Handling the Alaskan flu, a few technical snafus and an old City Hall nemesis with aplomb, Roger Hedgecock, newsmaker, became Roger Hedgecock, news commentator, Monday as the former mayor began his career as a radio talk show host. He devoted much of his first program to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Six weeks after his resignation and sentencing on felony campaign-law violations, Hedgecock--clad in a white satin jacket with "Roger" emblazoned over one breast, rather than his usual pinstriped suit--launched his daily program on KSDO radio by encouraging his listeners to regard the show as "a community forum" where important issues can be discussed "freely, openly, without filters, without editors."
Known as an articulate speaker who thinks quickly on his feet, Hedgecock had ample opportunities to put those political skills to work Monday as callers, in addition to discussing King's legacy on the first national holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader, asked the former mayor questions on issues ranging from teen-age drinking and police pay to pre-Civil War abolitionist John Brown and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.
During the 12:15 p.m.-3 p.m. program, there also were congratulatory telephone calls from Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego), frequent jokes from Hedgecock about his flu-induced hoarseness--"Mom, if you're listening out there, it really is me"--a couple of bizarre phone calls and the awarding of a KSDO "Infomaniac" T-shirt to the 11th caller who knew that the daily "newsmaker name" was George "90th birthday" Burns.
And what would any radio talk show be without at least a few mix-ups on those open telephone lines?
"Stand by, because we have Sy Murray, our city manager for the City of San Diego, on Line One," Hedgecock said at one point. "Mr. Murray, how are you?"
After a moment of dead air time, an unruffled Hedgecock smoothly said, "No, we don't. Well, we thought we did. All right, let's go to Ben in East San Diego."
Not to worry, though, because a few minutes later, Murray (this time on Line Two), got through to say that city officials are "looking at the whole city" for streets that could be renamed in King's honor.
In short, what listeners got Monday was a fairly typical afternoon radio talk show distinguished more by the fame--or notoriety--of its host than by its content.
The most direct reference to Hedgecock's legal woes came late in the program when one caller remarked, "Thank God for Roger Hedgecock and KSDO for allowing you to speak out and tell the truth about what went on during those trials and to expose the conspiracy that went on to convict you."
"Well, thanks very much for your call. I appreciate it," responded Hedgecock, who quickly moved on to another caller. Earlier, Hedgecock alluded to his trial by remarking that he hopes San Diegans are not discouraged from entering government "because they're concerned about whether they'll get all the forms filed correctly." Some of the perjury charges on which Hedgecock was convicted were based on inaccuracies on various campaign and personal financial disclosure statements.
Hedgecock, who has said that he does not want to dwell on his legal case on the program, reportedly is being paid about $60,000 a year for hosting the Monday-through-Friday show. He is appealing his sentence to one year in local custody on a 13-count felony conviction stemming from illegal 1983 campaign contributions.
Several other moments in the program, however, also conjured up memories of Hedgecock's nearly two-year legal battle, occasionally with an ironic, slightly humorous twist. For example, a sponsor of the program was the First Alliance Mortgage Co., "the equity lender that loves to say yes," as Hedgecock told listeners. Coincidentally, the investigations into Hedgecock's finances were touched off by his revelation in early 1984 that he had used an oral-agreement $130,000 loan from one of his prominent backers to renovate his house.
Hedgecock predicted over the weekend that his initial program would generate "the largest single audience in local radio history," and KSDO officials said Monday that the show prompted an unusually large number of telephone calls to the station. Jim Price, KSDO's general manager, said that about 150 calls were received during Hedgecock's program, adding, "We generally don't get more than about a dozen calls in the afternoon."
"It may sound self-serving to say it, but I doubt that there's been a time in recent San Diego history, with the possible exception of when the Padres won the pennant, when there was a radio audience bigger than this one today," Price said. "We feel like it was a hell of a day and that we've really got a winner."
Hedgecock's tribute to King included taped interviews with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and John Jacobs, national head of the Urban League, as well as conversations in the studio with several prominent local black businessmen and the Rev. Robert Ard, president of the San Diego Black Leadership Council.
While bantering easily with his listeners and guests throughout the program on King and a wide variety of other subjects, Hedgecock also effectively parried questions on topics that he hopes to avoid--notably, the special mayoral election to replace him and his long-range plans.
Asked which candidate he believes best represents his own environmentalist policies, Hedgecock replied, "I hope this doesn't surprise you, but I'm not taking a role in the mayoral race or a position on the candidates." Later, queried about his future plans, Hedgecock joked, "Right now I'm struggling to get through this cold and the first show, and I think if I do both those things and I'm still alive tomorrow morning at 9, I'll think about the future."
Another call that Hedgecock received during the program came from Rose Lynn, a self-styled "ombudscientist" and City Hall gadfly who frequently berated Hedgecock during his mayoralty for his refusal to take her course on "how to become a community genius."
When the woman repeated her harangue on the air Monday, Hedgecock was able to end the annoyance with greater ease than he ever could at City Hall; he simply pushed a button and said, "Thank you very much, and let's go to Ike in La Jolla."