By Troy Carter II
The New Orleans Tribune
Glenda McKinley, daughter of legendary music and media personality Larry McKinley, has transformed the radio studio from which her father once broadcast into a community hub designed to pass down rich New Orleans history while bringing people together to create and network.
The building, located at 1639 Gentilly Blvd., once the home of WBOK 1230 AM radio station, is now McKinley Studios.
Upstairs, a recording studio is available for podcasts, audio books, music production and voiceover work. Downstairs there is conference room, private and semi-private office space; and shared community spaces are available for rent. McKinley Studios also offers event space rentals.
It may be part business center, part recording studio, part community gathering spot, but McKinley Studios is all New Orleans. It serves as a reminder of significant history, while providing a space where talent can be cultivated and nurtured Glenda McKinley says.
McKinley Studio features the talents of Ben Lorio and Adam Keil, chief recording engineer and staff recording engineer, respectively. Lorio is a Grammy-nominated engineer and producer with more than 200 recordings to his name, working with artists such as Trombone Shorty, Big Freedia, The RevIvalists, Tank and the Bangs, Andrew Duhon, Galactic, Sweet Crude, Theresa Andersson and others.
During the first weekend of The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Glenda McKinley hosted Keep The Fire Burning featuring the sounds of The Stooges Brass Band to celebrate McKinley Studios and honor her father’s legacy as a co-founder of Jazz Fest and “the original influencer of New Orleans”. An official ribbon cutting and open house was also held on April 27, resulting in McKinley Studios attracting an influx of visitors wanting to know more about the man behind the name on the building.
“McKinley Studios is inspired by my father,” says Glenda McKinley, one of Larry McKinley’s four daughters and president of GMc+Co. Strategic Communications . “He was a true community leader. Deeply connected to the people and pulse of the city, New Orleans trusted his voice.”
The Original Influencer
A native of Chicago, Larry McKinley came to New Orleans for the first time in the early 1950s to take an internship at WMRY-FM (now known as WYLD).
Once quoted as saying, “I can’t go back, I feel like I’m being a part of history here,”McKinley decided to make New Orleans his home after covering a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for the radio station.
McKinley is credited for using his role as a radio news broadcaster to cover and highlight the local Civil Rights Movement. Along with broadcasters George “Tex” Stevens and O.C.W. Taylor, McKinley interviewed activists and discussed the various boycotts, sit-ins demonstrations and Freedom Rides.
McKinley’s success at the radio station led to a relationship with local businessman Joe Banashak, and the two opened Minit Records in 1959. The label signed music legend Allen Toussaint as its producer and jumpstarted the careers of some of music’s most influential artists, including Aaron Neville, Benny Spellman, Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, and others. McKinley was also a skilled music promoter responsible for attracting major national acts to New Orleans like Jackie Wilson, James Brown and The Jackson Five.
By the mid-70s, he had left the record business and was back in radio, hosting the popular was “Frank and Larry Show”. Through the talk show, music programming and community advocacy, McKinley is also credited with building community support that helped get the city’s first Black mayor, Ernest “Dutch” Morial, elected, raised money for the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and helped support a number of community endeavors.
“With the power of the radio, we really mobilized the African American community,” Larry McKinley said in an oral history interview with the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies
McKinley also served on the founding board of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Inc. He went on to record voiceovers for the festival. His baritone voice is still used today and has earned him the nickname: “The Voice of JazzFest.”
And while the late Larry McKinley certainly left his mark on New Orleans, perhaps everything one might need to know about Larry McKinley, the man, is found in the distinct URL that leads to the studio’s website address – friendlymckinley.com.
Glenda’s desire to take on this project stemmed from her feeling that it was necessary for someone to connect the story of her father’s legacy and contribution to the musical and communications/broadcast culture of New Orleans.
“He had a significant imprint, and I started feeling as if his story wasn’t being connected,” she says. “I feel very deeply that it is important for us to continue our families’ legacies, and tell a story that really represents their contributions because if you don’t tell your story, then you will simply become a footnote in someone else’s story. It’s from this building that my father was able to have a voice, the voice of the community, through his talk show. They were able to get many significant things accomplished.”
Glenda McKinley hopes that the community contributions made by her father will carry on through the opening of The McKinley Studio.