Big John Howell acknowledged Monday that he was blindsided by the defection of his radio partner, and he promised listeners that he would not eliminate "true-blue, right-wing conservative thought" from his morning show on Salem Communications news/talk WIND-AM (560).
It marked Howell's first public comment since news broke here Dec. 18 that Cisco Cotto had quit after three years at the station to return to Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890) and join Roe Conn's afternoon show as co-host.
Howell told listeners he learned of Cotto's move in a call from WIND program director Marcus Brown late Dec. 17. Although Salem believed it had reached agreement on a renewal with Cotto, the contract had not yet been signed, Howell said. That opened the door for WLS, which offered Cotto a more lucrative two-year deal. "I wish him the very, very best," Howell said of his former partner. "I have nothing but the best feelings for him. I think he's a great guy and a real talent, and I look forward to watching his career progress, and I'm going to miss him here."
Salem has begun lining up off-air auditions to replace Cotto, who was the more staunchly conservative of the duo. Howell said he has heard from "a variety of really interesting people" about filling the job and expects a new co-host to be named within "a couple of weeks," adding:
"Until that time, I would like to tell you true-blue conservatives out there -- and I know that you consider me to be a dirty moderate -- well, you are needed more than ever on this program to tell me where I'm wrong, what I should be thinking of, what I'm missing. I certainly do not intend on eliminating true-blue, right-wing conservative thought from this program. That would be extremely foolish of me. And I consider myself to be a conservative anyway. You might not. But I consider myself to be conservative. So with that in mind, I intend on being informative, interesting, hopefully entertaining, being funny without being vulgar, being funny without being juvenile. And I look forward to your participation and your continued help in building this show and rebuilding this show and moving it on down the line."
At least in terms of ratings, Howell and his new partner will have their work cut out for them. Arbitron figures for December show WIND ranked 29th‚ in mornings with a 1.0 percent share of all listeners. Among adults between the ages of 25 and 54, it's tied for 35th‚ with a 0.5 share.
Cotto had been expected to debut Monday on Conn's show, but a paperwork delay shifted his on-air start to sometime later in the week, according to Mike Fowler, president and general manager of WLS.‚ On his website Monday, Cotto wrote:
"Within a few days I'll be back at AM 890 WLS. I'll be on the radio from 2-6 weekday afternoons (right after Rush) with Roe Conn. I worked at WLS for six years previously and am very excited to be heading back there. For those folks who have allowed me to wake them up on my most recent radio home, please know I wrestled with this decision specifically because of you. Your loyalty and friendship mean more than I can express. I hope you'll follow me back to WLS."
Elsewhere on the media beat: