Elder, Larry 1952–
Larry Elder 1952–
Radio talk show host
Presiding over the KABC drive time slot from three to seven p.m. in Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest market, Larry Elder has made an indelible mark on the landscape of talk radio. Every weekday for four hours, Elder dispenses his own brand of radical opinion, opinion that is almost guaranteed to be at odds with wider African American views. For example, he favors school vouchers, limiting the power of the federal government, and decriminalization of both drugs and prostitution. He is a staunch opponent of affirmative action, race-based commerce, and the welfare system. He believes that racism is not nearly as prevalent as most African Americans believe. Elder routinely blasts African American leaders such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) for promoting racial victimization.
As a result of these often inflammatory views, Elder has been vilified as a traitor to his race. He has been called a bootlicking Uncle Tom, an Oreo (black on the outside, white on the inside), a White Man’s Poster Boy, the Anti-Christ, and much worse. He has been stalked and has received death threats. Despite these attacks, Elder doggedly continues to challenge conventional African American viewpoints. He loves a good argument, and his positions are always backed up with facts culled from extensive research: studies, solid statistics, logic, and common sense. Elder asks hard questions, tells the truth as he sees it, and is never afraid to defend his positions.
Laurence A. Elder was born in 1952, the second of Randolph and Viola Elder’s three sons. At the time, the family lived in the largely Latino Pico-Union district of Los Angeles. Elder’s father, Randolph, was on his own from the age of 13, and worked a variety of jobs. He enlisted in the military and served as a cook in the Philippines during World War II. Following the end of the war, he was refused employment as a short-order cook many times because he had no references. Elder’s father moved to California, and worked several jobs at once to support his family. He also attended night school to earn his GED. By his early forties he had saved enough to open his own café, which he successfully owned and operated near downtown Los Angeles for 30 years. In his book Tribute to My Father, Elder wrote, “A tougher life I have rarely come across. Yet he never hated, he was never bitter, he never condemned his circumstances, and he always said there are very few problems that cannot be solved
At a Glance…
Born Laurence A. Elder in 1952 in Los Angeles, CA son of Viola and Randolph Elder (a cafeowner); married and divorced. Education: Brown University, B.S., 1974; University of Michigan, J.D., 1977. Politics: Libertarian.
Career: Attorney, Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, Cleveland, Ohio, 1977–80; owner andoperator, Laurence A. Elder and Associates (a legal placement service), Cleveland, 1980–95; TVtalk show host, PBS, later Fox, Cleveland, 1988–94; radio talk show host, KABC, Los Angeles, 1994.
Addresses: Businesses — KABC, 3321 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016; Laurence A. Elder & Associates, Suite 803, 10061 Riverside Drive, TolucaLake, CA 91602.
through hard work.” Elder told a Reason interviewer in 1996 that his father was his role model, “He was the hardest working man I’ve ever known…He had a work ethic that was beyond belief.”
Elder’s mother, Viola, was also a strong role model. Elder told Reason, “My mother had one year of college, which for a black woman of her age…is like having a Ph.D. from Harvard. She was an avid reader and she always worked with me. My mother told me that I was going to go to Stanford when I was in third or fourth grade.” When Larry was seven, the family moved to the South-Central neighborhood where they still reside.
Elder was a studious child who was often picked on by bullies until a friend encouraged him to stand his ground. He graduated with honors from Crenshaw High School in 1970, having taken additional advanced courses at Fairfax High. He entered Brown University in the fall of 1970. While Elder readily admits that affirmative action gave him a boost to Ivy League status, he also points out that he did very well on his SATs. “I graduated number seven in a high school class of 250…. I certainly would’ve gotten into a competitive school regardless of my race…. What it Jaffirmative action] did for me was to kick me from one level into another level,” he told Reason. “I am prepared to admit that I benefited from affirmative action. I am not prepared to admit that I would have been jobless, homeless, and illiterate had affirmative action not been in effect.” Elder earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brown University in 1974, and then obtain a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1977.
Following his graduation from law school, Elder took a position with the Cleveland law firm of Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, which was the ninth-largest law firm in the country at the time. He excelled there as a corporate trial lawyer, but soon tired of the regimented promotional system. “I wanted to make more money and I wanted to make it faster,” he explained to Reason. “I thought I was more talented and should be accelerated much faster.” Accepting that swift advancement was not a reality for anyone in the legal field, Elder decided to switch gears. Three years after joining Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, he left the firm and established Laurence A. Elder and Associates, an executive headhunting firm specializing in attorney placement. He would own this firm for the next 15 years. Turning day-to-day operations over to his second in command after six or seven years, Elder switched gears yet again. He began to devote his time to reading and writing, pursuits he had had little time for in the past. He read many of the literary classics, such as Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Elder wrote op-ed pieces for local newspapers, pieces which were eventually published. He auditioned for the co-host slot of a local television show on PBS, and was hired. Elder hosted his own television talk show for the next six years.
The opinion pieces Elder wrote became lightning rods for outraged discussion. He was soon sought as a guest on local talk radio shows, and asked to defend his views. Eventually, Elder was asked to fill in for a vacationing talk show host for one week. His then-wife encouraged him to pursue the opportunity. The experience was liberating. “I had been reborn,” Elder remarked to Reason. He explained to Paul Ciotti of the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1995, “It was as if I had found the Holy Grail. I had never had so much fun in my life. I railed against liberals, I railed against black leadership, I railed against Democrats….against…all the things that have hurt people in general and blacks in particular.” Elder had found the perfect medium in which to express his views: talk radio.
In 1992, Elder met the man who would help him secure his broadcasting future. Dennis Prager, a liberal TV-radio talk show host in Los Angeles, was a fellow guest with Elder on a Cleveland show called Morning Exchange. Learning that Prager was based in Los Angeles, Elder followed up on this hometown connection. As a result, Prager invited him as a guest on his KABC radio show. During Christmas of 1992, the two men got together. Elder’s promised 15 minutes of airtime stretched into two hours. The same thing happened again in December of 1993. This time, however, someone in a position to hire Elder was listening. Elder recounted the phone call from KABC station manager George Green to Reason, “He [Green] said, ‘You have the three things we look for in a talk show host: you take a position, you can defend that position intelligently, and [you] have a sense of humor. The combination is awesome.’” Elder immediately returned to Los Angeles and was hired by KABC. Green told the Los Angeles Times Magazine that his primary motivation for hiring Elder was not his politics, but rather his intelligence and the strong response he always generated among listeners.
Elder settled in at KABC in early 1994. His fans, many of whom are African American, are known as “Eldera-dos.” Elder refers to himself as “the Sage from South-Central,” and ends his occasional monologues with “and you have just heard The Word.” He is something of an anomaly in the African American community-a conservative libertarian whose views can be combustible, to say the least. Elder described himself to Ciotti as “a fiscal conservative.” “I think taxes are too high,” he told Ciotti, “and government is spending way…too much on things beyond its scope and expertise. But socially I also am extremely liberal.” For example, Elder advocates same-sex marriage and permitting gays to serve openly in the U.S. military. He is pro-choice and believes drugs, gambling, and prostitution should be legalized. Elder is against farm subsidies and milk price supports, gun control, prayer in schools, and patronizing African American-owned businesses simply because they are African American. He is also against affirmative action and the tendency of many African Americans to see themselves as permanent victims of racism.
It is primarily Elder’s positions on racial preferences, the welfare state, and racism and victimization that have drawn the ire of the African American community. Elder believes that the United States should have compensated the freed slaves but did not, and has tried to pay its debt with affirmative action. “And frankly,” he stated in Reason, “that’s 30 years of failing to hold blacks to the same standards of behavior as they would expect their own sons and daughters to adhere to. What America owes black people is a statement that we are going to evaluate you based on your talents. America owes the commitment not to discriminate.” Elder believes that anti-discrimination legislation already in place, along with watchdog organizations such as the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Urban League, are enough to combat discrimination. He explained his optimism in a speech at the Libertarian Party’s 1998 convention. “When you look at the progress of blacks following Emancipation, they went from 0% literacy to nearly 70% within decades,” he said. “When you look at the data on job creation and income growth, blacks have come further ahead from further behind than any group in human history. This is well documented in an extraordinary book, America in Black and White, which shows that blacks made more economic and social progress before affirmative action than after.” Elder does not believe that rampant racism exists in American society, nor does he believe that the system is rigged against African Americans. He also believes that African American leaders do a disservice to their communities by blaming racism for existing problems. Elder promotes these views four hours a day, five days a week in his top-rated afternoon drive-time show. The show’s controversial content has guaranteed it a prominent place in the ratings.
In 1997, the liberal Talking Drum Community Forum organized a boycott of Elder’s show. The group picketed, passed out leaflets, and convinced advertisers to pull between 2 and 4 million in sponsorship. Although it is now speculated that the group consisted of no more than 30 members, advertisers were apparently persuaded that it was a much larger organization. Although the management of KABC would not admit to caving in to the boycott, it nonetheless cut Elder’s airtime in half, ostensibly to make time for a new host. A 300,000 media campaign was mounted in Elder’s defense. Supporters included the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the ACLU, and Joe Hicks of Los Angeles’s Multicultural Collaborative.
By February of 1998, Elder’s show had been restored to its original four-hour time slot and advertisers were coming back. Mediaweek suggested that new station management was responsible for the restoration, and also noted that Elder had branched out into television with a five-minute segment on the daily afternoon newscast on KCAL Channel 9. There is also talk of syndication for Elder’s radio show. Elder continues to publish a printed monthly newsletter called The Elder Statement and has his own website, larryelder.com. The archives of Elder’s show can be accessed at many sites online.
Radley Balko noted in SpinTech in 1999 that “deviants from the black monolith are almost always excommunicated,” citing Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly in addition to Elder. However, many believe that what Elder has to say is far too critical to dismiss as the ravings of a wannabe white trying to get high ratings. He wants his race to succeed, but on its own merits. He wants the African American community to raise itself to the levels it certainly can achieve, without racial preferences or feelings of victimization.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 12th Edition. Edited by Ashyia N. Henderson and Shirelle Phelps. Detroit: Gale, 1999.
Broadcasting & Cable, November 10, 1997, p.57.
Forbes, August 24, 1998, p.54.
Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1997, p.6, Calendar.
Los Angeles Times Magazine, March, 1995; May 31, 1998; July 12, 1998.
LPC Monthly, April 1998.
Mediaweek, November 17, 1997, p.37; March 2, 1998, p.33.
National Review, September 29, 1997, pp.29–30.
Publisher’s Weekly, August 9, 1999, p.201.
Reason, April 1996, pp.44–50.
Wall Street Journal, October 20, 1997, p.A20.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from http://www.cspc.org\elder\tribute.htm; and http://www.larryelder.com, October 10, 1999.
—Ellen Dennis French
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