Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Avant Garde Broadcasting

Much has been written about Clarence Avant. Much like Barry Gordy (another Motown alum) there's more than a little dirt on his shoes. The documentary Searching For Sugar Man all but accuses him of stealing all the royalties from a Sixto Rodrigez's gold record. But that's the record biz. It has a certain reputation, and it has had that reputation for a long time. If you expect a sausage factory to make something other than sausage that my friend is an error in judgement.

I bring up Mr. Avant because he also dabbled in radio. In 1971, (shortly after Rodrigez's flopped in the US) Avant founded Avant Garde Broadcasting. Two years later, his company bought 103.9 KTYM-FM in Inglewood, CA from Trans America Broadcasting. The license cost $321k which in today's dollars is more like1.6 million.  Avant renamed that station KAGB. It was the first African-American owned FM radio station in the Los Angeles metro.  But Avant Garde never turned a profit...

But the money situation looked dupious from the start. Avant started with a 200k promissory note from the Urban National Corporation of Boston.  Evn though it too was founded in 1971 that company seems to have been on the up and up. It was capitalized to 10 million dollars via investments from Yale and Harvard Universities, insurance giants like John Hancock, Aetna and Prudential Insurance Co., J.P. Morgan & Co., and both Mobil and Gulf Oil. even Bill cosby inveted in Avant. Avant hired Del Shields to run his company.

None of the press on Avent's move mentioned that KYFM was already the first black music station in LA. It had been playing black music programming since 1961. The OM Charles (Chuck) Johnson and the PD  Lonnie Cook were also black so they had the first black programming staff as well. Chuck and Lonnie were form KPRS in Kansas City. The station had one lone white DJ: Ron Johnson.

But in 1975 the curtain came down. Urban National pushed Avant into bankruptcy proceedings.  Avant owned Urban around 400k, and another 600k to Clarence Avant. His own independent record label Sussex lost  another $13k in private loans to Avant Garde. Bill Cosby was burned for 200k. Ouch. Football player Willie Davis bought the station and renamed it KACE. The urban format remained as did those calls for another 30 years. Willie flipped the station to Urban Oldies in 1993 and the calls to KAEV. Shortly afterward he sold out to Cox.

The KTYM calls today still live on 1460 AM which with some irony I note is still owned by  Trans America Broadcasting. Johnson and Cook remained a team after the sale to Avant and moved on to KAPP-FM and had more success with an early Top 40 format.