Wednesday, March 01, 2006

 

Thoughts on Air America...

New West - Missoula has a great summation of the shutdown of Missoula's Air America station. I've also talked to Lesley Lotto, the former news director of the station. And I've got some thoughts... First, it's obvious that the new investment group, Simmons Media, had no interest in keeping Air America on KKNS. They gave the show six weeks from the time they invested to make a profit, and the first thing they did was lay off Lotto's staff, not exactly setting Air America up for success. For the record, I don't think Simmons Media was motivated by politics to skewer Air America. Considering that they turned the station into an oldies "iPod," as Lotto said, it's obvious that they wanted the precious, mid-market FM bandwidth to run a low-overhead, brainless pop station that would reap steady and predictable advertising revenue. That such practises have killed FM radio doesn't bother Simmons Media. They like the $$. (I could go off on corporate disdain for community, but that will have to wait for another post.) Air America is an expirament. Bottom-line business people don't like conceptual media. It's risky. But it also happened that Air America was by radio standards wildly successful in Missoula. According to New West:
Just last fall, Cowan said, an Eastlan ratings survey in Missoula and the Bitterroot showed the Al Franken show with a respectable 3.6 percent of listeners – ahead of Rush Limbaugh, who runs on two area stations. “Al Franken was huge,” [general manager Dave] Cowan said. “(He) clobbered Rush. The listeners were there – and the commercials were inexpensive.”
Why was the station not making a profit? There are two theories. First, Lotto's:
[Lotto] believe[d] the KNS sales team didn’t wholeheartedly try to sell the product. “The sales staff was not supporting it,” Lotto said, adding that while some sales team members had tried to market the liberal format, others, she felt, were against the programming and didn't have incentive to sell it.
If this is true, then, with a committed sales staff who believe in the product and who know how to market a political talk station, the station could obviously be successful. However, a darker, more frightening theory was espoused by Cowan:
Cowan said that local businesses were reluctant to commit to the alternative programming. "There seems to be concern from advertisers with being associated" with controversial programming, he said. "I didn't think that would be a problem in Missoula of all places." KNS Sales Manager Jim Fisher agreed that business owners were shying away from the format – even if they were avid listeners to the station. "A lot of them loved to listen, but they didn't want to put their name on it," Fisher said.
Listen. If Missoula businesses were afraid to associate with Air America, that says volumes about the ability of a tiny minority of right-wing demagogues to intimidate the general public. Of course, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two theories. But what is true is that while the majority of Americans lean towards the Democratic party in ideology -- Gore took the popular vote in 2000, and, according to exit polls, so did Kerry in 2004 -- the public perception is that liberalism is unpopular. In order to make the sweeping political changes necessary to salvage the country from the irresponsible and incompetent domestic, economic, and foreign policies of the Bush administration and their GOP lackeys, we need to rehabilitate the image of liberalism. More specifically, we need to reaffirm that liberalism is a virtue, that it's practical and necessary in today's multicultural and changing world, and above all, that it's deadly hip... Any ideas?
Comments:
I think you really get to the core of the issue. There was certainly a listener base. I was in the audience in January when Mr. Franken was in Montana to do a remote broadcast of his show and a fundraiser for the Montana Human Rights Network. The show was packed, the fundraiser was packed, and the radio ratings give ironclad proof that people want to listen. This is really disappointing for Montana.
 
Sorry, but I must disagree. Simmons Media Group is owned by David E. Simmons...I do not believe the upsurge in the number of conservative talk radio stations in the last ten years can be purely attributed to the "bottom line" as you say. These radio stations are power plays. And David E. Simmons has no love for anything progressive.
Just last year he donated $10,000 dollars to the Republican Party of Utah. Here is the link to his donor info on open secrets
http://www.opensecrets.org/indivs/search.asp?NumOfThou=0&txtName=simmons&txtState=%28all+states%29&txtZip=&txtEmploy=Simmons+media+group&txtCand=&txt2006=Y&txt2004=Y&txt2002=Y&Order=N
And on follow the money, here are some more donations he made...
http://64.233.179.104/search?q=cache:i5Mszax7Wf0J:www.followthemoney.org/database/StateGlance/contributor.phtml%3Fsi%3D200444%26d%3D8469771%26PHPSESSID%3D9aaa1dd279456d1db29f8dc0a28ebaef+dAVID+e+SIMMONS,+REPUBLICANS&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=7
This article is on a guy who talked about social justice issues on the air.



Copyright 2004 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

May 26, 2004 Wednesday Five Star Late Lift Edition

SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. D2

LENGTH: 525 words

HEADLINE: RZEPPA IS OUT; SLATEN MAY BE IN

BYLINE: Dan Caesar/ Of The Post-Dispatch

BODY:
Zip is letting it rip after his show on KSLG (1380 AM) was canceled following an eight-month run.

Christopher "Zip" Rzeppa's program is the first casualty in what is shaping up as a fierce battle between the two local sports-intensive radio stations. That fight could lead to the return of former sports-talk radio star Kevin Slaten.

Rzeppa's "GOOD Morning Show" has been dropped by the station's incoming owner, Utah-based Simmons Media Group. Rzeppa's program was more about inspirational stories and good news, along with conversation about topics other than sports.

In addition, KFNS (590 AM, 100.7 FM) is being sold to Atlanta-based Big League Broadcasting. That company plans a "guy-talk" approach - something KSLG has been using on its midday show manned by Brian McKenna and Joe DeNiro. KFNS officials have said their strategy is based on talking about "Babes, beer, balls (along with pucks) and betting."

Rzeppa said, "As a listener, I think it's reprehensible for Simmons and Big League Broadcasting to come in from out of town and program these stations to the lowest common denominator."

"Not only is it demeaning to women, it's insulting to men," added Rzeppa, a former sports director at two local television stations.

But new KSLG program director Dave Greene said that won't be the approach of his station, which he said will concentrate on sports rather than guy talk.

"Our goal is to entertain our target audience, (age) 24-55 men who like other things than sports - but our focus always will be sports," he said, adding that the McKenna-DeNiro show will be toned down because he wants the station to be more mainsteam than KFNS' intended approach. "The direction of our shows will be mostly on sports, not those other things."

Greene said Rzeppa's program did not fit that mold.

"Zip's show wasn't sports," he said. "We don't have any more Spanish-language or gospel programs," although he said weekend religious broadcasts will remain under a previous contract.

Also out is KSLG's afternoon drive-time show that Tony Twist and Doug Walker conducted on some weekdays. Greene said Harry Schroeder and Brian Stull will remain on the air from 2-4 p.m. for now.

Rzeppa and Twist have been replaced by syndicated fare, but Greene said the goal is to have local programs in those time slots soon. Sources said Slaten is on the verge of reaching an agreement to man KSLG's afternoon drive slot, thus returning to the outspoken role at which he excelled on the local sports-talk airwaves in the early and mid-1990s. He now is in a much more tame, nonsports role at KTRS (550 AM).

Slaten, who also does sports commentary for Fox Sports Net, and Greene chose not to comment. But Greene did say, "We have big plans coming soon." Greene added he soon will fill the afternoon spot temporarily.

Meanwhile, Rzeppa said he will try to take his show elsewhere. He added that although he and others who worked on the show are "upset and irate," he understands the business.

"Forgive those who trespass against you, and I do," said Rzeppa, a devout Catholic. "But it's their station and they can do whatever they want to do."

NOTES:
Reporter Dan Caesar/ E-mail: dcaesar@post-dispatch.com/ Phone: 314-340-8175

...and in case you doubt the man's ability to buy his way into power, here's a character reference on the guy...

Copyright 2004 The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)

September 17, 2004, Friday

SECTION: Friday; Pg. A1

LENGTH: 742 words

HEADLINE: Last chapter in Utah's Olympic bribe scandal ends with a whimper; Olympic scandal ends in a whimper,

BYLINE: Linda Fantin , The Salt Lake Tribune

BODY:
Federal prosecutors spent millions of dollars trying to make crooks out of Utah's Olympic quarterbacks and on Thursday they got some of it back.

Two hundred and twenty-five dollars to be exact.

The money was collected from Utah businessman David Simmons and Alfredo La Mont of Colorado -- their price for filing false tax returns, pleading guilty and becoming witnesses in the failed prosecution of bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson.

No fines. No prison. No probation. Just the mandatory payments to the victims compensation fund -- $ 25 from Simmons and $ 200 from La Mont. Even U.S. Magistrate David Nuffer made light of the situation, advising Simmons he had 10 days to appeal his sentence.

So ends the most celebrated fraud case in Utah's history, the final footnote to the five-year ordeal that revealed the underbelly of the Olympic bid process, bludgeoned the state's reputation and tainted its biggest achievement since the pioneers crossed the plains.

The 2002 Winter Games themselves were a huge success. The two men accused of using bribery to get them eventually were acquitted and transformed into cult heroes by a grateful public. Richard Wiedis, the lead prosecutor in the case, received a promotion. And Simmons and La Mont?

They will be remembered forever as the only ones convicted of any crimes.

Simmons said this is a story "that should have died a long time ago."

But the president of Simmons Media Group said he did what he thought was right and does not feel victimized.

"The government had every right to pursue and try the case in the manner they did, and Mr. Welch and Mr. Johnson had their day in court," he said. "I have no animosity and no regrets."

Simmons, then head of Keystone Communications, provided a job to the son of an influential Olympic official at Welch's request; La Mont, then head of the U.S. Olympic Committee's international relations committee, was a paid lobbyist who concealed his moonlighting from the USOC.

Both might have escaped scrutiny if they hadn't filed false tax returns and been caught. Simmons pleaded guilty in August 1999, La Mont in March 2000. Both testified against Welch and Johnson in exchange for lighter sentences.

Simmons told Magistrate Nuffer he felt "honored" when Welch asked him to hire Jung Hoon "John" Kim and to help him get a green card. At Welch's request, Simmons said, he continued to employ Kim even after his job became a "sham."

"What I did was wrong. I will never knowingly enter into a similar arrangement, no matter how great the cause and strong the public support," Simmons read from a prepared statement. "The ends simply do not justify the means."

La Mont, too, was conciliatory.

"The reason I'm here is because of the poor choices I made," La Mont said after the hearing. "What happened today for me is the best I could have hoped for."

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said he considered jail time for La Mont, but decided the former Olympic official had "suffered enough."

Johnson and Welch told The Salt Lake Tribune they are happy Simmons and La Mont can finally move on with their lives, but noted the crimes to which they pleaded guilty had nothing to do with the bid committee.

Johnson said their sentences are further proof the whole case was "senseless."

"They made fools of themselves and their key witnesses," Johnson said of federal prosecutors.

Added Welch: "It's a good thing that Richard Wiedis works for the federal government. If he were in the private sector and had to justify [his actions], he would be out on the street looking for work."

To the contrary. Wiedis received a promotion and now is heading up Alabama's largest fraud prosecution, a case against HealthSouth executives. The last time Wiedis appeared in Utah's federal court, he was ripped by U.S. District Judge David Sam for pursuing a "misguided prosecution."

After Thursday's court hearings, the senior trial attorney shot back, saying "there were many forces that wanted to bury the facts of Olympic corruption.
 
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