Friday, May 13, 2011


In 1952 the ACLU found itself in an interesting position. They were defending Reverend Clayton D. Russell against KOWL in an unfair firing. In the words of Arthur Croghan, the president of KOWL "Russell was not a desirable person to be using the airways of KOWL"  He made vague accusations that the reverend was "friendly" with communist types. Further that they tried to avoid broadcasting "...utterances of a communistic nature or which tended to encourage the overthrow of the government of this country.
Croghan was really turning on the heat. The reverend must really have said something subversive right? He thought that "...communism has appeared to plague the tranquility of the citizens and government of this country..."  The ACLU had protested KOWL's termination of Reverend Russell's contract and written a complaint to the FCC. KOWL had broken their contract with Russell because they believed he was a Communist. The ACLU asked the FCC to deny the renewal of KOWL's license. This was a bitter and nasty fight that was in the papers from the beginning.

Russell had a 30 minute program at 10:00 AM every Sunday. But really Russel hadn't said anything even vaguely communistic.  As the Los Angeles Daily News reported in October of 1950 in a single headline "Radio Station Bans Pastor On Whisper He's Red."  Russel just "appeared" on one of the Red Channels lists. All it took was a single comment from one person and the career of anyone in media could be wrecked. Russel was firm in his side of the story. The rumor was a lie.
"I am not a communist. I have never been a communist, or sympathetic with communists in any way. In fact, I have made anti-communist speeches.  I have never uttered a subversive word in my radio talks."  
He was adamant. Not everyone at KOWL was onboard the red-branding wagon.  To his credit, James Coyle, the assistant to Croghan had a completely different take that he shared with the times. Despite which, the rev was still never allowed to return. 
"...we found on investigation his name is in several lists of persons supposed to be friendly with communism. We have watched his speeches closely and he has never uttered a word that could be objected to and we do not think he is a communist."
So why was he fired and why did the ACLU get involved? 1580 KOWL-AM was a 5,000 watt Santa Monica radio station.It was his pulpit and he was becoming a very powerful person in the valley. He was the leader of a black church with 4,000 members with ties to black-owned businesses. In 1946 he was a candidate for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. In other words, he was shaking things up. He was not a commie. The charges of communism were a cover for a skirmish in the battle for civil rights. The ACLU tried to make examples of WPIX and KOWL for their political blacklisting. They saw it as discriminatory hiring practices. Their petition was denied on both counts.

It was a shame because KOWL had a pretty stellar record for hiring minorities. they had blacks on air at least as early as 1946. It begs the question why Russel?  Probably just because he was a bit louder than other hosts. Or perhaps someone in local government had a problem with him individually. The informants used in the compilation of the Red Channels were never revealed.

In 1953 still without a radio program, he resigned the pastorate because his congregation accused him of fiscal shenanigans. It didn't slow him down much. He founded the the Church of Divine Guidance in 1954 and in 1959 he ran for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. He died in 1981. AM 1580 in Santa Monica is now KBLA-AM a Spanish station owned by multicultural broadcasting.