November 9, 2006
Radio DJ Jimmy Kay brings folksy charm to folkie L.A
A radio DJ might not be your idea of an innovative storyteller, but who can't relate to the desire to inflict your own personal interests onto the greater Los Angeles listening public? DJ Jimmy Kay does just this every Sunday night from 9 p.m. to midnight on KKGO 1260AM, where he hosts the program "Sunday Night Folk."
He can play whatever music suits his fancy, but he doesn't play the music just for his own fanciful whims. He secretly hopes that the historical significance of the events described in the lyrics will touch the listening audience as much as the haunting melodies that weave through the songs.
On Nov. 12, Kay will host a musical salute to American Veterans in honor of Veterans Day. It will feature music from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, World Wars I and II, Vietnam and Iraq. It will also include a 10-song segment about the continuing battle against fascism that exists in the world today.
Jimmy Kay was born James Kalmenson on Oct. 5, 1958, in New Rochelle, N.Y., to two Jewish parents, Lilli and Howard Kalmenson. In 1962, the Kalmenson family moved to Tarzana, when his father purchased the Spanish-language radio station KWKW.
"I was bar mitzvahed at 13; my speech discussed pollution and ecology," Kay remembers. "My upbringing was not overtly religious; we did observe all the major holidays, and during my pre-teen years we performed the rituals for the Sabbath."
Celebrating the holidays was of great importance to Kay's mother, whose own family had escaped from Germany in 1938.
Kay's interest in folk music stemmed from watching the images of Vietnam on television and being exposed to music from the '60s, Kay recalls. "I loved to sing songs around the campfire every summer when I went to River Way Ranch Camp."
Probably the most influential element for Kay was seeing the movie, "Bound for Glory," which exposed him to the life and songs of Woody Guthrie.
Next April, "Sunday Night Folk" will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Over the years it has expanded from one hour to three per week; it's acquired more financial sponsorships; and, most importantly, it's gained a wider audience.
Kay offers, "the music is definitely folk; however, we aren't afraid to cross the boundaries into other genres in order to compliment a thematic moment. We play classic country from the '30s, '40s and '50s. We enjoy political satirists like L.A. songwriter Ross Altman. Sing-a-long campfire songs and children's tunes can be worked in once in awhile as well as a dramatic set of love songs here and there.
"We also like to tip our hats to veterans and focus on anthems of political protest as well as spinning patriotic feel-good songs. Jewish-themed songs, Latino-themed songs, ditties about taxes, dogs, trains, farm animals ... you name it, we've played it. If I have one rule, it would be that we never play anything which is getting heavy airplay anywhere else; I love to introduce undiscovered singer-songwriters on a segment called, 'Sunday Night Folk Discoveries.'"
Kay and producer Jeffrey Schwartz (known on air as Jimmy Smart) also commit the most bizarre sin possible by music business standards -- they take musical submissions from anyone and they listen to every single CD that they receive. Hearing all this, you start to wonder what Jimmy Kay's music library must look like. When does he have time to catalogue everything? Especially when you find out that the station his father bought in 1962 is now considered the No. 1 AM Spanish-language station in the country, so boasts its current president, Jimmy Kay.
It's really no surprise that Kay would end up being a champion for the "underground" folk circuit, because he believes that folk music has always dealt with the "down-trodden." Kay adds, "my Jewish education always emphasized caring for the less fortunate. I feel a great joy sharing songs that make people really think about the human condition. I love to play music which reminds people of their childhood memories and to expose them to ideas which they may not have ever even considered before."
According to Kay's philosophy, the road to freedom is taken not only one step, but one lyric at a time.