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John and Ken meet with black leaders over Whitney Houston comments

February 28, 2012 |  9:00 am

KFI-AM radio show hosts John and Ken met with black community leaders Monday, 11 days after the duo referred to the late Grammy-winning singer Whitney Houston on the air as a "crack ho."

John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou were suspended after Kobylt made the comments in the week following Houston's death; Monday was their first day back on the job. KFI is the top-rated talk station in the Los Angeles-Orange County market. 

Black activists met with the hosts and KFI management to push the station to hire more minorities, both in the newsroom and on air.

"KFI has 14 shows, and 13 of them are hosted by white men," activist and communications strategist Jasmyne Cannick said afterward. "There are no blacks in their newsroom. This fosters an environment where insensitive comments like this can happen. And they are not living up to [parent company] Clear Channel's statement of a commitment to diversity."

KFI executives did not return calls for comment, but members of the group that met with them told reporters the officials promised to respond within 72 hours with a plan to improve the station's diversity.

"Systemic change needs to happen," said Chris Strudwick-Turner, vice president of marketing and communications for the Los Angeles Urban League. "They have to come back to us with a solid plan to improve this situation."

Activist Najee Ali said Monday he was confident KFI would move in a positive direction. He said he also met with the radio hosts, who apologized repeatedly for their remarks.

"The station pledged to make substantive changes in diversity," he said. "They are trying to build a bridge. John and Ken really want to put this behind them and move forward. Their voices are needed in Southern California, and they have done some good things. We can't throw out the baby with the bath water."

In an email to a Times reporter last Friday, Kobylt said he and Chiampou were "very much looking forward to getting back to work."

He added that "our show will remain committed to covering all the issues in Southern California and that will never change. However, sometimes in the heat of the moment, we go too far, and that is something we will change."

On Feb. 16, Kobylt was telling listeners what he thought the singer's friends and, in particular, her mentor, producer Clive Davis, could have though about dealing with Houston's well-known alcohol and drug problems.

"She hasn't had her head screwed on right for over 20 years," Kobylt said. "At some point, you're sick of it all .... 'Here comes the crack ho again, what's she gonna do?' … After a while, everybody's exhausted. Then you find out she's dead and it's like, 'Really? Took this long?' "

KFI program director Robin Bertolucci said the comments about Houston "just violated our standards. You know it when you hear it." It was the first time Kobylt and Chiampou had been suspended since joining the station in 1992.

The pair spent less than a minute at the top of their four-hour program Monday addressing the suspension. Kobylt acknowledged that listeners were probably wondering what they'd do upon their return, but he said, "We're not going to talk about what happened a week and a half ago in any detail. What I said on the air and in the press statement 10 days ago still stands, and it was sincere."

At that time, he admitted the pair made a mistake, said the language was inappropriate and apologized to listeners and Houston's family.

On the air Monday, Kobylt thanked supporters and said the duo have "a lot of issues we want to cover .... It's time to turn all that energy on the bad guys."


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Video: A video uploaded by one of the participants shows part of the meeting between radio hosts John and Ken and black community leaders Monday. Courtesy: Jasmyne Cannick