Dead air

KKDA-AM silences the radio voice of black Dallas, but was anyone listening anyway?

"It is important to have adequate structure and to be constantly bringing in guests that are appealing to the listening audience," says Martin. "You have to have quality sound, and a good technical side. And to tell you the truth, some of those shows were not quality shows to listen to. If you are the audience, and you are hearing constant mistakes, feedback, and people talking in the background, they are going to turn you off."

So maybe business wasn't great, and the station could have used a little technical assistance. Anything else?

Of course. In the public arena, personalities clash every day, and KKDA-AM attracted African-American public figures by the dozen. Conflicts were bound to happen.

"Some people probably danced a jig when they heard that these shows were canceled," says Cheryl Smith. "Some of them were probably asking, 'Why didn't they go ahead and get Cheryl off the air too?'"

In some cases, KKDA's programming was less a community service than a pulpit for Dallas politicos--and not everyone was thrilled to be sitting in the congregation.

"I am going to be honest with you: I think this is the best thing that happened to the African-American community," says M.T. A'Vant, a longtime community activist and frequent caller to KKDA talk shows. "When they started the talk shows, they were very instrumental in bringing information to the black community. But now we have politicians on the radio, and you know what happens when you put a microphone in a politician's hand. The station became a John Wiley Price tool to control the black community.

"You turn around, and who do you have on the air? Cheryl Smith, who worked in John Wiley Price's office. You have Joyce Ann Brown, who works with him now," A'Vant says, expanding on his theory. "Are you reading me here? You have Ora Watson, who is a close friend of his. So who controlled the shows?" he asks. "John Wiley Price.

"He was a powerful man with a powerful group of followers," adds A'Vant, who believes that as a group they had turned the shows to "propaganda" no one wanted to hear. "To get rid of the commissioner, you had to get rid of everybody."

Cheryl Smith says that is "an interesting angle to look at, and I can't say I haven't heard that thrown around," but she says the commissioner's opinions are a little like "castor oil: you may not like the taste, but you like the results. His was an important perspective."

Continuing the John Wiley Price metaphors, Crenshaw likens him to "the man who milked a good cow, but always ended up kicking over the pail.

"When he was good, he was good," she says, "but when he was bad, he was really bad." And he was bad quite often, she thinks, "only giving his own opinion, and not the community's," and "name calling. We teach our kids not to do that, and here is someone the kids really look up to calling people names."

When the subject is John Wiley Price, disagreements abound.
"So the commissioner had a point of view," says council member Duncan, an Anglo who represents a predominantly black district. "God bless! That is what made the show lively. People are supposed to have a point of view."

The one subject all community leaders and activists agreed on, however, was the strong need for a forum for the expression of the African-American perspective.

"Eighty percent of the people I talk to are glad the shows are gone," say A'Vant, "but 100 percent feel we need more talk shows. We just need shows with credibility."

Adds Cheryl Smith: "KKDA-AM has been through the O.J. Simpson trial, the Million Man March, and all the other marches. It has been through a number of issues that have been clearly divisive, and African-Americans would not have had the opportunity to voice their opinions if it had not been for those shows. Now, where can you go in this metroplex and really get an idea of what black people are thinking and talking about?"

"Without access to information, we are lost," Lipscomb says. The station's replacement for the talk shows is a "deluge of blues and R&B; blues and R&B all day long is one of the most insulting things that can happen to a community, and I hope that the citizens would see fit to respond in umbrage."

If the cancellations by KKDA were sudden, they didn't precisely come without warning. Just ask Cousin Linnie.

"I can't believe they claim to be a community radio station," says Cousin Linnie, a.k.a. Linwood Henderson, a radio personality on the air in the area for almost 50 years, and for 13 years the host of the Cousin Linnie Show on KKDA.

"You hear Cousin Linnie's deep bass voice?" asks Lipscomb. "He really has a soprano-type voice, but he's been crying ever since they put him on medical leave, I hear."

"It has taken a toll, but the injustices of the world fall on every man, woman, boy, and girl. But God is good, so I'll be all right," says Cousin Linnie. He was placed on medical leave October 2, and doesn't really know why, since his problem is with his knee, and that "has nothing to do with my vocal cords or my ability to be the announcer and radio personality I have been for almost 50 years," he says. "The doctor thought it would be more therapeutic for me to be on my job, but the station manager overruled the doctor."

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