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Schwarzenegger owes a debt to talk radio

Having promoted both the recall and the actor's election, conservative hosts are sure to keep tabs on the governor-elect's work.

October 10, 2003|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

In many ways, Arnold Schwarzenegger has AM talk radio to thank for his election as governor, as program hosts from San Diego to Los Angeles to Sacramento sparked and fanned the flames of the recall and supported his candidacy.

And though the shows will surely move on to other topics, from Kobe Bryant to the presidential race, the hosts aren't about to take their eyes off the capital.

"Frankly, I don't think the recall issue is over with," said Al Peterson, news-talk-sports editor of the trade magazine Radio & Records. Those who supported it, and supported Schwarzenegger's candidacy, will keep talking about him and his administration. Meanwhile, "those who are unhappy will probably try to make some waves."

Industry observers predict that talk radio, especially the most conservative anti-tax hosts, will keep an eye on how Schwarzenegger addresses the state's budget problems.

John Kobylt of "The John & Ken Show" on KFI-AM (640) said on election night that the best thing about the governor-elect is that "he'll stop further tax increases. I don't expect him to unravel all the problems in the next, you know, 90 days or anything of that nature. It's going to take a long time."

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, the talk radio industry's trade journal, said talk shows that don't hold Schwarzenegger's feet to the fire the way they did with Gray Davis' risk losing audience members who aren't strictly hard-core.

"There's a tendency among some hosts to view the politicians they support as the home team and turn a blind eye," he said. But "political foibles open doors for new hosts and new points of view."

Perry Michael Simon, news-talk-sports editor of AllAccess.com, an online trade journal of the radio industry, was program director at the New Jersey station where Kobylt and his partner, Ken Chiampou, worked before they moved to L.A. There they hammered then-New Jersey Gov. James J. Florio on his tax policies. Then they reloaded when Christine Todd Whitman defeated him in the 1993 election.

"The whole staff turned its eye on the new governor and examined what she did," Simon said. "Arnold will have a honeymoon period, but he'll be under tremendous scrutiny from the talk-radio hosts."

Bill Handel, on his KFI program Thursday morning, alluded to this after playing a clip of Schwarzenegger thanking the media for covering him and asking them to stick around so he can get his message out.

"That may change as soon as they start attacking him," Handel said. "The media has been pro-Arnold in many ways."

Simon added that the recall saturated talk radio more than most issues the medium takes on, and not because it's only the second time in American history that voters have recalled a governor. He said the cause was uniquely suited to talk radio.

"It lent itself to the form. People angry at the government had a place to vent," he said. "It's one thing to sit around and complain about Clinton or Bush or the mayor; it's another thing to realize you have the power to effect change."

Harrison said that talk radio is truly a driving force in only a few issues and that the recall was one of them.

"It isn't often that something happens due to talk radio," he said. "If there were no talk radio, I don't know if there [would have been] a recall."

Peterson agreed that talk radio deserves its fair share of credit for stoking the recall issue.

"Let's face it, I don't think anybody who hosts a talk radio show claims to be anything but a commentator," he said, so they're free to be partisan "and not 'fair and balanced,' if you'll pardon the term. Do they take a victory lap now? I guess some will, and maybe that's deserved."

On election night, Kobylt and Chiampou talked about their trips to the polls to vote for the recall and for Schwarzenegger, with the former saying he relished his chance to remove the governor, whom the hosts continually deride as a cartoon character: "Aiming with that little stick, right into Gumby's heart, I punched my chad with glee."

However, talk radio can't afford to rest on whatever laurels it thinks it deserves for the part it played in the recall.

"This is a tough act to follow," Simon said. "Most of the hosts understand that self-congratulation for a long period of time will probably lose them listeners. It's not that interesting. That will die down pretty quickly. They'll find something to discuss, to rail against, to carry them into the next round."

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Executives fired at KFWB and KNX

On the eve of one of the biggest news stories in California history, the governor's recall, the company owning KFWB-AM (980) and KNX-AM (1070) fired the top executive at each of L.A.'s all-news stations.

Roger Nadel and George Nicholaw, general managers of KFWB and KNX, respectively, had their jobs eliminated by Infinity Radio, the subsidiary of Viacom, which owns CBS and a chain of 185 radio stations nationwide, including both KFWB and KNX, and five other outlets in the L.A. market.

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