Monday, December 24, 2007

What 'War on Christmas'?

While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, victory has been declared in a war that has lasted almost as long. Earlier this month, Bill O'Reilly declared victory in the War on Christmas. O'Reilly has led this quixotic struggle against secularists and godless retailers who have replaced "Merry Christmas" with such blasphemous slogans like "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings." Washington Post reporter, Ruth Marcus, mused on the War on Christmas in a column that she wrote earlier this month.

I've been hearing about this "War on Christmas," so I headed to the Heritage Foundation the other day for a briefing from one of the defending army's generals: Fox News anchor John Gibson, author of "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought." Gibson -- and Bill O'Reilly, his comrade in the Fox-hole -- see this as a two-front war: Assaulting Christmas from the government end, they say, are pusillanimous school principals, politically corrected city managers and their ilk, bullied by the ACLU types into extirpating any trace of Christmas from the public square. Battering the holiday from the private sector are infidel retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, which balk at using the C-word in their advertising in favor of such secularist slogans as "Happy Holidays."
The assault, Gibson told the Heritage crowd, has reached a "shocking level this year."
After the lecture, I wandered over to Union Station to check out a retail battlefield. Inside and out, the station was festooned with giant You Know What wreaths. A huge You Know What tree, with presents wrapped in red and green underneath, stood in the main hall, near a placard announcing "Norwegian Christmas at Union Station."
A high-tech player piano was playing "Go Tell It on the Mountain," proclaiming the birth of You Know Who; the next selection was You Know Who Else Is Coming to Town. The most generic element was a small sign reading "Happy Holidays," but even then the words were bracketed by reindeer -- and let's just say, they weren't eating latkes. It was beginning to look a lot like You Know What. If the anti-Christmas forces are winning, then the war in Iraq is nothing short of total victory.
Merry Christmahanakwanza

Monday, December 17, 2007

Air America Radio to Drop the Young Turks Next Month

The Young Turks Show will be dropped from the Air America Radio line-up next month, according to announcements by the surviving Turk -- Cenk Uygur -- and a spokesperson for the liberal talk radio network.

Uygur, confirmed that the Turks relationship with Air America will end amicably on January 15. Speaking to his listeners at a hastily arranged podcast earlier today, Uygur said that a new venture would be started, at that time, which will involve the internet.

When the Young Turks were added to AAR’s line-up in September, 2006 there were three of them – Uygur, Jill Pike, and Ben Mankiewicz. Pike left in July and Mankiewicz dropped out in August. Since that time, Uygur has essentially worked alone.

AAR’s publicist, Anne Strahle told Talking Radio earlier today that AAR and the Young Turks mutually agreed to end their show. "The reason being", according to Strahle, is that "their show will be going in a different direction."

AAR has not announced how they plan to fill the Turk’s 6-9 AM ET time slot.

This represents the second weekday show dropped by the liberal talk radio network since the Green brothers – Stephen and Mark – took over the bankrupt network, earlier this year. The Air Americans, featuring several AAR hosts including Mark Riley, Laura Flanders, David Bender, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mike Papantonio was dropped from the weekday line-up in August.

In a separate development, Dave Kaufman, AAR's VP of Affiliate Relations leaves the company to take a position with RBR/TVBR Trade Publications.

During his podcast today, Uygur was very upbeat about the future of the Young Turks franchise. He said that he was looking forward "a new direction" for the show and "couldn’t wait until he could tell everyone about it."

Uygur dismissed rumors that were circulating on the internet this morning that he was being suspended by AAR for drinking beer (to celebrate the anniversary of the end of prohibition) or for slamming Democratic party leaders like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

"Let’s put the rumors about Air America Radio aside," Uygur said. "The termination of the Young Turks Show was agreed too amicably."

The Young Turks never got much traction, despite the fact that there is not much competition in the early morning time period on liberal talk radio stations. Only 16 of the 50 plus stations that carry four or more AAR hosts picked up the Turks. The Turks also held the 6-9 AM slot on XM’s Air America Channel.

Rumors circulated on internet message boards that the Turks would return to Sirius Satellite Radio. (Before joining the AAR line-up, the Turks were carried by Sirius for several years.) Uygur would not confirm or deny these rumors on his podcast today.

One talk radio host must be very happy about AAR’s plans to drop the Turks. Bill Press, who’s 6-9 AM EST talk show is distributed by Jones Radio, would appear to be a strong candidate for carriage in the time slots soon to vacated by the Turks.

The Young Turks was definitely a different type of talk show. When Pike and Mankiewicz were on the show if often delved into non-political talk about sex and entertainment. It definitely appealed to a younger demographic than other shows on AAR’s weekday line-up. The Turks also offered a video feed of the daily radio show.

This irreverent style was displayed last month when Uygur threatened to sue Stephen Colbert for allegedly stealing one of his jokes.

While it’s hard to believe that Uygur is not unhappy about his departure from the AAR weekday line-up, there is no doubt that he is very happy that he doesn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to do his radio show. Since the Turk's show originates from Los Angeles, Uygur had to go on the air at 3 AM PST.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Those Who Are No Longer With Us

Two companies involved in the radio business – Clear Channel Communications and Air America Radio – have been in the process of downsizing in the final months of 2007.

Now we all know that Clear Channel is the largest company in the radio business. It started the year with over 1,200 radio stations with access to 40% of radio listeners. It is also involved in the outdoor advertising and international radio businesses.

AAR, on the other hand, is one of the radio industry's smallest companies. It is now in the process of reorganizing after a painful bankruptcy just over a year ago and the loss of about 20% of its coverage. Regular readers of Talking Radio know that AAR provides about a dozen liberal talk radio shows to about 60 stations across the United States. According to TR, their programs account for about half of the listenership to liberal talk radio.

Clear Channel (unaffectionately known as "Cheap Channel") has been actively downsizing since the start of the year, when they announced a plan to take the company private. Since that time, they have attempted to unload 500 (or about 40% of their stations.) Almost half of those deals have been concluded as of now.

Presumably, they are doing this to make the company more attractive to the buy-out firm – Bain Capital Partners. However, the bean counters at CC haven’t stopped there. In the past few weeks we’ve noticed a lot of news about how they are cutting staff on their remaining stations.

Here are a few of the items that we have read in, Radio Ink, and

In San Francisco, the people who are, in the famous radio phrase "no longer with us", include Bob Agnew, a Bay Area veteran who’d been overseeing programming at talkers KNEW and "Green 960" KKGN. Also gone is KKSF/KNEW production director Mario Butzner. According to a CC source, about a dozen Bay Area staffers got pink slips in the past month.

In Honolulu a newsperson and a producer have been cut.

In San Diego at least seven people, mostly low level, were given the boot. Management termed it a "staff readjustment." People that were fired were given the option of a six week severance or their job back - part time and no benefits.

In Los Angeles, Mike Nolan, who for over 20 years was talker KFI's "Eye in the Sky", and about a half dozen Airwatch traffic reporters were shown the door. Motorists in L.A. are going to have pay more attention to those ugly electronic freeway traffic signs. In addition, longtime AC KOST midday host Mike Sakellarides and at least five other employees will not be playing Christmas music at the soft rock music station.

In Cincinnati, John Kieswetter, Cincinnati Enquirer TV/radio writer reports that "you won't hear Gregg Doyel on WCKY-AM any more. Doyel, who co-hosted 9 a.m.-noon with Mo Egger, was fired today in a budget cut. Egger will continue to host solo, says program director Dave Armbruster."It was just part of our budget cuts. I didn't want to do it. I think he was getting a lot better," Armbruster says. Morning co-host John Phillips has exited WKRC-AM and Anchor/Reporter Will Sterrett is out at WLW-AM as part of the cluster's budget cuts.

In Louisville, talk host Joe Elliot exits WHAS after 14 years in the time slot as part of a larger layoff at the cluster.
In Boston, Karl Moore, regional director of operations at CC owned, Boston's Total Traffic Network, exits along with staffers Bill Trifiro and Mike Czarnecki.

In Chicago, management has trimmed at least four staffers from the programming payroll. Those include Armando Rivera, assistant PD at V103/WVAZ "once considered a rising star." There were also cuts at WGCI and "Kiss FM" WKSC.
These are items that we picked up over the past two weeks. An email that we sent to CC’s personnel department in San Antonio requesting additional information on lay-offs has not been answered.

A thread has been started at the Radio-Info News/Talk board, which we check out from time to time, entitled "Clear Channel Cuts Nationwide." has named"The fired and laid-off employees of Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Citadel, Emmis, Cumulus and other large, medium and small market radio stations who have devoted their immense talents to broadcasting"as the recipients of the "2008 Radio Persons of the Year" award.

When we checked out CC’s corporate website we discovered the following quote from the company's founder and chairman Lowry Mays. It reads, in part:

"We believe Clear Channel's people are our most important asset."

We are not very surprised about the staff cutbacks at Air America Radio. After the Green brothers (Stephen and Mark) took over the struggling network, earlier this year, their first order of business was to cut costs. Mark Green told Talking Radio in August that staff was reduced from over 70 people to the low 40’s and operational loses were significantly cut.

However, in the past two months staff cutbacks at AAR started to reaching the bone of the network. The first high profile lay-off involved V.P. of Programming, David Bernstein. Recently, we learned that four more staffers have been let go.

We are not comparing the cutbacks at Clear Channel to the on-going problems at AAR – That would be like comparing watermelons to grapes. However, we wonder if the continuing problems besetting the radio industry, where station values, stock values, and ad revenue continue to slide downward, mean that we will hear about more about those who "are no longer with us."

Monday, December 10, 2007

The 'Lion of Left' De-clawed by Feds

When Rush Limbaugh was charged with doctor shopping and he paid his housekeeper to buy drugs for him behind the Denny’s Restaurant in West Palm Beach, he took some time off and voluntarily entered rehab. After several weeks, he was back on the air and about a year later copped a plea. Rush's punishment represented little more than a glorified slap on the wrist.

In December of 2004, Bernie Ward, host of the longest running and highest rated liberal talk show in the country, downloaded a few images of child pornography and talked about them in an internet chat room. A police investigation of the matter revealed nothing more. There were no images on Ward’s computer and no other complaints.

However, unlike Limbaugh, Ward, who has hosted a talk show on KGO/810 (owned by Citadel Broadcasting) in San Franciso for 22 years, will probably be off the air for a lot longer than a month and faces some very serious charges which could lead to a lengthy prison term.

Friends of Bernie Ward have created a website with information about the his legal dilemna. The site also provides a way to contribute to Ward's defense fund.

Ward's attorney Doron Weinberg told the San Francisco Chronicle that the talk show host "is not a sexual predator."

"He is just being prosecuted for a mistake he made (more than) three years ago."Federal authorities seized Ward's computer in early 2005, and there was no evidence of child pornography or any other impropriety, Weinberg said. "We have been trying to convince the government that this is not something they should proceed with. They said, 'He violated the law, sorry.' "

Ward told investigators at the time that he was doing research for a book on hypocrisy. Now federal authorities have chosen to prosecute. Clearly, the feds didn’t think that Ward was a sexual predator. If they did, he would have been arrested three years ago. They appear to responding to draconian rules regarding child pornography, contending that Ward violated the letter of law.

Before we get too far into this report, I should reveal some prejudicial information. Bernie Ward is my favorite liberal talk show host. I have frequently listened to recordings of his 10 PM to 1 AM weekday show. Unlike his better known syndicated lib talk counterparts, Bernie rarely does interviews and never uses sound bites or funny bits. However, his show is stimulating because he is so passionate, smart, and articulate. Also, despite the fact that the broadcast is limited to the Northern California region, his callers are generally knowlegable and interesting. It is not surprising that while even the best lib talkers max out with 2 to 3 shares, Bernie has consistently recorded double digit shares and is always number one in his time period.

Everyone who knows Bernie Ward finds it hard to believe that the charges against him are true. While Ward can be an aggressive, even combative talk show host he is also well-known for his kindness and charitability.

Over the past dozen years, he has led the KGO Thanksgiving Charities Drive that has raised over five million dollars for several Bay Area charities. He once sat on a billboard for 24 hours to raise $75,000 for a Leukemia fund drive. Ward also hosted the popular God Talk radio show on Sunday mornings for many years. (He's is a former Catholic Priest, Congressional aide, football coach, and investigative reporter.)

His fans adore him and many KGO staffers and community leaders are very supportive, despite the seriousness of the charges against him. Here are a few comments:

"He's always been a wonderful person to work with. And he is such a wonderful father. During commercial breaks, his kids would call him. Bernie would drop everything to solve whatever crisis came up, whether it was a homework problem or somebody locking themselves in the bathroom. Then he went back on air without missing a beat." -- Margo Magowan, former producer of the Bernie Ward Show.

"Bernie Ward has been a valued, long-time employee of KGO Radio. We were just recently made aware of these serious charges and are surprised and concerned by their nature." -- Jack Swanson, KGO PD.

"Our heart goes out to Bernie and his family. (He is married and the father of four children.) Bernie has been an incredible leader. His approach is not only to talk about what is broken in society, but to inspire people to fix it."-- Poncho Guevara, executive director of Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose.

"I think Bernie is one of a kind. He has a huge heart. He has never been cautious. Like many people he was ignorant of the law, he made a mistake and it is tragic. People who know him know that in no way is this Bernie Ward." -- Susan Prather, founder and executive director of Fresh Start, a Walnut Creek organization that helps the poor and homeless.

"I know Bernie as a dad, a talk-show guy and an investigative reporter. This is utterly inconsistent with those three facets of Bernie. It doesn't jibe with what I know." -- Stephanie Salter, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist.

Of course there have been the predictable cheap shots from right wing talkers and bloggers.

"Left wing bigmouth Bernie "Whored" of KGO (The "Lyin' of the Left") indicted on kiddie porn." -- Michael Savage

"We've since heard from broadcast professionals in California that signs of self- destructive behavior on Ward's part go back years and may be quite shocking in nature. Will some of this eventually come to light as well?" -- Brian Maloney, The Radioequalizer (Of course, no "broadcast professionals" were mentioned or quoted.)

One has to wonder, why the feds waited three years to pursue this matter. Despite the virtual zero tolerance policy that has characterized enforcement of child pornography law enforcement, there have been exceptions provided to journalists. Writing in Counterpuch, Debbie Nathan cites the case of Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times reporter, who was not prosecuted after downloading more child pornography than what Ward is being accused of doing.

Ward has not said much since his arrest last week. He told the San Francisco Chronicle "I'd like to say what this is not, It's not child abuse. It wasn't solicitation. I wasn't part of any ring. Most importantly, there was nothing on my computer. None of this was for titillation or entertainment."

Meanwhile, it’s going to be awhile before we hear the ‘lion of left" on the radio again. Ward’s next court date will be in January. In the meantime, he has been suspended, with pay, by KGO.