Three years after he was dropped from PBS amid allegations of unwanted sexual behavior, Tavis Smiley is making a return to the media circuit with the launch of his new radio station, KBLA 1580 Los Angeles, the only Black-owned and -operated radio talk show in Southern California.
Smiley told the Associated Press that in Los Angeles, “Talk radio for too long has been all day, all night, all white.”
Smiley added, “I am heartened by the fact that many people I’ve heard from, across this country and around the world, miss my voice. That’s always a good feeling. People say they miss your voice.”
Smiley is the majority owner of KBLA, which he and investment partners purchased from New York-based Multicultural Radio Broadcasting in a $7.5 million deal. The station will debut a preview on Juneteenth, the nation’s newest federal holiday, which commemorates the date the last enslaved Black people learned they were free.
“The station doesn’t have an agenda except to be unapologetically progressive. We just want to be a voice for those who have been voiceless for too long in this city, speak a truth that is otherwise not being considered if we don’t speak it, and give people a chance literally just to be heard,” Smiley said.
Alonzo Bodden and D.L. Hughley are both hosts on the station for which Smiley said the need became apparent last summer when he noticed there “were no African American-owned platforms where people had their voice on a regular basis.” The downtime and isolation brought on by the pandemic also offered Smiley time for growth and introspection, he said.
Smiley continues to deny the allegations of sexual misconduct, for which he was ordered by a judge in August 2020 to pay $2.6 million for violating a morals clause by having multiple affairs with guests and subordinates. This is following an original verdict calling for a $1.5 million payment. He’s appealing the verdict.
“I have no idea why what happened to me happened,” he said. “This Me Too moment happened at a time and in a way where it was very difficult, almost impossible, to put forth any other narrative, no matter how truthful that narrative was.”
Smiley sued the broadcaster in February 2018, accusing PBS of conducting a “sham” investigation and of dismissing him based on racial bias after his show “Tavis Smiley” was terminated in December 2017 after running since 2004.
KBLA’s signal reaches nearly 12 million listeners in Southern California, but Smiley said it could become a flagship for an eventual nationwide network.” Smiley shared that guest bookings are already piling up and added, “This is not about Tavis Smiley. I’m only on (weekdays) three hours a day…We are live 24 hours a day, seven days a week. … So there are a lot of other voices on the station that will be talking about a lot of local, national and international issues.”