The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

31 December 2005

KDKA Fires Hosts, Staffers


More Fluff, Less Substance At Pittsburgh's KDKA

At Pittsburgh's KDKA, America's oldest commercial radio station, 2005 ended without a bang or a whimper. Instead, the powerhouse CBS Radio talker finished things off with a rare, unexpected programming massacre.

And beyond CBS Radio's worst corporate nightmares, the end result may be disastrously counterproductive. According to a station manager, KDKA is phasing out political talk on what was once the area's highest-rated radio station.

Sacked were political talkers Mike Pintek (9am-noon), Mike Romigh (9pm-midnight), sports host Paul Alexander (6-9pm) and even a news reporter, Kyle Anthony.

Violating every programming standard known to the talk radio industry, the station has only a vague idea of what it might do next. Why is this dangerous? Because it's never wise to remove shows from the lineup until there are better alternatives ready to go.

Instead, KDKA has a schedule full of holes, with only Pintek's slot so far filled, through the hiring of local TV reporter Marty Griffin.

In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, local CBS Radio honcho Keith Clark indicated current events talk would be essentially flushed down KDKA's toilet:

Radio, like television, is constantly looking for hit shows," Mr. Clark said. "We're looking for different kinds of talk shows that appeal to a wide variety of people. There's a ton of political talk out there, and we do our share of it. But we think KDKA's broader appeal audience is demanding more than political talk. There's more to talk than politics.

It's obvious Clark, a market manager for Pittsburgh, knows little about talk radio. If he did, he'd realize that the industry had this very debate over political content roughly ten years ago. Stations that moved toward the kind of fluff talk Clark is proposing for KDKA quickly switched back, after horrific results.

Was KDKA in good shape, however? Not by a longshot. Like many of CBS Radio's talkers (with WBZ in Boston as another prime example), KDKA appeals to an especially elderly audience and doesn't take strong stands on issues. It makes for boring programming.

In fact, it's hard to tell which is greater, the station's age (85) or that of its average listener.

When Clear Channel roared into town and set up a competing conservative FM talk station catering to younger fans two years ago, stealing away Rush Limbaugh in the process, KDKA's free ride was finally over. Limbaugh helped propel the new station, WPGB-FM, to solid and immediate ratings results.

Always number one with a bullet in the past, it slipped to second in the Arbitron ratings overall and sixth in the key advertising demo, adults 25-54. Limbaugh, it turned out, had been holding up the fort.

Other foolish moves were made as well, note the tacky infomercials in this recent KDKA programming schedule:

5:00am - 9:00am Larry Richert, John Shumway, Shelley Duffy & the KDKA Morning News
9:00am - 12noon The Mike Pintek Show
12noon - 2:00pm The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly
2:00pm - 6:00pm The Fred Honsberger Show
6:00pm - 9:00pm KDKA's I.C. Light Sports Talk with Paul Alexander
9:00pm - 12mid The "Live Mike" with Mike Romigh
12mid - 5:00am The Undercover Club with Bob Logue
8:00pm - 9:00pm Medical Frontiers (Mondays only)
9:00pm - 10:00pm KDKA Automotive Hour (Thursdays only)

Instead of aiming younger to recapture some of its lost audience, KDKA has decided to turn to fluff talk, sure to chase away even the oldest remaining listenership.

As one radio message board poster pegged it:

Here's what I don't expect to hear on KDKA:

I don't expect to hear anything remotely new, innovative or exciting.

I don't expect to hear some new and unexpected voice that will shake things up and create any sort of buzz.

I don't expect to tune in to KDKA during the times when Pintek or Romigh used to be on the air and hear anything different, other than a different host's voice.

Through unprecedented incompetence, CBS Radio has brought down nearly every talk station it owns, refusing to hire qualified talk programmers to turn around its troubled outlets scattered across America.

With its once-proud regional format dominance, KDKA's slow and painful death will be particularly difficult to watch.

UPDATE: were programming changes fueled by anti-conservative management bias at CBS Radio? Discussion here.

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29 December 2005

New Details On Liberal Seattle Host's Removal


Webb's Many Flaps, Paper Reworks Story, Rhodes Parallel

For those regularly keeping tabs on the mainstream media, it's downright comical to see what a liberal radio talk show host must do to reach the point of career suicide.

After all, it's exceptionally rare to see a "progressive" talker fired over the show's content, as left-leaning managers often appear ready to swoop in and play defense. As much as it is terribly bad for business, many in radio unfortunately do sometimes let their own political stances interfere with good programming judgement.

When could a conservative host get away with any of this?

For exhibit "A", here's a Randi Rhodes flashback:

A spoiled child (Bush) is telling us our Social Security isn't safe anymore, so he is going to fix it for us. Well, here's your answer, you ungrateful whelp: [audio sound of 4 gunshots being fired.] Just try it, you little b*stard. [audio of gun being cocked].

No matter the cost to Air America Radio in the form of sorely-needed advertising revenue, the liberal outfit stood by Rhodes. Randi's outbursts have not been good for the network, as national sponsors ran for their lives during 2005.

For Seattle's Mike Webb, calling for President Bush's "execution" had no effect on his position. In fact, his show was subsequently expanded by an hour. Nor did his on-air hope that Ronald Reagan had "really suffered" before his death make any difference.

While it's hard to imagine conservatives getting away with similar rhetoric, somehow one of America's most extreme, hate-filled radio programs managed to remain on a major radio station in Seattle for years, despite marginal ratings performance. To find something similar on the extreme right, one would have to look to shortwave radio broadcasts.

Mike Webb was to the left of Air America's programming (even if his rhetoric sounds much like that of Rhodes) and once told me that San Francisco was too conservative for him. Even moonbats as extreme as Oakland's Rep. Barbara Lee and Seattle's Jim McDermott just barely met his approval.

In fairness, since I have a great deal of personal familiarity with the situation, I can say many KIRO managers over the years wanted to do something about Webb and tried to bring him under control, but failed. One reason: fear, given his loaded gun, erratic behavior and history of litigation against employers. Wasn't it safer simply to leave him in place?

Even after his arrest on insurance fraud charges, it was not clear he would be sacked. Would the station feel compelled to keep him in place until after the trial?

Funny enough, Webb's undoing began with the now-infamous June traffic accident that actually happened during his talk show. How is that possible?

It was due to his astounding regular habit of leaving mid-program to get drinks and snacks at a nearby convenience store while board operators ran 10 to 15 minutes of commercial spots to fill the gaps.

In the history of broadcasting, I'm not sure anyone else has been crazy enough to make personal munchie runs during a radio talk show.

Now, a real question that must be addressed is whether Webb is capable of hurting anyone. Yesterday, I heard from a worried station staffer and after my own observations of his erratic behavior, I'd say this is a question that must be addressed.

Especially instructive has been monitoring newspaper coverage of his arrest and termination, where a curious reworking of a Seattle Times story seemed to downplay use of the word "liberal" to describe his program.

In the earlier version, it's featured in the first sentence:

Local radio talk show host Mike Webb fired

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

Liberal radio talk-show host Mike Webb has been fired from his job at KIRO radio after he was charged earlier this month with making a fraudulent insurance claim.

A spokesman for KIRO confirmed today that Webb, who pleaded not guilty to the felony charge last week, is no longer with parent company Entercom and will no longer have a show on KIRO.

Attempts to reach Webb or his attorney for comment this morning were unsuccessful.

Webb was charged with making a fraudulent claim after an accident in June 2005, when his Lexus was struck by an uninsured driver.

In the subsequent
reworked version, note the changes:

KIRO radio host is let go after felony charge filed

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

Radio talk-show host Mike Webb has been fired from his job at KIRO radio after he was charged earlier this month with making a fraudulent insurance claim.

A spokesman for KIRO confirmed Wednesday that Webb, who pleaded not guilty to the felony charge last week, is no longer with parent company Entercom and will no longer have his liberal show on KIRO-AM (710). The spokesman did not provide further details.

Attempts to reach Webb or his attorney for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. Webb allegedly made a fraudulent claim after an accident June 28, when his Lexus was struck by an uninsured driver.

According to charging papers filed in King County Superior Court, Webb allegedly produced a forged document indicating he bought an insurance policy with Geico before the accident.

Even a watered-down story, however, beats ultraliberal rival the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has so far totally ignored it, save a mention in today's radio column.

Another reason to thank the Times: they finally gave credit to the liberal blogger who broke this story, Michael Hood of Blatherwatch. Without Hood, this news may never have emerged in the first place.

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28 December 2005

HuffPo's Drobny, Daily News Update, Air America In Phoenix?


Milking The HuffPo, Plus: No Good Daily News

(Updated with breaking Mike Webb news)

Beyond plugging his books, pitching the latest liberal radio venture or yet again revisiting Air America's early days, is there any point to Sheldon Drobny's participation at the Huffington Post?

Again underscoring Arianna's obvious low contribution standards for her leftist website, his columns read like an endless tape loop of grating sounds that might be played during wartime prisoner torture sessions.

Drobny, Air America Radio co-founder and Lyndon LaRouche sympathizer, uses the space to lambaste "elitist" progressives who refuse to fund the liberal radio network, or "invest" in his plan to purchase rural stations to run Air America's programming, through Nova M LLC.

In his latest piece, Sheldon reveals he's got another book on the way:

My first book, Road To Air America, was published in November, 2004 and sold approximately 4000 copies. It was not exactly a best seller, but I thought it was a pretty good start for me. I never got any meaningful publicity nor did I seriously seek it. I wrote the book for my wife Anita and me.

My next book, Defying The Distortion, is coming out this April or May. In it, I expand upon the ways to break up the mainstream media’s obedience to the rich and powerful. And one of the methods that I do not endorse is just to complain about them.

A HuffPo comment poster quickly added this response:

Did you start Air America for the altruistic ideal of expanding the political discourse in America, or to tap into charities that fund childrens and retirees community service programs?

You recently wrote your listeners for donations:

Are you now priming the pump seeking donations here at HuffPo, or just thumping your book seeking greater sales?

And yet you are attacking the credibility of news anchors like Russert alleging they have been "bought" by corporate America?

Glad Huffington hasn't forgotten the LaRouchian Wing of the Democrat Party.

So much for hoping
David Hinckley at the New York Daily News would mention Air America's sleazy Gloria Wise scandal in his year-end coverage. In part two, this time listing radio's five worst developments of 2005, the liberal radio network's antics are still left out.

Amazingly, Don Imus' fancy new talk studio is an outrage, but $875,000 in taxpayer funds earmarked for a community center and diverted to Franken & Co., counts for nothing. That the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club has now shut its doors apparently adds little to its importance.

One item, however, is interesting enough to mention here:

2. The "Tsunami Song"

When rival WWPR (105.1 FM, Power-105) brought in Star for its morning show, WQHT (97.1 FM, Hot-97) looked for edgy morning content to counter him.

The "Tsunami Song," a misguided parody that mocked victims of the Southeast Asian disaster, got attention. But amazingly enough, not all attention is good - because while in the end listeners didn't really care and stayed with the station anyhow, the firestorm of outrage cost parent Emmis several million dollars in advertising. Emmis did care about that.

Will Air America soon
lose its Phoenix affiliate? For months, that's been rumored, but a spokesman for station KXXT-AM denied it would soon be changing formats, in response to a Radio Equalizer email.

After a recent ownership change, there has been speculation that AAR would be dropped, some of it apparently coming from hosts at rival talk stations such as KFYI-AM. Could this happen after the new year?

We'll be watching closely.

FLASH: Mike Webb, the KIRO/Seattle liberal talker recently arrested on insurance fraud charges, has been fired from the station. Webb posted a note on his website about the termination. Scheduled to return from time off last night, listeners were surprised to instead find a guest host in his place.

Webb is the host who last year called for President Bush's "execution" on "war crimes charges".

BlatherWatch and Orbusmax are already on the story.

More later as this story further develops.

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Franken graphic: Marchand Chronicles

26 December 2005

Year End Silliness, NYC Radio Turmoil, Blogometer


Paper's Glaring Omission, Plus: WOR's Growing Mess

Let's hope we're jumping the gun a bit in questioning David Hinckley's account of "the top stories that made (air)waves in '05", which appeared in Monday's New York Daily News. Take a look:

WBLS (107.5 FM) brought in Paul Mooney, then Steve Harvey to challenge Jeff Foxx's morning show on hot WRKS (98.7 FM). Air America (WLIB, 1190 AM) brought in Jerry Springer, and Marc Maron left the morning show. WWRL (1600 AM) hired Steve Malzberg, then Steve Feuerstein as Karen Hunter's morning cohost. WWRL also brought Alan Colmes back, and Hot-97 moved Fatman Scoop to middays.

Program director Michael Saunders left Power-105 in the wake of a payola investigation. WABC launched a Saturday night oldies show, and WSKQ morning cohosts Luis Jimenez and Moonshadow released a raunchy movie.

No doubt the raunchy movie deserved to rank among the year's most important broadcast-related stories, but what of Air America?

A morning show change was deemed significant, but the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club scandal, where $875,000 in taxpayer funds were instead diverted to the liberal radio network, isn't even worth mentioning?

Since July 26, when the Daily News became the first major publication to mention the scandal, in a single sentence at the bottom of a buried item, the paper has just about completely blown off the story. That meant leaving it to the New York Post, Sun and our blogs.

Was the first mention a mere accident, for a story the Daily News clearly didn't wish to investigate?

Is Hinckley simply reiterating the paper's pro-Air America line? Or does he have something better planned for his two additional year-end columns, to be published this week? We'll be watching.

Let's hope he proves our suspicions incorrect, we'd hate to see the paper attempt to sweep away Air America's sleazy corporate behavior.

WOR's infomercial-like environment has apparently became so devoid of meaningful content that even one of the New York talker's "lifestyle" hosts can no longer stand it.

In an unexpected move, Rocco DiSpirito's food show won't be replacing the retiring political talker Bob Grant after all. Instead, DiSpirito has abruptly left the station entirely.

From the New York Post's John Mainelli:

Former reality-TV chef Rocco DiSpirito — whose WOR radio show was set to replace Bob Grant in prestigious afternoon drive time next month — has suddenly left the station altogether, The Post has learned.

Unbeknownst to listeners, DiSpirito's final midday show was Friday.

"When we started working on the new show, it became apparent that we had two very different ideas of how to move forward," DiSpirito told The Post yesterday.

DiSpirito, 39, says he wanted to do a "broad lifestyle and entertainment-style show," rather than just talk about food and recipes, which he had been doing at 11 a.m. since joining WOR (710 AM) in October of last year.

"It made sense to just part company," he said.

A station source says DiSpirito's sudden departure may also have had something to do with wisecracks he made about the wearing of fur while discussing a promotion involving a longtime WOR advertiser — New Jersey's Flemington Furs.

DiSpirito, a spokesman for the National Humane Society, downplayed the notion of fur firestorm.

While the fur controversy might have a role to play in his departure, it's hard to believe that could be the sole reason, as a simple apology can usually smooth over these situations.

Could it be WOR's infomercial-style programming has become so incredibly cheap and tacky that celebrity chef DiSpirito no longer cared to associate himself with it?

Thanks to the National Journal's Blogometer for including our Air America coverage in the Washington, DC-based political publication's list of the year's top stories:

Air America Radio has had money trouble since its inception, but this summer it was revealed that a former exec had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to AAR to the detriment of a Bronx Boys and Girls club. While the NYC press largely ignored the story, radio talker Brian Maloney and Michelle Malkin followed it closely.

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Milk of Amnesia: Pete at IHillary for the Radio Equalizer
Hey: Agent Tim Online

24 December 2005

Hollywood MIA, No Blogger Credit, Janeane's Career


Hollywood Stays Home, Plus: Tough Liberal Blogger Lessons

When even the socialist Guardian newspaper takes notice, Hollywood's now well-established pattern of ditching American troops overseas must be especially obvious. Isn't it strange, however, that one of the few on the left to buck the trend is none other than obnoxious Air America Radio host Al Franken?

In what must surely tick off many of his entertainment industry friends, Franken's repeatedly been to Iraq to visit with American troops.

Since we pick on Al pretty much nonstop here at the Radio Equalizer, we thought we'd point out this strange divergence from the rest of his social clique.

What's behind it? Can we properly give Franken credit for going where other elitists dare not travel, or does he have another motive? We have seen him throw his Iraq appearances in the faces of conservative critics, so however well-meaning, it's hard to make the case that Al does much of anything out of the kindness of his heart.

From the Guardian piece:

During world war two American troops away from home for Christmas were entertained by Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers. Even in Vietnam Bob Hope was guaranteed to put in an appearance. But soldiers in Iraq are more likely to get a show from a Christian hip-hop group, a country singer you have probably never heard of and two cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys.

Just as the seemingly intractable nature of the war has led to a growing recruitment crisis, so the United Services Organisation, which has been putting on shows for the troops since the second world war, is struggling to get celebrities to sign up for even a short tour of duty.

Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war. "And I say it's not. I tell them these men and women are over there because our country sent them, and we have the absolute necessity to try to bring them as much happiness as we can."

Fear is also a factor. "They're scared," country singer Craig Morton, who is in Iraq on the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour 2005, told USA Today. "It's understandable. It's not a safe and fun place and a lot of people don't want to take the chance."

Some of the entertainers still willing to travel are die-hard true believers - rock musician Ted Nugent carried a Glock handgun to shows in Iraq last year and said in a radio interview that he manned a machine gun on a Humvee. But many of the USO's regular performers are fierce critics of the war, among them the comic and star of Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams, who told USA Today he would like to return to the Middle East in the spring for what would be his fourth tour since 2002.

"I'm there for the [troops], not for W," he said in a reference to the president. "Go, man. You won't forget it. You'll meet amazing people," is his message to stars that ask him about the tours. But the comedian said he mostly tries to keep politics out of the show after he did a few jokes about Bush's brainpower at a base in 2003 and got a chilly reception.

Other critics of the war who regularly perform include the leftwing comedian Al Franken (who is headlining the current tour along with Christian hip-hop group Souljahz) and the punk legend and actor Henry Rollins, one of the Bush administrations most vocal critics.

How do other liberals feel about Franken's visits? Mostly, they seem to stay quiet. If we really wanted to ruin Al's "progressive" reputation, we could begin to shower him with praise.

Wouldn't that be cruel?

RedState has more here.

For Janeane Garofalo,
has it been tough hosting an ignored Air America Radio program, with publicity this year arriving primarily for her West Wing television drama guest appearances?

It's taken especially angry outbursts on cable television to get anybody to write about her politics.

This pattern continues today.

Poor Janeane, there must be nothing worse than being ignored for all of that fringe moonbattery.

With news of liberal
Seattle radio host Mike Webb's criminal charges finally hitting the AP wire, the leftist blogger who broke the story is still not getting proper credit. This appeared in the Tacoma News-Tribune:

A radio talk-show host has been charged with filing a false insurance claim after a June traffic accident.

Mike Webb, 50, host of an evening program on KIRO-AM, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in King County Superior Court to accusations that he forged a document indicating he bought a car-insurance policy from Geico before the June 28 accident.

Geico says Webb bought the policy online one day after the accident, according to charging papers. Webb says he bought the policy at the end of May.

The Seattle traffic accident caused $6,000 damage to Webb’s 2000 Lexus, according to court papers. Webb was not at fault, and the other driver did not have insurance.

Webb showed police a proof-of-insurance card from National Merit, but police say that company hasn’t insured Webb since 2001. Geico’s records indicate Webb bought a six-month policy online June 29, and the next day attempted to file a claim. Geico denied the claim.

For the record, it was "progressive" blogger Michael Hood of Blatherwatch who broke (and still owns) this story.

Even worse, as far as we can tell, Webb's story has still failed to appear in the ultraliberal Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Had this involved a conservative radio host, no doubt it would be splashed all over the front page.

Graphics: Pete at IHillary for the Radio Equalizer. Check out Pete's site for more great work!

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22 December 2005

Webb Update, WABC, Ratings News


Webb Blames World, NY Station's Bold Move, More

As predictably as claustrophobia-inducing Wal-Mart aisles just before Christmas, a liberal talk show host has refused to take responsibility for his own allegedly criminal actions.

After insurance fraud charges were filed against Mike Webb, the extremist Seattle radio host has cooked up a variety of conspiracy theories to explain away the allegations.

Were space aliens working in cahoots with the CIA and Scooter Libby to bring him down? What roles do the Teamsters and Freemasons play?

He's also the same talker who last year called for President Bush's "execution" on-air.

In addition, a liberal talk radio blogger is getting a first-hand lesson in the kind of difficulties conservatives face every day with the mainstream media. Why did one of Seattle's daily newspapers, the more leftist of the two, fail to report the story?

Welcome to our world.

Two days after Blatherwatch first broke news of the charges filed against Webb, the Seattle Times printed its version, with rival paper the Seattle Post-Intelligencer so far entirely missing in action. Sure enough, Webb keeps us all entertained with a variety of kooky conspiracy theories:

Webb, who pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the charge of filing a fraudulent claim, denied he had forged the document.

He said he believes the charge is a mistake that may have originated from a clerical or electronic error on the insurance company's part.

He also said that he and his lawyer, Bradley Marshall, are considering the possibility that somebody who "hates" his talk show may have hacked into his computer records. "We are looking into hacking. Some people will do anything to damage you," said Webb, 50.

In addition, Webb said, he's suspicious of the timing of the charge because he's involved in a dispute with Seattle police.

Webb claims he was assaulted by an officer while he and the officer both were waiting in line at a Seattle fast-food restaurant in 2004. He said police made a settlement offer to him the day before the insurance-fraud charge was filed. Seattle police spokesman Rich Pruitt declined to comment because the case hasn't been resolved.

Previously, we've written about the supposed "assault" by a Seattle police officer at Dick's Drive-In. Where in the world are the living, breathing witnesses? At the time of Webb's 2004 allegation, it held so little water that the dailies ignored it, leaving it to the credibility-challenged Seattle Weekly.

Thursday's Times piece, written by Christine Clarridge, does a good job of detailing the sequence of events and the "progressively" deeper hole Webb may be digging for himself:

According to charging papers, Webb was not at fault when he was involved in a traffic accident June 28 in Seattle. The other driver did not have insurance.

After the accident, Webb showed police a proof-of-insurance card from National Merit, a company that police say hasn't insured Webb since 2001. Webb now says he mistakenly grabbed the old card.

Court documents say Geico's records indicate Webb purchased a six-month policy online June 29, and on June 30 attempted to file a claim on the accident that left nearly $6,000 damage to his 2000 Lexus.

Geico denied the claim. But Webb insists he bought the policy at the end of May and was due coverage, court documents say.

In an interview with a Geico insurance investigator that took place in Marshall's office, Webb produced a policy-confirmation receipt that was dated May 29 and bank statements that purported to show debit payments to Geico beginning in May.

Seattle police, who investigated the incident at Geico's request, said that bank statements they received from Washington Mutual under warrant support Geico's contention that the policy was initiated at the end of June.

The first debit payment from Webb to Geico was made on June 30, court documents assert.

"I was shocked by this," Webb said. "It would take an absolute idiot to try to defraud someone like that."

That could prove to be the most accurate self-assessment anyone has made in a long time.

Also in radio today, New York's conservative talker WABC has stunned the industry with a decision to go commercial-free daily from 5-7am during the "Curtis and Kuby" show.

Saying the station had an opportunity to steal Howard Stern's now up-for-grabs audience, WABC will continue part of its morning drive program sans advertising for at least several months.

Today, morning hosts across the country collectively salivated at the notion their own stations might follow suit. Meanwhile, WABC is enjoying especially good press over the highly unexpected move.

In ratings news
, conservative Seattle talkers KVI and KTTH rebounded sharply, while CBS Radio's Air America outlet KPTK-AM stalled.

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WABC billboard: Jim Hawkins

Severino Press Release Omits Controversies


Hopes To Fool Listeners With "Jay Severin" Show

While radio talk show
hosts facing arrest and criminal charges may be infrequent, ethics flaps continue to plague the medium like a nasty bird flu epidemic.

For full disclosure of my own potential conflict of interest in further discussing this story, please see the comments section below.

With newly syndicated "libertarian/libertine" (read: anti-Bush quasi-liberal) host Jay Severin (real name: Jimmy Severino) still leading the pack, many controversies emanate from just a small number of questionable personalities.

Even after exposes by the Boston-area news media on Sag Harbor, New York-based Severin's wild claims of winning a Pulitzer Prize for "online journalism" and other highly questionable assertions, CBS still went ahead with plans to take him national.

What does that say about how very little has changed at the network since Rathergate?

Teaming up with sister firm Westwood One, a highly misleading press release has been issued, leaving out Severin's credibility-destroying claims:

Westwood One (NYSE: WON) announced today an agreement with CBS Radio to become the exclusive national advertising representative of the new three-hour talk program, the new Jay Severin national radio show. In addition, Westwood One will also exclusively distribute the program to all non-CBS Radio stations nationwide.

Hosted by self-proclaimed Radical Independent Jay Severin, the new show will air weekdays 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM ET, debuting on Tuesday, January 3, 2006. Stations debuting the program upon its launch include: WTKK-FM Boston and CBS Radio's KRLD-AM Dallas; WPHT-AM Philadelphia; WJFK-FM Washington DC; and KMOX-AM St. Louis.

Jay Severin's show is a fast, irreverent, insightful three-hour talk program, which focuses on the issues of the moment; what happened today, what it really means, and what will happen tomorrow. The program will also feature call-ins from listeners nationwide.

"Radio is the premier town meeting of America," said Jay Severin. "More than caring about what you think, I care that you think. One thing I guarantee: we will both learn and laugh. I cannot imagine a more exciting opportunity than performing for the extraordinary Westwood One community."

"Jay is an original who informs and entertains like no other," said Bart Tessler SVP-News and Talk, Westwood One. "We're thrilled to be able to bring his winning program to affiliates across the country and to national advertisers."

"Jay is an incredible talent, with a proven track record," said Peter Kosann, Westwood One Co-COO. "With these core major market stations, Jay will quickly establish himself as a major force in the national talk arena."

For the past six years, Jay Severin served as host of a top-rated talk radio program on WTKK-FM Boston. Since 1978, Jay Severin has been engaged in the business of politics and media: serving as media & political advisor to Republican incumbents and candidates in circa 30 major campaigns nationwide for Governor, U.S. House, U. S. Senate, and President. Severin has served as political analyst for MSNBC, and as a featured columnist for

In 2004, Severin was nominated for the radio industry's highest honor, the Marconi Award. His other extensive media experience includes the BBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, CNBC, Fox News, and foreign television; his comments have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Newsweek, et. al.; he is the author of Op-Ed articles for the New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, et. al.; and a frequent guest on Westwood One's Imus in the Morning.

While we certainly didn't expect CBS/Westwood One to come clean about Severin's behavioral and ethical shortcomings, previously covered here, here and here, it also isn't clear why the network continued to show interest in one of radio's biggest ticking time bombs.

Worse, unverified claims made in this press release only further invite unwanted background scrutiny. Funny enough, Severin's now considered a "self-proclaimed radical independent" (read: closet liberal).

Raising a huge red flag should have been the backstage antics that got him canned from a commentator role at MSNBC:

But the suggestion that leaving the Situation was Severin's decision is a "complete absolute lie," an insider tells TVNewser.

In fact, he's been banned from the network: "You won't see him on MSNBC again," the source says. (And based on Severin's actions in Secaucus, "we were shocked to read in Page Six that he has a wife and daughter," the insider adds...)

Adding to the mystery is Westwood One's own inner turmoil, where head honcho Shane Coppola was recently shown the door. Somehow, in the midst of that leadership vacuum, Severin's syndication deal still managed to find itself approved.

That sure doesn't say much for CBS, obviously no more concerned with honesty now than pre-Rathergate.

Say what you want about the Boston Globe, I'm personally no fan, but they nailed Jimmy Severino on his blatant dishonesty. Now, Jimmy's deal harms talk radio's national image.

Will newspapers, based where new stations are signing up for his program, also report the truth?

UPDATE: Radio and Records reports today on Westwood One's financial uncertainty:

Analyst Cuts Westwood One Rating

Goldman Sachs analyst Mark Wienkes on Wednesday lowered his rating on Westwood One shares from "outperform" to "in-line," based on his belief that the company's stock won't demonstrate any major movement while the company's near-term challenges are addressed.

ALSO: there's a false, but lingering sentiment that Severin is at least nominally conservative on the air. My point is that he's increasingly trying to be all things to all people, which comes across as phony, hence his new "radical independent" label.

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20 December 2005

Liberal Seattle Host Charged With Fraud


Blatherwatch: Arrest Follows Seattle PD Investigation


After an investigation into alleged auto insurance fraud, extremist Seattle talk show host Mike Webb has apparently been charged with criminal offenses, according to Blatherwatch, a liberal talk radio blog.

For his scoop, Blatherwatch honcho Michael Hood obtained public documents that detail the allegations:

In papers filed Dec. 5 in King Co. Superior Court, and obtained by BlatherWatch; KIRO talk host Mike Webb (9p-1a) was charged with the crime of Fraudulent Insurance Claim in an alleged $5982 scam against a car insurance company.

According to the Court's Superform, Michael Kenneth Webb, 50 years old a KIRO radio talk show host and a Virgo, is also the subject in an investigation of forgery.

The papers were gleaned from public court records. Charges were generated after an accident June 28 involving Webb in his 2000 Lexus GS-3 and his subsequent alleged dealings with GEICO.

A Certification For Determination of Probable Cause describes in detail the fruits of the investigation by Seattle Police Detective Randal Woolery and GEICO investigator Bill Brown that led to the criminal charges against the flamboyant talk host.

Webb is the same liberal host who last year demanded President Bush and several of his Cabinet members face "execution" on war crimes charges. Previously, we've written extensively about Webb and his background.

From November:

--- In 2004, Webb called for President Bush's execution on-air, then denied it, even when confronted with a tape of the broadcast. He then threatened the conservative-leaning reporter who broke the story with a lawsuit.

--- Even some liberals don't like him, because he says one thing, then does another. He supports labor unions on the air, but pushed an AFTRA decertification effort at KIRO without disclosing it to his listeners.

--- Webb rails against Republicans for supposedly being rich, uncaring and greedy, yet drives a shiny black Lexus to work each evening.

--- While opposing Second Amendment rights on the radio, he carries a loaded gun with him nearly always, even sometimes at the station.

--- When times get especially tough, Mike resorts to threats and litigation. Some critics believe this is what keeps him employed, since his ratings are generally not strong.

--- He made an especially questionable allegation against a Seattle police officer in 2004. Read about it here.

--- In my own experience, he was a nightmare to work with. He regularly arrived at the station as his opening theme music was playing, or sometimes even late for the broadcast. Worse, he would then refuse to vacate the studio at the end of his program, keeping the next show from starting on time.

--- In terms of program content, there is only one issue: four hours of pure, nonstop anti-Bush vitriol, with gay discrimination "outrage" usually thrown into the mix.

What will be the fate of Webb's evening talk show on KIRO-AM? So far, Blatherwatch has not been able to obtain comment from the host or station management.

Until now, however, Mike has always been able to get away with antics that for anyone else would lead to certain termination. In addition, he's long had a curious ability to avoid critical press from Seattle's provincial news media, notorious for playing favorites.

The Radio Equalizer can't wait to hear Webb's excuses for the criminal charges. Will it be a Seattle Police Department conspiracy, anti-gay discrimination, or a plot by Karl Rove?

Because he refuses to allow himself to be photographed, the above photo of Webb dates from 1972.

In an email this morning from Blatherwatch blogger Hood, he indicates explosive revelations will soon emerge from the fraud investigation. Can Webb possibly remain on the air, or has he finally pushed his luck much too far?

Hood is on a roll today, now reporting Webb was taken into police custody this morning.

UPDATE: Both the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer have officially been scooped by a blogger. Ouch.

UPDATE: Hood reports Webb pled not guilty today, in a King County courtroom. Station management indicating he might not be pulled from the airwaves.

UPDATE: Broadcast trade industry coverage planned for Wednesday. Will Seattle papers be able to avoid the story?

WEDNESDAY: Nothing about Webb's arrest in Seattle's daily newspapers, while Blatherwatch follows-up with part two of the story. A substitute host filled-in for Webb last night, saying he would be there for a few days. Apparently, no public statement has yet been made about the arrest.

NEW: station says he will return to his show on Monday.

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19 December 2005

Times Spotlights Blogs, Radio-Related Books


New York Times Features 'Book-Blogging'

Is this anything?

To a New York Times story on 2005's "most-blogged-about books", that's today's official Radio Equalizer reaction, for what it's worth.

Stolen from the David Letterman Show, that's the regular segment where Dave and Paul Shaffer discuss afterward whether on-stage stunts are "anything" or "nothing".

Included in the year-end NYT coverage: 20 books and the blogs that discussed them. Several with radio ties made the list, including The Fair Tax Book by talk host Neil Boortz and Jon Lender, Podcasting: Do It Yourself Pirate Radio For The Masses, by Todd Cochrane, as well as Hugh Hewitt's Blog.

Coming in at 16th, Michelle Malkin's Unhinged, like the other ranked books, includes a breakdown of individual posts, three of which refer to this site:

Blog: The Radio Equalizer -Brian Maloney
By Brian Maloney
Sunday, October 30
Text: . . .In fact, Amazon reviewers are already busy trashing her book. . .
Read More

Blog: Power Line
By Hindrocket
Tuesday, November 8
Text: . . .. . .
Read More

Blog: The Talent Show
By waltisfrozen
Wednesday, August 17
Text: . . .Malkins next book, Unhinged Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, is all about the utter hypocrisy of Democrats who fashion themselves as role models of tolernace and civility?. . .
Read More

By Glenn Reynolds
Wednesday, November 2
Text: . . .HEARD MICHELLE MALKIN on Neal Boortzs show, plugging her new book which seems to be doing quite well on Amazon. . .
Read More

By Glenn Reynolds
Monday, October 31
Text: . . .YOU DONT TUG ON SUPERMANS CAPE Brian Maloney reports that some people, afraid of Michelle Malkins new book, are launching preemptive attacks. . .
Read More

Hewitt, a Salem Radio Networks syndicated talk show host and major blogger, scored especially well, with a 7th place ranking. To determine the "top" blogged books, the NYT's process is rather cryptic.

Does book-blogging help sales? While no light is shed on the subject, we do learn that authors can be quite afraid of Internet feedback:

Years ago, after someone sent Amy Tan a link to a Web site where one anti-fan declared "Amy Tan must die," Tan fired off a prophylactic e-mail message asking friends and colleagues not to forward comments culled from the Internet.

"I think it's great that readers are having spontaneous dialogues about my work online," she said, "but I don't think I should necessarily listen in." She likens looking herself up online to overhearing gossip at a cocktail party. "You might hear some good things about yourself, but you may also hear something devastating."

Also among the blogophobic is Maureen Dowd. "I'm super sensitive and I think I'd get too depressed," said Dowd, whose new book is "Are Men Necessary?: When Sexes Collide." Instead, she employs proxy searchers. "It seems narcissistic to be trolling around looking for mentions of yourself, though I am thrilled to be blogged about," she said. "My sister and my assistant show me things they think I need to see. But I don't want to get too caught up in it myself."

While those of us with blogs take heat on a daily basis, it's hard to imagine just how sheltered from reality some famous authors must find themselves.

Even more peculiar is that many of the books listed in the top 20 didn't seem to the NYT's staff to be worthy of review. I'm not aware, for example, of Malkin's book ever previously being mentioned in the Times. Doesn't this point to the difference between old media and new?

Perhaps by coincidence Sunday, NYT Public Editor Byron Calame attempts to explore that angle, why some books are chosen, while others are ignored by the paper:

WHEN The New York Times Book Review published its list of "100 Notable Books of the Year" earlier this month, calculations from several readers and bloggers soon turned up in my in-box. Of the 61 nonfiction books on the list, they noted, six were by Times staffers - enough to pique my interest in the overall book-review process at the paper.

Readers - and authors - deserve a process that is as fair as possible in both reality and perception. What's fair, however, is particularly challenging in the world of the book section. There, reviewers are expected to express their opinions, but readers also have the right to expect that books are assessed based on their merits, not just on a critic's ideology or personal grudges and preferences. The complications only grow when some of the authors are on the staff of The Times...

...Yet eliminating all connections appears nearly impossible. Mr. Tanenhaus and Dwight Garner, the Book Review's senior editor, are authors themselves and both have the same agent, the powerful Andrew Wylie. This gives me some pause. But they handle that relationship very carefully, Mr. Garner said. "Intentionally," he explained, "over the years I have had the grand total of one lunch with my agent, and one lunch with my editor."

Even if there wasn't a great deal of light shed on these seemingly cozy relationships, thanks to Calame for at least looking into it. We keep expectations of the paper low here at the Radio Equalizer.

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18 December 2005

Sunday Update


It's been great having your support this year at the Radio Equalizer! Without interruption, look for updates and items over the next two weeks. In addition, watch for information on where you can hear me as both host and guest during that time.

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17 December 2005

Air America Host Kennedy's Nondisclosure Angers Many


NYT Op-Ed Angers Liberals, Conservatives

Who now is burning
up inside the "Ring Of Fire"? After a major slip-up in yesterday's New York Times, Robert F Kennedy Jr. may be wondering why he gave that unfortunate name to his Air America Radio program.

After all, in such a forceful, high-profile denunciation of the proposed Cape Wind power project in Cape Cod, Mass., wouldn't it be proper to point out the Kennedy family's clear conflict of interest? Shouldn't readers know the proposed wind farm project would sit directly facing their Hyannisport compound, several miles out to sea?

While supporters are made up of both liberals and conservatives, especially interesting is that some of Cape Wind's most outspoken opponents are shorefront property owning-liberals. Noisiest of all have been Kennedy family members.

Right off the bat, Kennedy brings a false analogy to his NYT argument:

AS an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project.

Environmental groups have been enticed by Cape Wind, but they should be wary of lending support to energy companies that are trying to privatize the commons - in this case 24 square miles of a heavily used waterway. And because offshore wind costs twice as much as gas-fired electricity and significantly more than onshore wind, the project is financially feasible only because the federal and state governments have promised $241 million in subsidies.

As Jack Coleman, longtime Cape Cod newspaper contributor, notes:

"But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development," Kennedy writes. "I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park" (actually, that would be illegal, unlike what Cape Wind proposes). "Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project."

Only two paragraphs in, how does Kennedy describe Nantucket Sound - as a "heavily used waterway." Got that? Not this "pristine jewel" or "cherished national treasure" or any of the overwrought labels routinely trotted out by opponents.

Kennedy elaborates on this - he goes on to describe Nantucket Sound as "among the most densely traveled boating corridors in the Atlantic." As such, Cape Wind's turbines would come "perilously close to the main navigation channels for cargo ships, ferries and fishing boats."

The project would also come "perilously close" to the Kennedy compound, although no mention of this is made in the column. Perhaps Kennedy, shown above in a photo I took during the Soundkeeper sail organized by the Alliance last August, assumes it is universally known and needs no elaboration. I beg to differ - that his extended family would be abutters could hardly be more relevant.

After Massachusetts residents got "wind" of RFK's disingenuous editorial, it created a real controversy in the Bay State. From Jay Fitzgerald in today's Boston Herald:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stirred up a storm of controversy yesterday by escalating his attacks on a proposed wind farm off of Cape Cod - without mentioning how his family’s famous vacation compound might be impacted by the facility.

Kennedy, an outspoken environmentalist on most earthy issues, wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times that the proposal by Cape Wind Associates to build 130 offshore wind turbines was nothing more than a government-subsidized industrial boondoggle.

Kennedy, who was confronted by Greenpeace last summer when he toured the Sound in a boat with a group opposing the project, said the windmills will cause too much noise, harm marine life and threaten fishermen’s livelihoods. Greenpeace supports the project.

Deep-water wind-turbine technology is improving - and Cape Wind should be pushed farther off shore, he added.

What he didn’t mention was how his family has long vacationed on the Cape, at the famous Kennedy Compound in Hyannis - only six miles from where the offshore wind farm would be located.

Environmental groups, who are now portraying Kennedy as a virtual traitor in the fight against global warming, took note of that omission.

“This is an unfortunate case of NIMBYism,” said Matt Palmer, executive director of Hyannis-based Clean Power Now, referring to the antidevelopment acronym for Not In My Back Yard.

In an interview with the Herald, Kennedy said he doesn’t own property on the Cape - only his relatives do. But he added he thinks “people should fight to protect their back yards,” noting he has opposed developments near his own New York home in the past.

Sure enough, Robert, but everyone knows your entire extended family uses the compound. Can you honestly say you never visit Hyannis?

Why do conservatives such as Coleman and myself support Cape Wind? Because the region has a critical need for additional power generation and there's no better way to increase capacity. Without Cape Wind, future blackouts become far more likely.

Perhaps Kennedy should stick to writing Air America fundraising letters and stay out of debates where he can so clearly be exposed as a phony.

Meanwhile, it might be time to rename that talk show "Ring Of Hypocrisy".

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Images: Cape Cod Today, Boston Herald

16 December 2005

KFI, New Hampshire, Sydney Fallout


Still Angry Over Tookie, Plus: 'FU-v' Host Firing?

Think the debate
over Tookie Williams ended with his execution? Guess again.

Issuing a public challenge, The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable’s Earl Ofari Hutchinson and Jasmyne Cannick have accused KFI's John and Ken of racism. They insist proof is found in the pair's supposed reluctance to insist a white man on death row be quickly put to death:

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable’s Earl Ofari Hutchinson and Jasmyne Cannick have issued a public challenge to controversial radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of the John and Ken Show of AM 640 KFI (Los Angeles) to prove that they are not promoting racial double standards when it comes to the death penalty.

The John and Ken Show dedicated the hour of 5 p.m. as “Kill Tookie/Tookie Must Die Hour” for over a month. During this time, KFI purposely followed around Black community activists, religious and civil rights leaders who were in support of clemency for Williams, with the sole intention of using their comments out of context and verbally abusing them on air for the entertainment of their listeners.

John and Ken publicly denied there were any racial motives in their playing up death for Williams. But they have given no public hint that they will establish a “Kill Clarence Ray Allen Hour.” Allen, an elderly white inmate, is scheduled to die January 17 at San Quentin prison.

Cannick and Hutchinson, ask “Can we expect to see John and Ken at San Quentin on January 16 broadcasting live again? While we strongly oppose the death penalty, the deafening silence of John and Ken on Allen strongly suggest their racial double standard for executions.”

Meanwhile, John and Ken have even hinted that they will launch a new campaign for the death penalty for black activist Mumia Abu Jamal, formerly sentenced to death in Pennsylvania.

We'll update this with any response from the KFI afternoon drive hosts.

There's also a discussion, here. The graphic to the left was created by a delightful "hate" group. John and Ken's website/blog is found here.

Was liberal New Hampshire
talk host Arnie Arnesen too fiery for Granite State listeners and advertisers? After being terminated from WTPL-FM, that's what she claims.

From the Concord Monitor (via Perry Simon at All Access):

Radio personality Arnie Arnesen will be off the air at the end of the year because her talk show is "too provocative" to sell ads, Arnesen, 52, said. Arnesen said she doesn't know whether she'll look for a new radio job after she leaves WTPL, 107.7 FM.

Arnesen, whose outspokenness is her trademark, said there wasn't a single incident that led to her show being canceled. But she cited her rants against SUVs as the kind of on-air opinion that makes advertisers turn away.

"I have started calling SUVs, FU-vs, because it's not acceptable anymore that 90 percent of people who own them don't need them. For the 10 percent who do need them I say, 'Have them, have a semi-truck,'" she said. "Here's the problem: If the bread-and-butter of small radio stations is car businesses, who's going to buy me?"

WTPL station owner Jeff Shapiro said Arnesen had become a hard-sell to the business community. Arnesen's show has bounced around several radio stations and was at WTPL when Shapiro took over the station last year.

"Advertisers perceived that it was maybe a little too strong politically for them to be associated with," he said. Shapiro said he did not know what he'll replace Arnesen with.

The blame-game over Australia's recent racial riots continues, with Sydney presenter Brian Wilshire of station 2GB actually issuing an apology. From the AAP:

CLAIMS that Sydney's race violence has been stoked by talkback radio were reinforced today when a radio announcer was forced to apologise for on-air comments about Lebanese Australians.

Macquarie Radio station 2GB's late night announcer in Sydney, Brian Wilshire, had accused some Lebanese of being inbred.

"Many of them have parents who are first cousins whose parents were first cousins," he told listeners to his 9pm-midnight show.

"The result of this is inbreeding – the result of which is uneducationable (sic) people...and very low IQ."

Wilshire's comments were greeted by outrage in Sydney, where thousands of police are preparing to mount road blocks this weekend to prevent a repeat of the race riot at Cronulla beach.

"It reveals an uneducated comment on his part – they are disgraceful comments," NSW Premier Morris Iemma said.

Wilshire, whose 2GB colleague Alan Jones has also been accused of fuelling racial tensions, emerged today to apologise for his remarks.

"I understand that those comments may have caused offence to some members of the Lebanese community and I unreservedly retract those comments and I apologise for any offence that might have been caused," the 61-year-old told Network Ten.

TVNewser reports Bob Novak has just signed on with FOX News Channel. Good for him, this will give the left something to fume about over the holidays.

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Mitt Romney, Self-Esteem, Canada's Librano$


Busy News Cycle Keeps Talk Radio Busy

Keeping talk radio busy this holiday season, there's no shortage of interesting news to discuss:

Of little surprise
to Bay Staters, Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's announcement he doesn't intend to run for a second term is fueling a great deal of speculation about national ambitions. Those misunderestimating Romney's presidential potential will later be eating their words:

(Michael Rosen- National Review) If a Republican candidate could land California, or even come close, he could wreak havoc at the DNC. This horrific prospect has provided dramatic fodder for The West Wing's current season, where a (moderate) Republican senator from California is the favorite to capture his home state and with it the presidency.

Could life imitate art? Possibly, if Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has anything to say about it. Romney recently paid a visit to the Golden State to participate in the meeting of the Republican Governors' Association, of which he was named chairman.

I heard him speak at a meeting of the Fairbanks Republican Women Federated (FRWF), one of the most successful groups of its kind. His movie-star-handsome looks render him instantly appealing, at least superficially, in a state like California.

As Canadians spend the holidays in full campaign mode this year, a number of new controversies have emerged:

--- Captain Ed, America's Blogospheric Ambassador to Canada, reports on the Liberal Party's insider trading scandal that no governmental agency seems eager to investigate.

--- Meanwhile, the sleazy Librano$ continue to use rampant America-bashing as an excuse to remain in power, drawing sharp criticism from US Ambassador David Wilkins.

--- Making matters worse, the government of British Columbia faces a major worker shortage heading into the 2010 Olympic Games. Instead of looking to Washington state, where there should be plenty of skilled tradesmen, they're seeking help in France, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe.

All those years spent building a child's "self-esteem" may have backfired:

The argument is simple. We have gone overboard on getting kids to feel good about themselves. The standards for competence have been lowered and false praise is passed out like cups of water at a marathon.

Fallout abounds. One result is kids seem less prepared for hardship. "There's a clear sense that things have come easier for this generation of kids," said Kevin Haggerty, director of the Raising Healthy Children Project at the University of Washington. "They feel down and depressed when they get older and confront failure."

Corporate human relations executives report an intriguing offshoot. Younger workers with the heightened sense of entitlement and easier path are much less patient waiting for job promotions.

And of course,
Iraqi elections will continue to be top-of-mind for the next several days.

An Austrian football
stadium named for Arnold Schwarzenegger will be renamed, after the California governator failed to halt the execution of gangbanging murderer Tookie Williams.

Shocking even Rhode Islanders used to governmental abuses of power, an 81-year-old Providence woman has been evicted for failing to pay a sewer bill, just ahead of Christmas. Wade, a blogger in Rogue's Island, has the details.

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15 December 2005

Support The Radio Equalizer


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Blogs Hold Talk Hosts Accountable


Intersection Of Activism And Talk Radio

Is talk radio really just an entertainment medium, or do listeners expect bona fide activism from air personalities?

In the past, I'd always believed it was about appealing to a segment of the radio audience and primarily reflecting that group's political viewpoints.

It's now clear, however, that faced with an increasing number of new media choices, talk radio listeners want quite a lot more.

Simply being entertaining, timely and compelling isn't enough: led by the blogosphere, there's a sense that if the Internet can hold Dan Rather accountable, why can't talk radio? Blogs have raised the bar and hosts are forced to pay attention.

In my recent interview with industry trade publication All Access, I pointed to KFI's John & Ken in Los Angeles and KSFO/San Francisco's Lee & Melanie morning show as seamlessly blending entertainment with real activism.

Both know to sniff out the next hot story ahead of time, taking ownership and following it through. If a rally, recall election, road trip or initiative campaign is necessary, that's fine, but you don't see them stooping to two-bit rock-jock stunts.

Listeners have a reason to come back each day, feeling a sense of involvement in the latest campaign. For John & Ken, it was most recently a noisy public awareness campaign ahead of the Tookie Williams execution.

Taking activism a step further, KSFO's Melanie Morgan teamed up with legendary California Republican strategist Sal Russo to form Move America Forward, the focus of several previous pieces seen here.

An in-depth profile of Morgan and Russo has been published at the Sacramento News & Review, surprisingly balanced given the paper's ultraliberal reputation, other than some cheap shots at Russo's campaign track record:

These days, Russo is the political mind behind the rapidly growing nonprofit Move America Forward. Unless you listen to conservative talk radio, you may never have heard of it.

But chances are you know its work.

Remember the “You Don’t Speak For Me, Cindy” Tour this past summer, which sent pro-troops activists to Crawford, Texas, to go toe to toe with anti-war military mom Cindy Sheehan? That was Move America Forward. And the group that tried to quiet the theatrical opening to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11? That was them, too. They’ve also encouraged the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, run television commercials showing American troops handing goods to Afghani children and curated a pro-America art exhibit on Sacramento’s Capitol building steps.

More recently, there was orchestrated outrage by Move America Forward supporters in reaction to the Sacramento City Council’s bring-the-troops-home symbolic resolution.

Since the group formed fewer than two years ago, it has become the dominant voice countering the apparent American groundswell against the war in Iraq. Despite a relatively small base of supporters, reportedly little income and an almost complete lack of support from the Republican Party, Move America Forward has made waves and newspaper headlines across the country.

That may be because the group has struck a nerve with a group of vocal Americans. It also may be simply because Russo and others who run Move America Forward have found a formula to bamboozle the media into paying attention to its ultraconservative viewpoint.

And a section on Morgan, here:

Thank Gray Davis for the movement that is now Move America Forward.

The whole thing began January 22, 2003, during the morning drive time, on a San Francisco radio station. Shawn Steele, then the head of the California Republican Party, was a guest on the morning show that Melanie Morgan co-hosts on KSFO 560 AM. He and Morgan were chatting in typical incendiary talk-radio fashion, when Steele crowed, off the cuff, that someone should recall Davis from the governor’s office. Morgan remembers a light bulb being lit.

“I knew this was an idea whose time had come. ... I said, 'I can do this. I know I can do this,’” Morgan recounted. “It was like watching a video. I saw it in my brain.”

Fast-forward through a circus special election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor. Though Morgan and her co-conspirators supported Tom McClintock throughout the election, they considered the recall a success.

In an interview on a recent Wednesday morning in her studio, following The Lee Rodgers & Melanie Morgan Program--the Bay Area’s No. 1-rated morning drive-time talk program--one of the first things out of Morgan’s mouth was: “I used to be a liberal Democrat.”

Morgan, a petite woman, who even in jeans appears well-dressed, also says she used to be a “straight-down-the-line journalist.” The daughter of a former Missouri state legislator, Morgan said she’d always been politically aware. But it took Lee Rodgers, her morning-show co-host, to cause her political rebirth, she says.

“I feel like I’ve gone to school for the last 11 years for the conservative ideology” sitting beside him, Morgan said.

In that same time, Morgan discovered that radio, more than other media, has a town-square-like power--a lesson amplified in liberal-minded San Francisco, where she says the radio station became something of an island of refuge for conservatives.

“Talk-show hosts really are the ward healers of modern-day politics,” Morgan said.

On the flip side, Air America Radio host Rachel Maddow's All Access interview by Perry Simon also appears this week. Given her background, Maddow surprisingly takes the opposite view on the activism question.

By the way, the reference to me is for real and I thought it was pretty funny:

All Access: What are you passionate about?

Maddow: I'm passionately patriotic, which surprises some people -- the Constitution has a more-than-secular hold on me. I'm passionate about my family -- my partner Susan Mikula. I'm passionate about ethics (though I make no claim to being a particularly ethical person), about music, about great booze, about Amtrak, about, about privacy, about cannoli.

Air America Radio's been through quite a rollercoaster since it launched, as have you, moving from one of three hosts on one show to your own early morning show and now to the 7-9 am slot. What would you say have been the low and high points of your Air America tenure so far?

Low point -- telling my mother my show, "Unfiltered," was being replaced by Jerry Springer, on my birthday, while she was on the other line with her sister the nun in Canada. High point -- it sounds cheesy, but there's no single moment more important to me than the moment of realization I have every day that this is my freaking job.

Some talk hosts think of themselves as political power brokers, some as pure entertainers, some as educators. How do you see your role- are you primarily a political communicator, an educator, an entertainer?

I think of myself primarily as an entertainer -- in commercial radio, really, we're all just there to deliver listeners to the mattress ads. But I'm apparently at my most entertaining when I'm explaining stuff and talking politics.

You're liberal and you're openly gay, which are both rarities in syndicated talk radio. What else makes you special- what else would you say differentiates you not only from the rest of talk radio in general but from the rest of the Air America lineup? What do listeners get from Rachel Maddow that they can't get from anyone else?

Because I spent a long time as a full-time activist before I ever started doing radio, I don't confuse the two. I don't see talk radio as activism and I don't try to wring an activist's sense of mission out of my job. That, I think, is probably why I take a newsier, more information-driven approach to my show than most other folks in the business. I'm not organizing a campaign, I'm not whipping people into a frenzy for or against a candidate -- The Rachel Maddow Show doesn't have much of a Hallelujah Chorus.

My goal instead is to deliver a lot of news -- useful information, including opinion, in an entertaining digestible way that people can take away from the show and put to whatever use they want. The show moves fast and covers a lot of ground.

What about you would surprise the hell out of people?

My secret alter ego is Brian Maloney.

Of what are you most proud?

Two things: (1) my family, and (2) convincing the Mississippi Department of Corrections to change its policy on segregating prisoners with HIV.

What do you do for fun?

I stole Tucker Carlson's Treo a year ago and ever since have been systematically paintballing every address in his phonebook. Oh, and there's the whole War on Christmas thing. Fun, but exhausting. Christmas apparently won again this year -- next year I'm upping it to a jihad.

I knew there was a reason I'd been picking on Tucker so much recently! Keeps me out of his Treo. And luckily, it's too cold here for paintball.

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Images: Sacramento News and Review, All Access

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