Hamblin, Ken 1940—
Ken Hamblin 1940—
Colorado-based radio host Ken Hamblin and his conservative call-in show have raised the ire of many, including prominent members of the African American community who accuse Hamblin of propagating racism. Hamblin, who likes to call himself the “Black Avenger” on the air, rose to prominence in the early 1990s with his three-hour local Denver radio talk show that became syndicated in 1994. “Today, this former liberal is busy combining tough rhetoric with new-found black conservatism—a combination that has produced loyal support and open fury,” reported Emerge writer Laurence Curtis Washington.
Hamblin was an active participant in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Three decades later, however, he views himself as a deliberate thorn in one side of the African American community. “My function is to put pressure on the pastors, the reverends, the councilmen to flush out the lowlifes,” Hamblin said of his mission to People. “The white people won’t do it, and the political people won’t do it. So I’ll be the odd man out.”
Hamblin and his radio show originate in Denver. By 1995 Hamblin’s sometimes polemical views could be heard across the United States on more than 100 stations from coast to coast through syndication on the Entertainment Radio Network. The broadcaster further expresses his convictions in two columns, the first appearing twice a week in the Denver Post and the other a weekly piece carried by the New York Times Syndicate.
The son of West Indian parents, Hamblin grew up during the 1940s in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. His parents’ marriage ended when he was eight, and Hamblin was raised by his mother, Evelyn, and other members of a close-knit family. They received welfare as a means of support, and in discussing these economic circumstances with the British magazine the Economist, Hamblin noted that despite the hardships, his mother and her family “did not raise me to be a victim.”
When he was 17, Hamblin joined the U.S. Army. Later, he became a photojournalist. During these years, he also became involved in the civil rights movement and took part in the sometimes dangerous voter registration drives in the South during the early 1960s. By 1967, he had become the first African American photographer
Born 1940 in Brooklyn, NY; mother’s name was Evelyn; married Saleetha Cartwright (divorced, c 1968); married Sue Hoover (a journalist), 1969; children: (first marriage) Kenneth Jr., Linda.
Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Ml, photojournalist, 1969; documentary film producer and host and producer on WTVS Channel 56, Detroit’s PBS affiliate, Detroit, 1969–76; documentary film producer and operator of a cable television station, Dillon, CO, 1976–83; KOA, Denver, CO, began as substitute host, became full-time talk host, 1982–87; KNUS, Denver, host of three-hour afternoon call-in radio show, 1987–94; Entertainment Radio Network, The Ken Hamblin Show, Denver, 1995—. Contributor of columns to the Denver Post and the New York Times Syndicate. Military service: U.S. Army, 1957–60.
Addresses: Office —Entertainment Radio Networks, 1325 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO 80222; or Denver Post, P.O. Box 1709, Denver, CO 80201; or New York Times Syndicate, 122E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10168.
hired at the Detroit Free Press. It was during his tenure in Detroit that Hamblin’s first wife, Saleetha, suffered a brain aneurysm and became permanently disabled. Hamblin handed over the care of his two young children to his wife’s parents when the marriage ended, though he continued to provide financial support.
With his second wife, Free Press reporter Sue Hoover, Hamblin relocated to Colorado in 1975 to begin a cable television company. The venture ran into financial troubles in the early 1980s and he was forced to reassess his career choices. “You never shut up, why don’t you try radio?” was the suggestion of a friend, as Hamblin recalled in People. He began his new job as a substitute broadcaster at Denver’s KOA, but he soon was given his own time slot on the talk radio outlet. His stance on political issues was initially middle-of-the-road, but by the early 1990s Hamblin had become part of a chorus of conservative voices that seemed to dominate the airwaves. Buoyed by the success of the well-known Rush Limbaugh, Hamblin and other talk radio personalities were garnering impressive ratings in markets across the country.
Hamblin typically begins his daily three-hour show with an airing of the national anthem. He discusses current events, both national and international, and invites listeners to respond. On his show—and in his newspaper editorials as well—Hamblin roundly excoriates liberal strategies to help urban American, as well as the attitudes of African American leaders. Affirmative action and minority quotas are also favorite targets of Hamblin’s tongue. He argues that these initiatives, designed to give blacks an advantage to counter the disadvantage that has greeted them on the job market for so long, only make things more difficult for African Americans in the long run. “The majority population has come to believe that every black internist, every black police officer, every black accountant is there because of the benevolence of an affirmative action or quota policy, not because of their own hard work or their own merit,” Hamblin declared in the Denver Post.
Behind Hamblin’s controversial opinions is his strongly articulated belief in empowerment: according to him, the African American community is itself responsible for the violence, poverty, and other problems within its neighborhoods, and its leaders should stop leveling charges of blame against the white power structure. Positing oneself as a member of a minority group, Hamblin argues, only keeps one permanently in the minority, and in an underclass. “There seems to be a mindset among some blacks that whites are out to make our lives miserable,” Hamblin told the Economist. “Most working people, black or white, are too busy making a living to make people’s lives miserable.”
Hamblin likes to stress the American dream—that a world of opportunity is out there, a world open to everyone regardless of ethnic background. He reminds critics of his own humble roots—raised by a single mother on welfare in difficult circumstances—and recounts the successes he has achieved. “I ran the gauntlet and didn’t fall off the footpath to heroin or crack or murder or prison,” Hamblin explained in People. “I am a messenger from the ghetto who got through.” Another of Hamblin’s controversial positions excoriates African American leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. He declares that the ministers’ efforts to help the community are misdirected and that “they roll in the clover field of denial,” as he put it in the Economist.
“I’m a pariah,” Hamblin said to Dirk Johnson of the New York Times, “and that doesn’t make anybody feel good. But if I have to be hated by my people to help my people, then so be it.” On the air, the broadcaster often states his opinions in colorful language. He calls rhetorical opponents “egg-sucking liberals.” Terms such as “dark-town,” his reference to the most stricken areas of urban America, also earn Hamblin notoriety on the airwaves. “I call it darktown because it is dark—dark with misery and hopelessness and despair,” he told Johnson in the New York Times. “I use the expression because I want to get their attention.”
But Hamblin’s voice and the issues it raises have made some wonder just how far talk radio should go. In December of 1993, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators met in Denver for their annual convention. When delegates heard Hamblin’s radio broadcasts, they became incensed, characterizing his views as racist and calling for a cancellation of his show. Caucus members also said they would ask the Federal Communications Commission to review the station’s operating license, demanded a stop to Hamblin’s column in the Denver Post, and discussed organizing a convention boycott of the city.
One of Denver’s African American politicians, Democrat Regis Groff, chaired the caucus that year and often served as the group’s spokesperson during the fracas. A few months later, Groff told People that Hamblin “represents the worst of my race. He is willing to sell out his own people for money and go beyond conservatism to outright denigration of the race.” In an interview with the Denver Post, Groff contended that Hamblin has “chosen to use something that will sell, and that’s racism.” The legislator asserted that if Hamblin “was forced to speak, for even for a portion of his show, without mentioning race, he’d be mute.”
Hamblin has often responded to similar charges of grandstanding by saying that he is simply trying to help his community in what he sees as the most constructive way possible. “If you don’t like the way this country works, pick another country and try it out,” he declared in the Economist. “You want to give up your citizenship? You go down to [any refugee camp] and see how many people turn down your offer to give it to them.”
The controversy in Denver also attracted national media attention. Hamblin and his views were featured on several national news programs. Ironically, some of the most liberal-minded editorial writers in Denver defended Hamblin’s right to free speech against the black caucus attack. African American politicians maintained that if Hamblin were white and vocalizing the same sentiments, he would be vilified as a racist of the first caliber. They decried that such a widely heard broadcast was providing Hamblin with a platform to disseminate these notions—attitudes that some African Americans suspect white America privately believes, but would not dare to say in public.
Hamblin does receive public support from members of his community regarding his controversial statements. Mucussa Arhmm-Khan, a reporter for an African American newspaper in Denver, discussed Hamblin in Emerge: “A lot of people like what he’s saying. We need somebody like him in the community. He’s like a barometer, a watchdog. But he oversteps his boundaries when he says things detrimental to us as a race of people. I think he cares about black people, but the way he’s talking, black people take it as an insult.”
In response, Hamblin dismisses charges of bias leveled against him by critics and strives to make the motivations behind his opinions clear. He reminds his audiences that he once was an active supporter of programs for social change. In the 1960s, he points out, he took part in voter-registration drives in the South. He considers it his duty to instill the same drive for change in a younger generation, to imbue them with the same fervor, but by taking a new approach.
“I’m telling you to swim,” Hamblin declared in Emerge. “The boat is sinking under you.” He plans to continue spreading his motivational message to listeners and readers. In 1994, he began writing a book that had the provocative working title Don’t Feed the Blacks. “You whites have done your jobs,” Hamblin told the New York Times. “You got rid of slavery. You marched for the end to segregation in the South, got rid of the poll taxes. Thank you very much. Now let us go. Let us achieve. Let us fail. We are capable of being held accountable.”
Denver Post, December 4, 1993, p. A1; April 10, 1994, p. F1.
Economist, February 5, 1994, p. 30.
Emerge, April 1994, p. 56.
New York Times, January 2, 1994, sec. 4, p. 7.
People, December 12, 1994, p. 105.
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