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Hip Hop Fridays: Davey D., Clear Channel, Activism; and Assets and Liabilities Part 3

The controversy over Davey D's firing by KMEL picked up this week as some of the Hip-Hop opinion leader's supporters began the first wave of action aimed at reinstating the popular host and community leader. Here are two accounts of the first protest against Clear Channel and KMEL as well as the official press release announcing the event and why it was planned.

From Marvin X:

On Wednesday night, November 28, San Francisco, a large crowd met in the rain on Townsend Street, near the headquarters of radio station KMEL. The station recently fired its public affairs director, Davey D, and the people met to protest his firing and demanded reinstatement, plus expanded hours for community affairs and promotion of local hip hop artists. Among the crowd were not only hip hop leaders JR Valrey, Jungbug, Vance Jones, and others, but a fair share of the older generation, including Oakland mayoral candidate Wilson Riles, Jr., activist attorney Eva Patterson, comedian Donald Lacey, a representative from Alameda Country supervisor Keith Carson's office, Minister Christopher Muhammad, poet Marvin X et al.

They were there on a rainy night to support the man someone called the Ted Koppel of hip hop, Davey D, true name David Cooks, who is indeed the master DJ of hip hop, syndicated nationwide and in fact the griot of hip hop, putting him in a category far above the corporate journalist Ted Koppel. D's knowledge of hip hop is legendary. He knows the history and is very much in the mix of hip hop current events nationwide.

In many ways Davey D is the opposite of Koppel. Whereas Koppel is the darling of the establishment, Davey D had just been fired by the establishment for basically overdoing his job as director of community affairs at a station that prides itself as the "people's station." The crowd demanded the station stop misleading the public with such a title. In the 60s we used to say, "If you on your job, you won't have no job," and this is true in Davey D's case, for this is no Miller Lite brother-Davey D has been the virtual voice of community affairs in the Bay Area the last few years. Aside from a few community orientated DJs at KPOO and KPFA, D has been the vehicle for getting the word out about community events in the Bay, especially for those groups who cannot afford to advertise at the rate of $500.00 per minute on the radio. Whether hip hop or any relevant cause, one could usually count on getting a shout out through D's Street Soldier program or any other show connected with him. And further, he could be counted on to be the MC at various community events, doing it with intelligence, style and zest-the man is no slouch.

He is well informed, articulate, skilled and diplomatic. The ax came after he interviewed Congresswoman Barbara Lee when she dissented from the vote to launch Bush's so-called war on terrorism. The station manager called D in and said he had to go because of budgetary constraints, while we know the station is part of an international media conglomerate, and is making millions in the Bay pimping black music, rap in particular. D was a victim of his own success-he was too good to be true, in a sense, or too true to be good in the eyes of the media Mongols who recently confessed their guilt in the dumbing down of the American public.

Poet/playwright and director of Recovery Theatre, Marvin X was literally born in journalism. His father published the Fresno Voice, the first black newspaper in the central valley of California. Marvin's first writings appeared in the Children's section of the Oakland Tribune.

Published Thursday, Nov. 29, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News


About 100 fans of David Cook, a radio host known for his shows on area hip-hop bands and controversial topics, gathered Wednesday night in front of the San Francisco offices where he used to work -- hoping to get him back.

Cook, a popular personality who called himself Davey D, was fired Oct. 1
from KMEL-FM (106.1) as part of budget cuts, station managers said.

``I would love to see any way to put his voice on the air, but we are in a
financial tough spot,'' Joe Cunningham, vice president and general manager
of KMEL, said Wednesday.

Listeners said Cook's departure has left a huge void in their lives.
``This is a real loss,'' said Eva Paterson, executive director of the
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco. ``He was there for us
in the community, and now we must stand for him.''

Shows' appeal

Cook's two shows had cross-cultural and intergenerational appeal, fans say.
"Street Knowledge" was one of the few public affairs programs addressing
young members of minorities in the Bay Area. "The LocalFlava Hip Hop Hour"
featured local musicians otherwise absent from commercial waves. Cook also
interviewed local politicians about topical events. East Bay Rep. Barbara
Lee and others opposed to the war in Afghanistan were recent guests.

"I'd hate to think that KMEL couldn't find a way in this case," said
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, who has been on Cook's show more
than a dozen times. "A lot of elected officials support him. He is a link .
. . between young and old, educated and uneducated. The community really
needs to bring him back and restore his show."

Many of Cook's supporters say censorship -- not finances -- led to his
firing. They say Cook may have rubbed up against the sentiments of the
station's corporate owner, Clear Channel, in airing anti-war sentiments.

Attitude questioned

Jeff Perlstein, executive director of Media Alliance, a San Francisco organization that confronts censorship and supports independent voices, said that along with a pro-war climate at KMEL, a songs blacklist was assembled, including John Lennon's "Imagine," deemed too "sensitive to play." "With my salary and what I bring to the station, it's hard to believe it's just the budget," said Cook, who worked for KMEL for 11 years. "It's not like I didn't get along with my bosses or had a bad reputation. It just doesn't add up."

Cunningham denied there was any songs blacklist and said Cook's firing had
nothing to do with his erformance. "Unfortunately it's due to financial cuts and not due to politics," Cunningham said. "It's difficult because the station is a business and we do our best we can to run it as a business."

But supporters don't necessarily see KMEL that way.

"This action shows they believe the community has no financial value to them as a station," said Tomie Lenear, Cook's co-host on public radio station KPFA-FM (94.1), also known as T-K.a.s.h from the Oakland hip-hop group the Coup. "It's like they went to our community one day and looked at us and saw no dollar sign." Lenear, 23, who once worked for Cook as an intern, said KMEL used to distinguish itself by being the news outlet and voice to people who normally wouldn't listen.

"It was our ghetto CNN," said Tony Coleman, 33, an Oakland community
organizer with the American Friends Service Committee. "Other deejays are
not down with the streets as far as the Oakland ghetto. The ghetto needs a
political voice, and without Davey D, they lose merit in the community whether they realize it or not."

Perlstein said the rally was the first step in a large campaign to bring the
radio station back to the people. Along with Bay Area churches, youth activists, community leaders and local politicians such as Carson, he has signed petitions and written numerous letters to the station.

"Their license is owned by the public, and they are technically
renting the airwaves through us, the people," Perlstein said. "We need to make sure there are community voices at KMEL, the so-called people's station."

As for Cook, he hopes there is a chance to return but is also looking into alternatives, such as returning to his native New York. But, he said, he fears the job market is just as bad there as here. "I had expertise with this community, and you can't translate 15 years of contacts with churches, high schools, colleges, groups and organizations," he said.

Lenear said that if the rally doesn't work, it's time to unleash other weapons the community has against big corporations -- boycotts, community radio, college radio, the Internet and word of mouth. "We cannot let KMEL be our only outlet," Lenear said.

Press Release Announcing Clear Channel Protest

San Francisco, CA--Radio listeners, youth activists, and African-American community leaders will hold a press conference and rally this Wednesday to demand that KMEL re-hire David "Davey D" Cook, KMEL's community affairs director of 11 years. The press conference and rally will be held in front of KMEL, 340 Townsend Avenue, San Francisco on Wednesday, November 28 at 6 PM. "KMEL has cut one of the few community-oriented DJs from the commercial radio airwaves in San Francisco. We want Davey D back on air and better community access to KMEL, the so-called ‘People's Station,’" said Tony Coleman of the American Friends Service Committee’s Mind’s Eye project.

Cook was fired by KMEL on October 1, two weeks after he interviewed Congresswoman Barbara Lee on KMEL about her vote opposing the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and one week after he hosted an on-air discussion about the flag, which included voices critical of U.S. militarism.

Cook hosted the Street Knowledge program on KMEL, one of the few remaining radio public affairs programs
He also hosted a show called The Local Flava Hip Hop Hour, which featured local hip hop musicians who would otherwise be almost absent from the airwaves on Bay Area hip hop stations. Cook has developed a national reputation in over 15 years on the radio, and his shows have given voice to the hip hop generation at some of the most important junctures in their history: the L.A. rebellion and its aftermath, the death of Tupac Shakur, and now the war.

Clear Channel Communications owns KMEL, six other radio stations in San Francisco, and two stations in San Jose. It owns more radio stations than any other company in the United States--approximately 1,000 stations nationwide. Clear Channel is also the company that in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks assembled a blacklist of songs whose lyrics were deemed too "sensitive" to receive airplay -- songs which reportedly included John Lennon's "Imagine" and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam's "Peace Train." Their Bay Area billboards have sported American flags since shortly after Sept. 11.

Clear Channel and KMEL managers say that Cook was laid off due to "budget cuts." But youth activists believe
that Cook was fired in retaliation for his interviews with Barbara Lee and others opposed to the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. "We believe the claim that Davey was fired due to "budget cuts" is a weak excuse for what is a clear case of corporate media censorship of one of the most important community voices in the country," reads a statement supporting Cook that has been signed by numerous Bay Area community groups. "We recognize that KMEL's firing of Davey D. is only one example of the ways in which corporate media empires like Clear Channel disrespect, dismiss, and silence our communities."

Cook's supporters plan to continue their protests against KMEL and Clear Channel Communications until he is re-hired, and Bay Area media workers can cover anti-war perspectives without fear of reprisal.

Friday, November 30, 2001

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