JONESBORO, Ark. – Listeners know him as “Kato Wonder,” but the man behind the microphone on Jonesboro’s KLEK 102.5 FM is LaGanzie Kale, who has found a way to give a voice to the city’s minority community.
KLEK uses music as a backdrop to educate the city’s African American population – which makes up about 18 percent of Jonesboro’s total population – on issues that matter to them. The programming touches on health matters, financial literacy, the arts, cultural education, legal aid and more.
“He loves people, he loves entertaining, he loves music, and he loves being involved in the community,” said Emma Agnew, the city’s Community Services Manager, who nominated Kale for an Arkansas Community Service Award. “This radio station has given a direct connection to the greater community and to a lot of citizens who did not have it.”
Nominated by Agnew, Kale is being honored with an Arkansas Community Service Award.
A few years ago, the United States Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act, giving low-power stations a place to live on the FM dial. Kale saw an opportunity to launch something new for the city of Jonesboro, and began building the station from the ground up. After years of work seeking approval from the Federal Communications Commission, obtaining the proper permits, raising the necessary funds and engineering the entire system, the 100-watt station launched on January 1, 2015.
“We are the first and only minority owned radio station in Jonesboro, so what we have done here is very historic,” Kale explained.
Throughout the next year, he continued recruiting volunteers to keep the station on air and to provide content that is not only relevant but empowering to the community. One of the first volunteers, Brandon Tabor, thought he was getting involved to learn more about radio. But thanks to LaGanzie’s broader vision, he walked away with much more.
“It wasn’t until I became active here that I started learning about the deeper issues that were occurring here in the city,” Tabor said.
Students and instructors from Arkansas State University lend their voices and their time, as do local preachers, attorneys, even the Police Chief Rick Elliott, and Mayor Harold Perrin who have come on to take calls, giving citizens direct access to city leadership.
“We’re here for the community, so when the community says that they appreciate what we do that helps keep me going,” Kale said.
A watershed moment for the station came when, during a Gospel praise show, volunteer radio host Bernard Cobb received a distressing phone call from a listener.
“He called in talking about his private situation how nobody wanted to help him and he was contemplating committing suicide,” Cobb recalled.
The listener had had known Cobb in the past, and recognizing his voice over the air waves, reached out in desperation. Cobb put the show in automation and privately listened to the caller.
“Today he’s walking around, has a job, and he’s doing things that he needs to do,” Cobb said. “That’s one of the biggest pushes I’ve had to keep going.”
Another thing that keeps LaGanzie Kale going can be found hidden in the station’s call letters, “KLEK.” Stations west of the Mississippi River are required to begin with the letter K; the rest of the letters are up to the station’s founders. Kale chose “LEK” in memory of his late mother, Lovie Edmond Kale, who lost her battle with breast cancer four years ago. Starting the station was a way for him to honor her and all the sacrifices she made for him to become the person that he is today.
Emma Agnew, a mother herself, often thinks about that honor.
“I know she’s up in heaven smiling down at her son,” she said. “I know she is just smiling from ear to ear and she’s so proud of him and the work he’s doing in the community.”
The African-American community in Jonesboro, thanks to LaGanzie Kale and his low-power signal, is becoming more empowered every day.