By: Emilie St. John
Karen Slade has been a mainstay at 102.3 KJLH since she began with the station 34 years ago. As the station has adapted to new technology, social media, and on-air talent departures, Slade has been razor focused on remaining committed to the station’s tenants of promoting kindness, joy, love and happiness.
“Next month makes 34 years with the station and I have loved every minute of it,” said Slade as we sat in her office filled with memorabilia and plaques honoring her work over the years.
Serving as the station’s Vice President/General Manager, Slade is responsible for ensuring the station’s Broadcast Operations adhere to Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules and regulations.
We spent nearly an hour discussing the history of the station, how it adapted to new technology and departures of some of their on-air talent.
The station was founded by John Lamar Hill in 1965 when he purchased KFOX-FM. As his transfer of the license was pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the Watts Riots erupted which allowed him to move the station to Compton and change the call letters to KJLH which incorporated Hill’s full name.
“The 1965 Civil Unrest helped get KJLH justify the transfer of the license from Long Beach to Compton and the need for a Black owned and operated station to voice the concerns of the community,” explained Slade. “The process had begun but was stalled but gave the FCC Commissioners justification on why the transfer should occur.”
Simultaneously, Hill was the founder of Angeles Funeral Home where he forged strong relationships with community churches by offering them airtime on his new station. Hill was a Mason and a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and as Angelus grew, he decided he wanted to devote more attention to his primary business and sold the station to R&B legend Stevie Wonder in 1979.
“Part of Mr. Wonder’s philosophy is to stay connected to the community and we have continued Mr. Hill’s commitment to the ecumenical community by devoting Sundays to worship service,” explained Slade.
Slade came to KJLH in 1989 after working in sales at the Xerox Corporation.
“KJLH was my first and only radio job,” said Slade. “While I majored in what would be considered Broadcast Journalism today, my internship was at an NBC affiliate WKYC in Cleveland Ohio. “I came to the station as General Manager, then added vice President, Senior VP and Corporate Secretary. Along the way the We Are You Foundation was added to my list of responsibilities.”
Over the years she has worked with prior News Director, Carl Nelson and Public Affairs Director, Jackie Stephens who helped her tune in on how to listen to the audience and give them what they needed through talk shows like L.A. Speaks Out and Front Page, which was hosted by Dominique DiPrima who announced her departure from the station in mid-2021.
We asked how the listeners responded to the change from Nelson to DiPrima.
“We used to get more pushback when the original host of Front Page, Carl Nelson left, there was an adjustment period when Ms. DiPrima came in but once she got her groove she was amazing and remained her for 16 years,” said Slade.
Slade says the station decided to wait a year before they found a new host for the Front Page which runs early mornings from 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m.
“We wish Dominique well in her new endeavors because opportunities to grow are sometimes once in a lifetime,” said Slade. “We tried to do everything we could to keep her.”
Slade was asked if it was hard to fill DiPrima’s shoes and she explained you always find people with different strengths and weaknesses, with different focuses, and in Los Angeles, you have to be more versatile when we had Carl and Jackie Stephens.
“Carl was a news junkie and Jackie had a heart who started our Women’s Health Expo which is entering its 28th year,” said Slade.
But the core of the station, aside from playing the latest music, is being the voice of the community.
“Public Affairs is a crucial part of the FCC licensing and with hosts like Carl and Dominique you want someone to come in and own the show as if it’s their own,” explained Slade. “Molly Bell continues to support Carl and Dominique and continues to call into the show after both have left.”
Dawn Dai was announced as the new voice of the Front Page in October 2022.
“Dawn is a hard worker and finding her way with big shoes to fill,” said Slade. Ms. Dai previously worked as an engineer on the Steve Harvey Morning Show.
“She has great energy and it’s a great marriage for the station,” said Slade.
During her tenure, Karen has increased the station’s viability by doubling the effective radiating power from 2.25 watts to 5.6 watts, which enhances the station’s reach and market penetration.
“Engineering is crucial as you find your signal may overlap another signal that has protected circumference and stations are required to stay within your circumference of your city of license,” said Slade.
For listeners that means if we travel a certain distance away from Inglewood, where KJLH is based, we aren’t able to hear the station clearly and her efforts have expanded its reach by tripling its coverage area.
Slade’s job also entails making sure the station meets muster on its license renewal with the FCC.
“The license is renewed every 8 years and the process involves looking at your public affairs and quarterly programming and used to require ascertainments which are the study of community needs showing where and how you address the community’s needs with special programming and the Front Page is a public affairs program designed to meet the criteria for the FCC,” said Slade.
Slade has been instrumental in putting procedural infrastructure in place across departments at the station from HR employment policy through automation of the audio music selection and commercial traffic systems, selecting and updating account management software to current accounting systems that provide integrated solutions to an evolving broadcast business operation.
We asked her what is the future of KJLH.
“Many times, people say radio is dead and it’s dying – satellite was gonna take us out, podcasts were gonna take us out and we are a convenient medium and it’s an affordable medium and as long as you find programming that is entertaining and content that is easy to receive, radio will go on forever,” said Slade.
The community thanks Stevie Wonder, Karen Slade and the entire on-air talent and staff for their commitment to providing Kindness, Joy, Love and Happiness to all its listeners!
Emilie St. John is a contributing writer for 2UrbanGirls.com and the Los Angeles Wave newspaper.