The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

14 September 2005

Host's Vote Knocks Out Seattle Broadcast Union


Medved's Counted Ballot Decertifies Union Local

Liberal Seattle news-talk station KIRO and conservative sister KTTH-AM finally have the word from the National Labor Relations Board: they're no longer working in a union shop.

And it all came down to one disputed ballot, cast by syndicated talk show host Michael Medved.

After a contentious battle led by overnight KIRO talk host Lou Pate, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) was decertified at KIRO and KTTH.

Making the fight especially weird: another one of KIRO's evening talk hosts, left-wing extremist Mike Webb, loudly supported the anti-union campaign. Meanwhile, a few conservatives in the building at least quietly expressed support for AFTRA.

Obviously, this wasn't a typical, predictable union battle.

From the Radio Equalizer in August:

A fascinating story from liberal talk radio blogger Blatherwatch: a contested Seattle newsroom union decertification vote, which resulted in a tie, hinges on one vote: Michael Medved's.

But aren't such ballots supposed to be secret? That's where this story simply gets weird and controversial.

Involving Seattle news-talkers KIRO (fair disclosure: my previous employer) and KTTH, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) Seattle Local's fate rests on which box Medved marked (fair disclosure: I'm an AFTRA member).

If you think his vote is a lock against the union, keep in mind: he's a 25-year member.

While I was obviously wrong about Medved's vote selection, it's confusing as to why he was given a ballot (hence the contest before the NLRB).

Here's what AFTRA had to say before the final vote was counted:

An NLRB Hearings Officer threw out two of three challenged ballots in the KIRO Radio decertification election, meaning the election comes down to one ballot.

KIRO Managers requested that if that ballot goes against them, they should be able to have a new election, but if it is favorable, no new election would be held.

Employees at the station have been waiting patiently for the NLRB to get around to opening the final ballot and determining whether they will retain their union, or see it fall to dissident, anti-union employees.

Meantime, media newsletters and blogs report that the station has lost its way, with ratings down, advertising lagging and general confusion how to regain its former preeminent position in the market.

Medved hosts his syndicated program from KTTH's Seattle studios, but apparently was also secretly a station employee. Why KTTH agreed to this highly unusual arrangement is unclear.

That's because, beyond Rush Limbaugh, syndicated programs are usually supplied to stations for free. Medved's presence in the building does very little for KTTH, why pay him a second salary?

Meanwhile, ratings have plunged at both stations. Once perpetually in first place, KIRO now ranks ninth overall in the Seattle market.

It's not yet known how this vote will affect either station.

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