Adding Radio Duty, Comedian Sees Show as a Wake-Up Call

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Comedian and sitcom star Steve Harvey doesn't just want to start people's day--he wants to wake them up. That should be easier now that Harvey has added yet another day job to his hectic schedule--morning-drive deejay for KKBT-FM (100.3).

"You've got young people going down the wrong path. I really think I can make a difference in making peace out here. All these kids don't have to die," said Harvey, star of his self-titled series on the WB network, and--starting this week--a resonant voice on the urban station that is aiming to make the 6-to-10 a.m. weekday spot sizzle.

Featuring plenty of the humor Harvey fans would expect, the comedian riffs on news items, teases callers and jokes with friends who come on the show such as Arsenio Hall, Jamie Foxx and Bill Bellamy. But seriously, Harvey also wants to use his new forum to reach into poor and minority communities, counseling against gang violence and drug abuse.

"I'm going to be positive. I come to uplift. I come to raise you up in the morning," he said. "Once you get a person laughing, you can tell them anything."

Harvey, 43, who is in his 15th year as a comedian, is in the middle of shooting the fifth season of "The Steve Harvey Show," and is in the Spike Lee movie "The Original Kings of Comedy," which features stand-up performances by Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and Bernie Mac.

"Radio was another format for me. It's a way the real me can come out even more," Harvey said. And with his new job, this king of comedy is verging on becoming king of all media. After all, Howard Stern doesn't have a hit series and movie right now, noted Harvey's executive producer at KKBT, Loren "Hollywood" Henderson.

"I would not tell you that it's easy," Harvey said, "because it's very difficult. What I give up is just some hours of sleep.

"But I make money with a microphone," whether it's in a radio booth, on a TV show set or on stage during a comedy tour, he said. "It only stands to reason you should do as much as you can with your God-given talent."

It's not Harvey's first time on the radio. A few years ago, he hosted a morning show for Chicago station WGCI, broadcasting from his Los Angeles apartment. "But I had to get up at 3:30 in the morning. That was rough. I couldn't keep it up." Since then, the Cleveland native has moved permanently to Los Angeles from Dallas, with his wife, Mary, and two sons, ages 15 and 3.

Station Hopes to Attract Slightly Older Audience

When in May Harvey filled in for KKBT's previous morning hosts, Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, the phone lines lighted up.

"He guest-hosted twice, and so many people called in, when we knew we were looking for someone, he was the only one" that Nancy Leichter, the station's vice president and general manager, and the station's program director considered, she said. "We got such unbelievable response that day, we just looked at each other and said, 'This is the guy.' "

On Aug. 25, Maryland-based Radio One officially took over the station from KKBT's former parent company, AMFM. Dre and Lover were let go in the changeover, which also included a frequency switch from 92.3 to 100.3 and some programming tweaks. Leichter said the station now balances its mix of hip-hop and R&B;, instead of emphasizing the hip-hop as before, in hopes of attracting a slightly older audience and more female listeners. The station also hopes its programming changes will stop a ratings slide that saw it drop from ninth place to 14th in the spring rankings, the last Arbitron ratings period available.

"Musically, the station sounds great. We feel we're on our way to becoming the No. 1 urban radio station in the country," said Leichter, who's also optimistic about Harvey. "He's working with a new producer. He's working with people he's never worked with. There are going to be glitches. It's going to take a few weeks for him to get comfortable, but I think he's going to be No. 1."

On the way there, Harvey and the rest of his morning crew seem to be enjoying themselves, in the raucous, laughter-filled, 19th-floor Wilshire Boulevard studio overlooking the Hollywood Hills. Henderson, Harvey and his fellow air personalities, Nautica de la Cruz and Dominique DiPrima, trade jokes about callers or the artists playing, or they sing along or groove in their seats to the songs.

"I was a little scared about working with Harvey," De La Cruz said. "He's a big star. I didn't know what his expectations would be. But he's just the homie next door, the friend next door. He's very funny."

After DiPrima read a news report about the white supremacist group Aryan Nations losing a civil suit, Harvey cut in: "I think the Aryan Nations ought to be able to have an office. I think the office ought to be in South-Central." After the announcement of a new nonemergency LAPD phone number: "That is not a number for Hispanics or blacks. We don't want you there unless we need you. And when they do come, they bring evidence that wasn't there before." After a story about a possible MTA strike: "I say let's riot. Nothing gets attention like a good riot."

"The views of Steve Harvey are not necessarily those of this station," DiPrima said, not missing a beat.

Job Includes Working With Community Groups

But underlying the jokes, as Harvey said, is the serious work he and others at the station want to accomplish. DiPrima, who also is head of the station's community action department, said she and Harvey plan in the coming weeks to work with and promote anti-gang and self-improvement programs such as Unity One, Venice 2000 and Jim Brown's Amer-I-Can.

Harvey said station management "wants to put the radio station back in the hands of the community."

"It ain't the music--it's what goes on between the jams," he said. "This station will be big when they go out in the streets and touch the people again."

And Harvey, who signed a two-year contract with KKBT, plans to close every show with a few words on a serious subject. Wednesday, for example, was the fourth anniversary of the murder of rapper Tupac Shakur. From that topic, Harvey launched into a five-minute homily against gun violence.

"It made me think and ponder how senseless death is for young people," he said on the air. "It is not the glorified event you think it is. Some of our lives get snuffed out so early because of senseless violence. You can say, 'If I die tonight, it will be all right.' Well, it won't be all right, really. You don't really want to die until you have lived. Help us see a better way. Put your gun down today, and have a chance to live tomorrow."

"He's so committed to being involved with the community. When you've got somebody as powerful and as popular as he is, and willing to walk the walk, that can really make a difference," DiPrima said. "I've seen radio make a difference in the past, but we've never had the ammunition of a Steve Harvey. I've seen lip service, and this ain't that."

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Steve Harvey can be heard weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. on KKBT-FM (100.3).

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