It was probably inevitable, what with the decades-long trend from AM to FM, from DJ to computer, but that didn't lessen the shock when KKDA abruptly laid off most of its on-air staff. We mourned it at the time on our music blog as a loss for Dallas radio, now devoid of the unique blend of old-school soul leavened by tales spun by hosts like Bobby Patterson that Soul 73 offered. You can still find the station on the dial, but its soul has vanished.
KKDA was always about more than music, though, and its diminishment means more than the loss of a place to get your fix of Gladys Knight or Lou Rawls.
"It was like the big mom and pop store," said Edna Pemberton, a longtime community activist in Oak Cliff. It might not have had the selection of Walmart, but it's part of the community, the place everyone goes to to get food, sure, but also to get news and gossip. "Everybody turned it on to hear about big momma and little momma," Pemberton said. Then, you'd hear the world news.
It was where you went when you wanted to get the word out about blood drives and clothing giveaways and Thanksgiving feedings. Ask one of the hosts to announce it and he would. It was the one outlet where you knew the message would reach just about everybody.
Pemberton remembers a time about a decade ago when a 15-year-old girl ran away from home. "Her mother is looking for her, and she got on the radio. 'I don't know where you are,' she said. 'We don't know where you are, but we got the posse and we're gonna come looking for you."
Within a day or two, whomever the girl was staying with heard the pleas and anonymously dropped the girl at her mother's doorstep before driving off.
"It's not dissimilar in a lot of respects to other community-based news outlets in that they cater to a demographic in the community that normally is either is suspicious of or doesn't really pay attention to mainstream media," said the Reverend Gerald Britt, a community leader now working with City Square.
But KKDA was unique. Britt remembers listening to Tom Joyner in the days before his show went national. Muhammed Ali would call in from time to time to talk up his fights. It was Ali that nicknamed Joyner's boys Thrilla and Killa.
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It was listener- and relationship-driven, Britt said. People would call into the station, develop a relationship with the DJs, who you probably knew anyways. "Bobby Patterson, his mother was actually my Sunday school teacher."
There were politics, too, of the kind you wouldn't get from places like the Morning News. Bill Minutaglio, writing in the Texas Observer, said KKDA "has given a voice to political figures, activists and artists marginalized or stereotyped by the mainstream media." John Wiley Price had a show on the station, as did Al Lipscomb.
"If you wanted to get fired up, if you wanted to get mad, you'd listen to Commissioner Price," Pemberton said. With KKDA, you "knew where to go and fight, knew where to go and sit."
Willis Johnson remains at the station, but everyone else is gone. So is its role as a community bulletin board and rallying point. Pemberton's working with KHVN, a local gospel station, to turn them into the go-to place for community announcements, but it'll be impossible to replicate what sprouted organically at KDHA. She's also helping plan a benefit of some sort for the laid off DJs, something to help them transition to something else. It's a shame she won't have the old KKDA to announce it.