If nothing else, Ken Leighton has a knack for getting into complicated situations.
For years, observers of the local music and media scenes have marveled at his ability to juggle the apparent conflict of covering music and radio as a free-lance writer for the Times Advocate of Escondido while working for bands and doing public relations for the Belly Up Tavern, North County's premier live venue. He's managed to deflect any direct charges of conflict of interest by scrupulously avoiding any flowery stories about his clients, and he no longer works for bands, although he still works for the Belly Up.
As if this role playing isn't confusing enough, Leighton also has developed an alter ego--Ken Treadway, who produces and hosts a weeknight talk show on KCEO-AM (1000). Although under FCC regulations KCEO reduces its power at night, limiting the range of the signal, Leighton/Treadway often manages to shape a lively program focusing on coastal issues.
Recently, using the Treadway alias, Leighton has inserted himself squarely into the down-and-dirty world of Oceanside politics, specifically the furor over Oceanside City Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Melba Bishop, who is facing an Oct. 29 recall election. The Bishop recall has been a frequent subject of "Night Talk," and Leighton has made no secret of his distaste for the "back-stabbing, lying and sleaziness" of the recall campaign.
In typical fashion, Leighton/Treadway's strident support of Bishop has complicated Leighton's life even further. He is one of several Bishop supporters who recently sued members of the recall campaign for libel, and his name appears on a countersuit filed by the recall supporters.
But that has not stopped Leighton from speaking his mind on the radio show.
In a relatively straightforward press release touting this week's roster of shows, Leighton showed some of his true colors to those able to read between the lines. Leighton wrote the release and he extensively quoted himself, er . . . Treadway.
Bishop is scheduled to appear on "Night Talk" tonight, and Leighton wrote that he has invited the anti-recall forces to appear Tuesday night.
"We doubt they will actually participate, since they have stonewalled the press all year long," the release quoted "Treadway" as saying. "It would be good if for once they could stand up and substantiate their charges."
That sounds fair enough, but Leighton/Treadway couldn't leave it there.
"The show will go even if they continue to hide. We plan to cover their tactics and try to discover what are the real reasons behind their efforts," he wrote.
With any veneer of objectivity already sailing into the stratosphere, he took one more shot.
"What the heck, if we run out of stuff to talk about maybe we can discuss criminal records," he wrote, an apparent reference to reports that one of the recall principles has a criminal record. That story was prominently featured in the Oceanside Blade Citizen, which also has had its objectivity questioned due to its zealous coverage of Bishop.
In fact, Ed Wicburg, one of the recall supporters mentioned in the release, confirmed that he will not appear on Leighton's show. That's hardly surprising, given that Leighton is among a group suing him for libel, and he has countersued Leighton.
Another of the anti-Bishop forces mentioned as a possible guest for Tuesday night, political consultant Jack Orr, says he has not been specifically asked to appear Tuesday, but he has heard about Leighton's on-air name-calling.
"That's not a good way to get me to do something," said Orr, adding that he represents the Oceanside Firefighter's Union, not the recall campaign, and his clients probably will participate on Wednesday night's program. Orr, who says he has only talked to Leighton once, calls him a "fruitcake."
Leighton says the anti-Bishop group didn't come on the show before the flurry of lawsuits, so it's not like the suits changed anything. When it was pointed out to him that the recallers are not exactly publicity shy, Leighton acknowledged that "stonewalling the press" means the recallers have stonewalled him and the Blade-Citizen, not all media.
Emphasizing that he is not a journalist in this situation, Leighton portrays himself as an Oceanside native seeking fairness for his hometown. His only goal, he says, is to get the recallers on the air, to "smoke them out."
Leighton says he will do anything to get them on the show. He even promises not to call the campaign "guttersnipe politics" while they're on the air.
It appears the Battle of Sunny is not going to happen.
A few days after KYXY-FM (96.5) announced the hiring of Sonny West to co-host its morning show, management of rival mellow music station KJQY-FM (Sunny 103.7) had an attorney fire off a threatening letter to the station. Sunny is a trademark of the KJQY, and KYXY must cease and desist using the term "Sonny" to promote the station, the attorney wrote.
This was news to West, who has been using his cheerful name for more than a decade in San Diego, most recently at KCBQ.
The stage was set for a classic and bloody showdown. But then something strange happened. The general managers of the two stations actually talked to each other, sans attorneys.
It turns out that a representative of KJQY had heard a KYXY announcer say something like "Sonny, now on KYXY." That was a mistake, said Dan Carelli, KYXY's general manager. His station has no intention of promoting West that way. The last thing he would want is to confuse listeners.
Carelli assured his counterpart at Sunny 103, Mike Kenney, that his staff had been instructed to refer to Sonny West joining the station and to avoid any ambiguous references.
"I don't really blame them" for being upset, Carelli said. "I don't want to cause that kind of animosity between the stations."
Now everybody is happy and smiling.
"They've been great about it," said Mike Kenney, Sunny 103's general manager.