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.
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.
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.
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