The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

30 July 2005

DC Talk Host's Suspension Sparks Debate

Censorship, Or Stunt?

What's Really Happened To WMAL's Michael Graham?

(Update: Graham Fired. Latest news here)

Because the Radio Equalizer moves in both political and broadcasting circles, I've been hearing two completely different versions of why WMAL/Washington talk host Michael Graham has been suspended without pay.

Which side is correct? Or, does the truth lie somewhere in the middle?

Much has been written, my perspective will be a bit different than others.

Conservative political activists are convinced Graham was kicked off the air for making anti-Islamic statements that drew the ire of the usual suspects, including the Council For American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

While calling Islam a "terrorist organization" is pushing the envelope somewhat, it is talk radio, after all, he wouldn't be the only host using this kind of rhetoric.

The wild card, of course, is that you never when radio's corporate suits are going to cave into political pressure. Or, sometimes their own feathers get ruffled over a comment, or stance.

Keep in mind, I wasn't the only host trashing Dan Rather last September, either.

With former sales managers and FM music people overseeing an increasing number of talk radio stations with the era of management consolidation, talk radio is forced to re-fight a lot of old content battles.

In addition, CAIR is known for really going after talk radio, especially in Washington, DC.

Michelle Malkin did such a complete job tackling the political aspect, it would be redundant to do much more here.

But there's lots more to say on the radio business side of the issue.

First, there was a great deal of talk industry speculation that Graham's removal was a stunt, albeit one that went awry.

Several radio insiders, including managers and other industry sources, emailed me today with what they knew. Their versions didn't vary much, but keep in mind this is speculation, with elements of first-hand information in their reports.

As has been documented here, WMAL's ratings are in the toilet, dropping substantially in the past year. I'm not so sure Graham is the problem, I'm told a weak morning news show may be the real culprit.

Graham, however, is new to major market radio, having spent his career primarily in the minor leagues, in places such as Richmond, where he did very well.

He's yet to prove his ratings potential in the high-pressure world of major-market talk radio, however. Companies tend to get impatient after a fairly brief period of time.

Brought to DC by Randall Bloomquist, previously Graham's boss at Richmond's WRVA-AM, it seems the former would likely defend the latter to a significant extent.

So hey, why not let Graham have a day off, while WMAL gets some much-needed ink?

The problem, I was told: Graham took it too far, blasting the company in Friday's Washington Post story. That turned off the higher-ranking managers who might have played along.

Adding to the weirdness: WMAL's morning show hosts went out of their way to address the issue, where normally you'd expect silence. That led to a series of trade reports questioning whether the media was being had.

Here's one, from DCRTV, a Beltway media analyst site:

WMAL morning team "Grandy And Andy" reported Friday that the station's late morning talker Michael Graham has been "suspended" for calling Islam a "terrorist organization." Apparently, he is out of work without pay for an indefinite period.

Says a DCRTVer: " I don't understand why someone who's job is to make controversial comments is suspended for making controversial comments. Part of me hopes it's all a stunt."
In fact, it smells like a stunt since Grandy and Andy said on-air that they disagreed with the decision and encouraged listeners to send complaints to WMAL management.

Also, WMAL is still running Graham show promos and pre-taped ads featuring the "suspended" Graham, who got a big write-up in Tuesday's DC Post about his dispute with a local Islamic organization. Paul Farhi gets duped in Friday's
Washington Post. More in DCRTV's 7/26 newsblurb.....

Then there's Perry M Simon's All Access report:

ABC Talk WMAL-A/WASHINGTON has suspended midday host MICHAEL GRAHAM without pay while it mulls over a response to criticism from the COUNCIL FOR AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS of GRAHAM's remarks on MONDAY that Islam is a "terrorist organization."

GRAHAM made the remark in the context of saying that an organization that has terrorist acts committed by members and doesn't kick the wrongdoers out is responsible for those acts, but CAIR called the comments "hate-filled" and asked members to contact WMAL advertisers.

After initially backing GRAHAM, the station is now investigating the situation and issued a statement calling the remarks "irresponsible," and, interestingly, as
DCRTV.COM notes, the station on FRIDAY continued to promote GRAHAM on-air and the WMAL morning show with FRED GRANDY and ANDY PARKS told listeners to complain to WMAL management about the suspension.

This tone exists in the Washington Post report, as well.

These reports are consistent with what I heard privately, to a point: Graham is said to be worried about his future and did make some urgent phone calls to industry friends, either looking for advice, consolation, work, or whatever.

That suggests this is a real controversy, one where Graham isn't laughing as he sits by the pool with a cocktail, enjoying a long weekend.

That tidbit, plus the nagging feeling I have that CAIR has finally worn down some thin-skinned manager somewhere up the ladder, make me believe there are elements (perhaps substantial ones) of truth to the censorship claims.

There's something else to consider: radio people assume everything's a stunt, because they've spent years creating them, especially the former FM jocks. There's a strong cynicism in radio that can go overboard.

Sometimes the motivating factor can be resentment, when a fellow air personality is getting a great deal of media attention. I felt that was the case with a couple of people who went after me last September.

Neither side, however, seems to know what's next. Perhaps Graham's fate at WMAL hasn't yet been determined.

Saturday evening update: I've been sent a compelling, convincing, insider account maintaining that it wasn't a stunt. Wish I could be more specific, but watch this space for more.

Readers concerned about Graham's position at WMAL should contact WMAL Program Director Randall Bloomquist directly at: This is more direct than the online forms station websites often employ.



  • rumor: he might be replaced by mancow

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 30 July, 2005 02:45  

  • I heard you on Hugh Hewitt's radio program, and I wrote about the information I could retain at The Knickerbocker News.

    If there is more news forthcoming, would you be kind enough to keep me informed? I would surely appreciate it. Thank you.

    PS. Great job!

    By Blogger Rosemary Welch, at 30 July, 2005 04:33  

  • From the Washington Post story:

    ""The problem is not extremism," Graham told listeners. "The problem is Islam." He also said, "We are at war with a terrorist organization named Islam.""

    You support this statement? You're not surprised that WMAL found it "over the line"?

    Don't give me the free speech crap. Brian has called for firing lefties that said things he found offensive.

    By Blogger Dick Tuck, at 30 July, 2005 08:19  

  • 1. He's welcome back at WRVA.
    2. Doesn't Savage say this stuff, day in, day out?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 30 July, 2005 13:47  

  • Excuse me, "Dick", but I've never called for anyone to be fired so let me give you that "free speech crap".

    Anyway, freedom of speech doesn't depend on whether or not we personally apply it with any consistency. It's a fundamental right. Or don't you believe that?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 30 July, 2005 14:20  

  • Anyway, freedom of speech doesn't depend on whether or not we personally apply it with any consistency. It's a fundamental right. Or don't you believe that?

    He can say what he wants. His employer is not required to provide the soap box. If this scum wants to talk like a reactionary asshat, he can buy his own radio station, or get himself a string and a dixie cup.

    By Blogger Dick Tuck, at 30 July, 2005 15:32  

  • His employer is not required to provide the soap box.

    An excellent point, and one which should be applied across the political spectrum.

    Let me say that I live in the DC area and I will, occasionally, listen to Michael Graham. While some of his positions are unquestionably right-of-center, he has taken a number of surprisingly left-of-center positions, depending on the subject. He is far from being a "reactionary asshat".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 30 July, 2005 17:18  

  • I also live in D.C., and I can tell you that there are few people to the "left" of Mr. Graham's views short of Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter....I laugh at the thought that ANYONE would considet his viewpoints to be anywhere NEAR the center...for crying out loud, he named his studio after RONALD REAGAN...get real.

    As for his suspension, there are two camps within the left and the right...those who speak with reason, and those who speak to incite fear in those listening....Michael is one of the latter....America could do well with voices like his exposed for what they are. Good riddence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 August, 2005 11:20  

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