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Living for the City: The Bond between Radio Station KJLH, Stevie Wonder, and the City of Compton

Compton, California, is known as the “Hub City” for a specific reason.  Compton was the first city west of the Mississippi to elect a black mayor and, politically, was an early “black” city out west.   The city of Compton is the home for the beginning and growth of so many important and influential men and women that the list is too long to name- from politicians to athletes, rap stars to actors,  all these folks are proud to say they are STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON!

City Pride Magazine is proud to continue to educate and promote all our readers about these stories from the history of Compton.  We are extremely proud to tell this story about the distinguished radio station KJLH and the talented and world-famous Stevie Wonder and their ties to the great city of Compton.

Let’s begin by giving a little bit of history.  In 1965, black businessman John Lamar Hill, then owner of the Angelus Funeral Home in South Los Angeles (c’mon, we have all heard about Angelus Funeral Home) bought radio station KILB. John Lamar Hill relaunched the station and changed its call letters to “KJLH.” K (J)ohn (L)amar (H)ill.  Its format was changed to a black format of smooth R&B, soul, and some jazz.  Not long after Hill took ownership, KJLH’s transmitter was moved from Long Beach to its current location to give better signal coverage to the growing African American community in Los Angeles, as well as Compton and Inglewood. KJLH was registered and obtained its license to do business from the city of Compton! That license remains to this day! The station’s original studious were based in the Crenshaw District, just north of present-day Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping mall, and next door to the Angelus Funeral Home on Crenshaw Blvd. 

Then in 1979, after 14 years of ownership, Hill sold KJLH to R&B/pop/soul music sensation Stevie Wonder for more than $2 million.  Stevie then created a separate corporation, Taxi Productions, to purchase and manage the station away from his other musical and business affairs.  Because of the change in ownership, Stevie thought it best to change the KJLH on-air slogan to match the call letters: “Kindness, Joy, Love & Happiness.” In those early years of the new KJLH in the late 1970s and early ’80s- the station even had a studio/office building in Compton in the small plaza in the 200 Block of Compton Blvd. between Culver and Acacia Streets.  A lot of us remember seeing the call letters “KJLH” on the building when heading to the Compton Library, Compton Courthouse, or the new downtown Compton downtown area. KJLH now operates from a studio at 161 N. La Brea Avenue, Inglewood, with its transmitter situated in a portion of unincorporated Los Angeles County in View Park, Windsor Hills.

It is very important and a great honor to state that to this day, Radio Station KJLH is the oldest African American-owned radio station on the West Coast, owned by the two aforementioned black owners for 58 years!  

One of the most popular early DJs on KJLH was Lawrence Tanter. He began working at the station in the 1970s and drove the station under his “Quiet Storm” format.  In the early 1980s, he became the Los Angeles Lakers public address announcer and is still their announcer.  Other popular early DJs were Cliff Winston and Janine Haydel.  KJLH also assisted in grooming great talent like Tavis Smiley, DL Hughley, and news anchor Larry Carroll.  During the Watts Riots of 1992, KJLH stopped playing music and went full force to talk radio to inform Los Angeles listeners/businesses of what was happening in the city. 

Today, KJLH has maintained serving the community with its daily music schedule and playing classic and new hip-hop, contemporary R&B, and oldies-but-goodies.  KJLH has also maintained an extensive lineup of religious programming, including gospel music on weekday mornings and all-day Sundays.   Its DJ list includes Hugh Fuller, Lon McQ, Tammi Mac, Kameron Greene, Kevin Nash, (Oldies but Goodies) with the distinguished Roland Bynum, and Guy Black.  In addition, we have to mention two very popular programs carried by KJLH, those being, of course, the renowned Aundrae Russell hosting “Spread the Word with Aundrae Russell” on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 7 pm and the Steve Harvey Morning Show with Adai Lamar which runs weekdays from 6:00 am-10 am.  

Stevie Wonder, now 73, is easily one of America’s all-time greatest singer-songwriters, musicians, and record producers.  He is an American icon and pioneer on so many levels; for example, in 1962-63, Motown introduced the world to the 12-year-old genius Little Stevie Wonder with the hit “Fingertips.” This song was the birth of Stevie’s musical explosion.   Hit after hit continued.  Then, in 1980, Stevie’s civil rights activism kicked in when he courageously became a leader in ensuring Martin Luther King’s birthday became a national holiday with the aid of his hit “Happy Birthday to You.” In 2014, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest Civilian Honor) from President Barack Obama. 

Musician Stevie Wonder celebrates as President Barack Obama awards him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. President Obama is presenting the nation’s highest civilian honor to 19 artists, activists, public servants and others. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Stevie has won 25 Grammy Awards and probably has more albums in various “Top Albums of All Time” than any other artist.  He has sold over $100 million records worldwide.  We also have to mention Stevie’s and KJLH’s joint charity work endeavors, especially the Annual “House Full of Toys” charity toy-give-away and concert, which reaches 25 years of existence this year, 2023. 

In many ways, Stevie Wonder has been “the hub” of the music industry, influencing every genre of music out there.  We could go on and on, but I’m sure we are ALL aware of the great Stevie Wonder.

In closing, City Pride Magazine and the Hub City Reporter news organization are honored to write this article to highlight the connections of Stevie’s ties to the city of Compton and KJLH.

 So, anytime you hear a Stevie Wonder song while driving in your car, at a family holiday gathering, or getting down at a house party, remember that “Living (just) for the City” and Radio 102.3 KJLH forever have ties to the HUB CITY, the great city of Compton, California!  

One thought on “Living for the City: The Bond between Radio Station KJLH, Stevie Wonder, and the City of Compton

  • lorie aguilar

    So interesting to hear very important things a bout the city u live in Compton

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