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Program on E-Mails Is Latest Bid to Carve a Niche in the Airwaves

Radio: The hosts broadcast church officials' missives on molestation allegations against some priests.


They are a provocative talk radio duo whose exploits have included broadcasting lurid excerpts from the purported diary of a judge accused of child molestation and questioning women in Rep. Gary Condit's office on whether they slept with their boss.

Now the hosts of "The John and Ken Show" on KFI-AM (640) have grabbed a piece of another national scandal, broadcasting a string of e-mail by Los Angeles Archdiocese officials struggling to contain child molestation allegations against some priests.

The electronic dispatches between Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and others were obtained by the show's producer from an anonymous source earlier this week.

In broadcasting the e-mail, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, hosts of "The John and Ken Show," are seeking to pull apart from the talk radio pack by placing themselves in the middle of developing news. While American talk radio is filled with high-decibel personalities, the KFI hosts' crusade to influence the outcome of public controversies pushes beyond the traditional scope of the genre.

"They are the burr under the saddle of whomever they happen to target," said Al Peterson, an editor specializing in news talk radio for the national trade publication Radio and Records. "They're a pair who appear to be pretty confident and not at all shy about identifying what they believe to be wrongdoing, especially among public officials."

They are also, according to Kobylt, starting to attract a younger and increasingly more female demographic, which is exactly what advertisers want to see.

Kobylt and Chiampou say they are not activists. They are ratings-seeking personalities who are unapologetic about trying to find a niche in a market dominated by conservatives catering to an older, white male audience.

"Most talk radio shows are still obsessed with bashing Bill Clinton," Kobylt said Friday. "We're going after people in authority that are covering up horrible scandals."

The talk show hosts read some of the e-mail on the air Thursday afternoon, but stopped when an attorney for the archdiocese called to say it had obtained a cease-and-desist order. "We wanted to be safe rather than sorry, so we pulled back," said the show's producer, Ray Lopez. After a Superior Court judge ruled that the missives could be made public, Kobylt and Chiampou read the e-mail in its entirety Friday afternoon.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office dispatched an investigator to KFI during the broadcast to obtain copies of the e-mail, which the station also provided to The Times.

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement that he is prepared to pursue an investigation into "illegal access of private confidential and perhaps privileged information." His spokesman said the station was cooperative and said there were "no suspects at this time."

"The John and Ken Show" strategy is an evolving mix of guts, stunts and populist outrage. Last spring, they took on Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald C. Kline, who was campaigning to retain his post while under house arrest on child molestation charges.

Kobylt and Chiampou broadcast from the cul-de-sac outside Kline's home and read excerpts from a diary alleged to be Kline's in which he rhapsodized about the players of Little League baseball. Kline is trying to get his name off the ballot for the general election in November.

Last year, they offered actor Robert Blake, whose wife's killing remains unsolved, $64,000 in exchange for him answering direct questions about her execution-style murder.

"Our pressure on Kline convinced someone to turn over his diaries. Our pressure on the archdiocese convinced someone to hand over the e-mail," Kobylt said. "That's something new for us. We're starting to get stuff leaked to us."

Kobylt and Chiampou have been partners for nearly 15 years. Kobylt is from New Jersey, and got his first radio job in 1983 at a station in Canton, Pa., WKAD. A year later he met Chiampou, and by 1988 they got a chance to work together at a low-wattage oldies station in Atlantic City, N.J. Their first campaign began in 1990 when they were anchoring an afternoon show at WKXW-FM, a station in northern New Jersey. Gov. Jim Florio, who had raised taxes, was running for reelection. Kobylt and Chiampou introduced each legislative roundup with the sound of pigs, and added a new song to its mix: "Florio Has Got to Go."

By the mid-1990s, they had moved to KFI in Southern California, and listeners grew accustomed to their show, which is conservative but not predictable in its politics.

Although KFI is the top-rated local talk station, with such personalities as Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, "John and Ken" trails its principal rival, KABC-AM (790), in the afternoon-drive competition.

In the most recent data from ratings service Arbitron for listeners 12 and older, KABC's Larry Elder came in ahead of Kobylt and Chiampou, although they still attract a large audience.

In 1999, they were dumped by KFI after five years, and were immediately picked up by KABC, which placed them in the morning drive-time slot. Fourteen months later they were fired again, and rejoined KFI.


Times staff writer Brian Lowry contributed to this report.

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