By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
You can almost hear the silence at KKDA-AM (730) these days. "Soul 73," long hailed as the voice of Dallas' African-American community, is not talking anymore.
The talk shows that for years measured "the pulse of the African-American community," in the words of Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb, were canceled October 12, taking personalities such as County Commissioner John Wiley Price and radio host Cousin Linnie off the air without a warning.
The blanket of silence covers more than just the talk shows. KKDA's general manager, Chuck Smith, and station owner Hyman Childs refuse to talk about the cancellations, increasing the mystery surrounding the sudden silence.
Chuck Smith's only comment about the canceled programs was, "I cannot talk about them, and I don't know of anyone that could."
Childs did say that the removal of the shows was a business decision owing to poor ratings, and that they would probably be replaced with music. Later in the conversation, however, he claimed that he did not know he was talking to a reporter (in spite of two messages left at the station clearly stating the calls were from the Dallas Observer) and retracted his comments. Childs, the owner of KKDA and two other radio stations, claimed he was tired of being brutalized by the media--as if radio stations aren't the media--and did not wish to be quoted.
Even the usually loquacious Commissioner Price, who talked up many a storm during the past eight years as the host of KKDA-AM's Talk Back: Liberation Radio, has grown demure. His secretary, Joyce Ann Brown, says Price is "tired of being slandered by the media," and "won't answer calls from the Dallas Observer."
No one seems to know exactly who is gone, who is on, or the reasons behind the dismissal of the evening shows that gave KKDA-AM its reputation as the "communication network of the black community of Dallas," as city council member Larry Duncan put it.
"We are doing the same thing as you," says Roland Martin, former news director at KKDA-AM and current managing editor of The Weekly, a publication targeted at African-Americans. "We are trying to figure out who is still on the air, and who isn't."
"The audience sure didn't get any notice," says black political consultant Sandra Crenshaw.
Not even the hosts knew when--or on whom--the ax was going to fall.
"If it was talked about, it was not talked about with me, or with anybody who talks to me. I had no idea," says Cheryl Smith, host of Sunday morning's Reporter's Roundtable. Her Thursday-evening show, "Hotline," was canceled. She found out that other shows were also gone when she tuned in on Monday night and the shows simply were not aired.
Dallas police detective Chris Gilliam, whose show on crime prevention aired on Tuesdays from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., was told only on that day that his "services were no longer required."
Psychologist Brenda Wall, host of Call Dr. Wall, was unavailable for comment, but last week, she told The Dallas Morning News that the cancellations surprised her too: "When I left the air, I was told that was my last show. I said, 'You mean I don't get to say goodbye to my listeners?'"
So what is going on? The African-American community loses "one of its principal forums for discussion," the shows to which "African-Americans could tune in any evening and not get beat down for their perspective," according to Cheryl Smith, and nobody has anything to say about it?
In the absence of official explanations, speculation runs wild. The most frequently cited answer to the question KKDA officials refused to answer--Why?-- is the predictable "business."
"The community radio concept falls by the wayside when you are up against stations that own 45 percent of the ad dollars on the air, and they are taking hosts off and giving the audience more music," says Martin. "That is unfortunate, but that is the reality."
One good measure of that reality is ratings. While the station may have striven to be the voice of black Dallas, few people were actually listening to that voice. The ratings company Arbitron has consistently rated KKDA-AM as one of the metroplex's least-listened-to stations. In the spring, the station placed 28th overall with a 0.8 share of the market; this summer, KKDA-AM did only slightly better, ranking 27th. Those numbers translate into an average of only 2,200 listeners from 7 p.m. to midnight on weeknights, the time slot occupied by most of the canceled programs. (KKDA-FM, featuring a non-talk format, is No. 2.)
"I say the Arbitron ratings are holding the station owner and manager hostage," says Lipscomb, "and we are the ones suffering. They cannot let the Arbitron ratings dictate how they treat the community."
But even Lipscomb acknowledges that some shows were ripe for canceling, Arbitron or no.
"There were shows that were quite informative, and needed. But there were shows that could have gone straight to the Trinity," he says, his booming voice echoing through the telephone. "Some of those shows could have gone straight to the sewer, you know that."
As the voice of the community, apparently KKDA-AM's offerings left much to be desired.