20 years of ‘Which Way, LA?’

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Some called it civil unrest, others a riot. Looters and arsonists destroyed buildings and businesses – property damage topped $1 billion. Fifty three people died in six days of violence. Los Angeles was a city undone.

In those mad hours, KCRW General Manager Ruth Seymour reached out to veteran broadcaster Warren Olney to help make some sense of it all. What started as a half-hour obligation turned into an hour, then a day, then a week. Warren, new to public media, quickly found a way to get people to talk. Politicians, journalists, neighborhood folks, civic leaders all met under his deft questioning.

“In the earliest days, emotions were raw,” remembered Sarah Spitz, a founding producer of what was to become Which Way, LA?. “We were taking phone calls for about 10 to 15 minutes at the end of each show, addressed to select guests on that day’s program, and it was clear that the division beneath the surface of LA’s oft-touted multicultural society ran very deep and resentments were festering.”

On June 1, Seymour formally launched the show, giving KCRW a much-needed voice in local politics and civic affairs. For months, Warren and Which Way, LA? was consumed with the aftermath of the riots, giving Angelenos a meeting place to discuss plans to rebuild and move forward.

“We didn’t try to solve problems,” Spitz said. “We tried to listen and foster civic dialogue. There was no better person to mediate these discussions than Warren, a seasoned journalist who understood quite clearly when statements made by one guest required a response by another. “And we’re still asking, Which Way, LA?, because it’s a question that has endless answers and no definitive conclusion.”