WGN to hosts: Hold your nose over political stinker

December 29, 2009

Program hosts at WGN-AM (720) have been ordered not to react on the air to a political commercial that alleges Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is gay. Paid for by one of Kirk's opponents in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the spot began running Monday on the Tribune Co.-owned news/talk outlet and at least two others Chicago stations.

kirkmartin
Andy Martin and Mark Kirk

Federal law and FCC regulations require stations to air political candidates' advertising without editing or censorship unless the message contains obscenity or violates a felony statute. As a result, there was nothing stations could do to limit or reject the commercial for perennial candidate Andy Martin, one of six vying for the Republican nomination for the senate seat now held by Democrat Roland Burris.

Martin's allegation of "a solid rumor that Kirk is a homosexual" was denounced by Kirk's campaign, which issued a statement saying: "The ad is not true and is degrading to the political process. The people of Illinois deserve better." Kirk holds a strong lead in the polls for the Feb. 2 primary.

In a preemptive memo to WGN hosts and producers last week, assistant program director Dan Zampillo wrote:

"A station cannot selectively disclaim political advertising that it does not agree with. . . . Both as a general matter and specifically with regard to the Martin spots, please do not react to political commercials on our air, or take calls that do the same thing. You can of course discuss candidates, elections, political advertising and political issues as you always do, but do not react to a commercial you hear on-air one way or another."

But that didn't stop one WGN personality from tackling the issue first thing Monday morning. Steve Cochran, who filled in for morning host Greg Jarrett, was interviewing Chicago Tribune political writer Rick Pearson when news anchor Andrea Darlas brought up the controversy. Barely concealing his disgust, Cochran snarled: "The great comedian Ron White, one of America's great philosophers, may have said it best: 'You can't fix stupid.' "

Martin's anti-Kirk commercial also aired Monday on CBS Radio all-news WBBM-AM (780) and Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890).

Elsewhere on the media beat:

  • Recommended reading: Turn It Up! --  American Radio Tales: 1946-1996. Radio historian Bob Shannon, a former columnist for Radio & Records and AllAccess.com, celebrates the era before consolidation ruined radio with insightful profiles of some of the biggest names in the business. Included among Shannon's 58 subjects are Chicago on-air legends Dick Biondi, Tom Joyner, Larry Lujack, Art Roberts and Fred Winston, and programmers Lee Abrams and John Rook. It's available at Amazon.com.
  • Wednesday will mark the final broadcast of Mike North and Dan Jiggetts' "Monsters in the Morning" on Comcast SportsNet. On Thursday (which was to have been the show's last day), the cable network will air its "SportsRise" sports news and highlights program from 6 to 9 a.m. North and Jiggetts will return as hosts of a new two-hour show, "Monsters and Money in the Morning," on CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2, starting Feb. 1.
  • Hail to the King: Thanks to the ever-vigilant ChicagolandRadioandMedia.com for noting the 25th‚ anniversary last week of Chicago radio veteran Steve King at WGN. Two months after he started (on Christmas Eve 1984), King was joined there by his wife, Johnnie Putman. Together, Steve & Johnnie have been keeping WGN's live and local overnight shift warm and toasty.
  • Speaking of the ever-vigilant ChicagolandRadioandMedia.com, major changes are in store for the popular website and message board. Set to debut on New Year's Day, the new-and-improved CRM is expected to feature a media news page, live newsfeeds for media blogs, an interviews page, regular columns from guest contributors, ratings data for Chicago radio and television, extensive media links, photo pages, and live traffic and weather updates, among other goodies. Here's to you, Larz!
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