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Ted Leitner-Mark Larson Tiff a Sad Reflection on KFMB State of Affairs : Radio: Station milks non-story for all it’s worth in wake of political diatribe.

The folks at KFMB-AM (760) can’t get their stories straight.

On the air, program director and afternoon talk-show host Mark Larson said over and over again last week that he hadn’t suspended Ted Leitner. After Leitner’s rantings against all that is Republican a week ago Friday, immediately following the convention, Larson and Leitner “mutually agreed” that Leitner would take two days off from the morning show to “cool off,” Larson said.

Leitner wasn’t suspended, taken off the air, scolded or censored in any way, he repeatedly told listeners. In fact, upon his return, Leitner said on the air that he was planning to ask for the two days off even before Larson talked to him about the appropriateness of his political comments.

In other words, it was basically a non-story. Nothing happened. No controversy, Larson said.

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But KFMB couldn’t leave it at that. They proceeded to relentlessly milk the non-event for all it was worth. Almost nothing but Leitner was discussed on the air for the first three days of last week. The station made up special parody songs, did “Best of Ted” segments and invited people on the air to do Leitner impersonations in his absence. They even ran commercials touting his return.

Anybody who actually cared about this little drama and chose to look beyond the rhetoric was left to wonder what was really going on. Using the contradictions of their own on-air explanations, some might speculate that KFMB was purposely taking its audience for a little contrived joy ride.

Larson didn’t tell the San Diego Union-Tribune that nothing happened. According to an article the day after the incident, Larson said that the station took the “opportunity to have Ted go to the woodshed” and that Leitner promised “to come back with his tail between his legs.”

On the air last week, Larson suggested that he was only kidding about Leitner coming back with his tail between his legs and vowed never to talk to newspaper reporters again because they don’t accurately capture his “tone.” In fact, he didn’t return calls last week, joining Leitner in spurning the “media elite.”

Larson said on the air last week that he simply didn’t think Leitner’s comments were appropriate for Leitner’s segment of the Hudson and Bauer, and that they talked about when would be a more “appropriate” time for political commentary. Larson also said Leitner is a “900-pound gorilla” who wouldn’t take any direction from him, which is probably true.

In response to several callers, Larson said he was upset because Leitner lost his normally humorous tone during the comments about the convention. Advertisers complained, Larson claimed on the air. He also said the station received many phone calls from listeners complaining about Leitner, and that’s why Larson decided to talk to him.

But that doesn’t quite jibe with the reality of Leitner.

Leitner’s whole shtick is an attempt to be controversial. Clearly, his primary goal has always been to touch as many nerves as possible, whether it is goading hockey fans, ranting about auto racing or making fun of some popular entertainment figure.

Leitner repeatedly uses the time during the Hudson and Bauer show to rant about non-sports topics, including regularly making lengthy attacks against against writers who criticize him, non-sports diatribes that never seem to bother Larson.

Trying his hardest to stir things up and create controversy is what Leitner is all about.

This time he succeeded with the help of his own program director.

Larson is a staunch Republican, and Leitner did go off (not for the first time) on the Republicans. Given Leitner’s history, clearly it was the subject, not just the tone, of Leitner’s rant that upset Larson.

For Larson to say he was upset because people were suddenly complaining about Leitner talking about non-sports topics in the sports segment is laughable.

When he returned on Wednesday, Leitner said he had not been disciplined in any way. Yet, later, he said he and Larson were “determining what I am allowed to say and what I’m not allowed to say on this show.” Then he came back and said that the only censorship was coming not from Larson, but from audience members who complain and tune out the show.

Huh?

The audience and advertisers always have a right to complain, but it’s only management that allows the complainers to dictate station policy. Leitner seemed to be saying that it was OK for management to let callers and advertisers establish boundaries to his comments.

Throughout the week, even though Larson denied any action had been taken against Leitner, the station’s own personnel continually charged management with intervening in Leitner’s commentaries.

On Thursday, Hudson and Bauer joked that they would play a political song later in the show, as long as there was no objection from Larson, who Bauer earlier referred to as “that afternoon Nazi” (referring to Larson’s afternoon show).

A parody song that aired when Leitner returned, sung to the tune of the theme song from “Welcome Back Kotter,” included the line: “Larson could have stood by and defended ya’, instead he said, ‘Ted, I’m suspending ya’ .” Later the song was revised to reflect the party line that they “agreed you should take a break.”

So around and around they went last week.

Nothing happened. There was no censorship. Let’s talk about it for an hour.

Most dictionaries define two days off with pay as a “vacation.” Either Leitner’s absence was a non-story that KFMB tried to exploit, or there were some serious issues raised about a program director trying to control an outspoken commentator.

Either way, it was not a shining week for KFMB.

In effect, KFMB wanted to play it both ways. They wanted to take the position of righteous indignation at the sensationalism of the media and at the same time they wanted to ride the wave of this pseudo-controversy as far as it would take them.

To the credit of some of the station’s audience, not everybody bought it. Many railed at Larson for what they viewed as his attempt to tell Leitner not to take shots at his beloved political party. Others called and questioned the propriety of the whole non-incident.

“Boy, your ratings will be higher than ever,” one sarcastic caller said.

“I sure hope so,” Larson replied.

*

Just a few weeks after Adams Communications abruptly announced the departure of president Jim Seemiller, Inside Radio reported Friday that foreclosure proceedings have begun against several of Adams’ properties, including KCBQ AM and FM in San Diego. “Word is the suits seeking foreclosure make a lot of allegations about mismanagement of the company,” Inside Radio reports. Adams bought KCBQ for $23.5 million in 1989. KCBQ general manager Dave Siebert was not available for comment Friday. . . .

The Nielsen ratings for July released last week told a similar story as the earlier released Arbitron. However, KFMB-TV (Channel 8) was buoyed by the demographic breakdowns for the key 5 p.m. newscasts. Overall, Channel 8 still trails Channel 10 by two full ratings points, but it edged out Channel 10 in at least one category, among viewers 18-49, primarily because “News8" attracted an estimated average of 30,000 men for its 5 p.m. program, compared to an average of 14,000 men in that age group for Channel 10. Even Channel 39 had a larger male 18-49 audience--23,000--than Channel 10. But with Oprah Winfrey as a lead-in, Channel 10 averaged 28,000 women age 18-49, far more than its competitors. . . .

KCLX-FM (102.9) has opted not to renew the contract of afternoon disc jockey Denise Westwood, who has been with the station for three years. . . .

KGB-FM (101.5) morning show producer Jimmy Baron is leaving to take a similar post with Jonathon Brandmeier in Chicago. . . .

In some ways, Channel 39’s decision to move the lackluster syndicated talk show “Cristina” out of the 4 p.m. weekday slot to do a new hour-long newscast was an easy one. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much of an audience to upset,” general manager Neil Derrough said. . . .

XTRA-AM (690) is reportedly negotiating to have KWNK-AM in San Fernando Valley carry its signal. The valley is the one area of Los Angeles it has trouble penetrating with its powerful Tijuana-based signal. Nothing is definite, station manager Mike Glickenhaus said. . . .

Genial weather guy Bob Dale may do just fine giving nightly weather reports, but it’s time for Channel 39 to acknowledge that maybe he’s not the best choice to report on a breaking disaster story like last week’s hurricane. This may come as shock to the station, but nobody considers the bow-tied Dale a meteorological expert. . . .

Channel 39 will devote an hour to exploring issues surrounding breast cancer, Wednesday at 8 p.m. The program will include informational features on various treatments and diagnosis, as well as a panel discussion featuring local doctors. . . .

On KSDO-AM (1130) last week, Roger Hedgecock was reinforcing his love for Mayor Maureen O’Connor and, in particular, her press secretary, Paul Downey. “Wasn’t he fired from here?” Hedgecock asked on the air at one point, a reference to the fact that Downey once worked as an editor for KSDO. “Well, let’s just refer to him as a failed media figure,” Hedgecock said. Downey, noting that he quit KSDO to take another job, replied, “I’m always flattered when a would-be convicted felon singles me out on their radio program . . . I’m tickled that he even knows my name.” . . .

The San Diego Daily Transcript, which never shies away from attacking O’Connor, printed a lengthy interview last Monday with John Davies, the recently retired president of the Centre City Development Corp. Among other things, Davies said O’Connor regularly works from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and that she almost never met with him to discuss downtown redevelopment. “She just doesn’t work as hard” as past mayors, Davies said. The Transcript included an empty box with the cutline, “O’Connor . . . ‘missed photo op.’ ”

CRITIC’S CHOICE

DREAM COME TRUE?

In “Monsieur Hire,” Patrice Leconte explored the dark side of a man’s obsession for a woman. His latest, “The Hairdresser’s Husband,” is a look at the romantic side of obsession, specifically a young boy’s desire to fulfill his erotic dream of marrying a hairdresser. Laced with light and whimsical touches, “The Hairdresser’s Husband,” currently screening at the Hillcrest Cinemas, is a surprisingly moving piece of cinema that meanders toward an ultimately unsettling conclusion.


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