nujoma
June 2002 Nigerian President Olusejun Obasanjo
August 2004 South African President Jacob Zuma
For 50 years, KJLH has lived its life because we are GOLDEN!