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Only 1 Local Radio Station Has a Drug-Testing Policy

“I don’t want drug users working for my company,” said John Lynch, chief executive officer of Noble Broadcasting, operator of XTRA-FM (91X) and XTRA-AM (690) in San Diego. “It’s a waste of time and money. I’ve been burned too many times.”

The San Diego-based Noble, which two weeks ago fired morning disc jockey Bryan Jones for failing a drug test--an isolated case with special circumstances--has established a strict drug-testing policy for employees, certainly one more example of the drug-testing mania sweeping through corporate America. But, until now, the local radio industry had avoided the trend.

Noble, which owns stations throughout the country, established its policy shortly after Jones was fired for the first time more than a year ago for drug-related problems. Jones agreed to regular testing when he was rehired in April.

Noble now tests all prospective employees, in addition to current employees who exhibit “probable cause,” according to Lynch.

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None of the other major radio stations in San Diego has a policy of testing employees for drug use. Even such mega-media companies as Group W Broadcasting and Gannett, both with radio stations in San Diego (KJQY-FM and KSDO, respectively), don’t force either new or old employees to take drug tests.

“Word spreads quickly” about screening new employees for drugs, said John Moran, vice president of human resources and administration for Group W. “It’s just not very effective.” Group W prefers to use an in-house drug referral program.

In many areas of the media, drug testing is now commonplace. Both the Union and Tribune Publishing Company and The Times have drug-testing policies. Of the local network-affiliated television stations, Gillett-owned KNSD-TV (Channel 39) is the only one with a drug-testing policy. Channel 39’s policy includes a section requiring any employee in a traffic accident to submit to a drug test.

However, to many in the industry, radio has always seemed to be, well . . . different, perhaps because many of its on-air employees are more like entertainment stars than air traffic controllers, in terms of job responsibilities.

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“Creative people are valuable and they don’t usually care to have their personal lives scrutinized too closely,” said one local radio executive.

Lynch said several people have been turned down for jobs with Noble stations after flunking drug tests, particularly at one of Noble’s album-oriented rock stations. Lynch said the station has not been forced to test any current employees under the new policy. “Erratic behavior, absenteeism” and things of that nature, Lynch said, would constitute reasonable cause to test a current employee.

“When we hire them we expect them to do the job,” Lynch said. “We wrap up hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and money in some people. It can be a devastating loss to a radio station.”

Legally, the definition of probable cause, in terms of testing employees, is still hotly debated, especially for jobs that don’t present health hazards to the public.

“The probable cause area will be further defined (by courts) as to what kind of job a person is performing,” said Elizabeth Schulman, a volunteer attorney for the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s being tested now as to what exactly employers can and cannot do. It’s not so clear cut.”

Ted Schramm, president of the Lakeside-based Behavior Research Inc., hired by Lynch to establish Noble’s drug-testing policy, agreed that the law is now “very, very vague” about the definition of probable cause. Schramm said his company, which specializes in “designing programs to prevent on-the-job drug and alcohol abuse,” is very careful to establish clearly defined guidelines for employers to use before testing an employee.

“There has to be a really bizarre incident and it has to be tied to their job performance,” Schramm said. “There’s no supposition, no witch hunt. There has to be real justification.”

Lynch, for one, believes all San Diego radio stations will soon adopt drug-testing policies.

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“Once they get burned, all will do it,” he said. “It’s inevitable.”

An article on KGTV’s (Channel 10) Michael Tuck, scheduled to appear in this month’s edition of The Informant, the San Diego Police Officer Assn. newspaper, was intended to help ease tension between the acerbic commentator and the police. But the article was killed by editors. “The tone of the article never really held Tuck responsible for his ‘Perspectives’ that deal negatively with the Police Department,” said Sgt. Willie Smith, chairman of the Informant committee and a board member of the POA. “It’s not that we want to attack him (Tuck), but we didn’t want to roll over and play dead, either.”

New general manager Mike Shields has had no problem moving from Gannett’s Tampa radio station to KSDO-AM/KSWV-FM, Gannett’s San Diego stations. But his family’s move is a different story. Half of their furniture mysteriously ended up in Minneapolis. . . . A special cheesy video medal of honor, with oak leaves, goes to Channel 8’s 5 p.m. news show and its reporter Marc Brown for a multi-part report on the Hyatt Regency in Waikoloa, Hawaii, which Brown called “the closest thing to Fantasy Island you’re going to find in the real world.” The hotel also bills itself as the world’s most expensive resort. But don’t ask Channel 8 what it cost; the hotel picked up the tab. . . . Channel 39 did a nice little story last week on Oceanside javelin thrower Tom Petranoff to tease Petranoff’s participation in the Olympics. One problem: Petranoff had been eliminated several days earlier.


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