Wednesday, February 09, 2000

Liddy's off local air, but it's no conspiracy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        G. Gordon Liddy fans won't accept my word that WKRC-AM (550) canceled his talk show for financial reasons, not to silence his conservative point of view. So maybe these conspiracy theorists will take Mr. Liddy's word on the matter.

        “It is strictly a business decision,” Mr. Liddy said when we met recently during the TV critics' press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

        “It's business, that's all. It's not personal.”

        Or political.

        WKRC-AM, owned by Clear Channel (formerly Jacor), replaced the G. Gordon Liddy Show Jan. 3 with local personality Pat Barry. The station can make more money with a local host and local commercials. A syndicated show keeps most of the advertising revenues. Liddy airs on more than 200 stations nationwide.

        “It is a trend in the industry for stations to put their own people on their own stations,” Mr. Liddy says after promoting his new cable drama series, 18 Wheels of Justice (9 p.m. today, TNN), on which he plays a crime lord.

        “They spend a lot of money (buying) their stations, they spend a lot of money for their talent. And to them it seems logical. So why should they give a clearance to a rival talent?”

        He's a “rival talent” because the G. Gordon Liddy Show is owned by Westwood One, which is partially held by CBS' Infinity Broadcasting. Infinity will become the nation's No. 2 radio company when Clear Channel completes the acquisition of AM-FM (formerly Chancellor) later this year.

Monopoly on talk
        Clear Channel owns eight stations in town, plus national talk shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. It also has a Tristate talk monopoly with WKRC-AM and WLW-AM (700).

        Tony Bender, WKRC-AM program director, says the decision to replace Liddy “came down to finances and ratings.” Liddy ratings had dropped from a 6 percent share of the audience to a 2 percent share.

        So they hired Mr. Barry, the former DJ and TV weatherman. A local afternoon drive show also helped make WKRC-AM, promoted as “The Talk Station,” a more legitimate talk station.

        “It was not politics,” Mr. Bender says. Or corporate politics.

        Mr. Bender points out that one of WKRC-AM's most popular shows is Bruce Williams (6-10 p.m.), owned by Westwood One. In fact, Mr. Williams' show gained an hour (6-7 p.m.) when Liddy was dumped.

        “We try to put the best person on we can, and Bruce Williams has done a phenomenal job for us,” he says. Mr. Bender also notes that Liddy is carried by a Clear Channel station in Columbus.

        WKRC-AM plans to stick with Mr. Barry, whose first ratings won't be known until April. Mr. Bender says he won't be swayed by complaints from Mr. Liddy's fans, including E. Jerome Miekle of Green Township.

        “Nothing against Pat Barry, but his show is so trivial,” Mr. Miekle says. “We enjoyed Liddy's intelligence, and analysis of events and information that's not available anywhere else.”

        Where does that leave Mr. Liddy? Looking “to get into a nearby town where the signal comes in,” he says.

        But the most likely station — Hamilton's WMOH-AM (1450) — won't dropDr. Joy Browne, Ken Hamblin and Mike Gallagherto add Liddy, says Kert Radel, station manager.

        “I turned Liddy down because we have political talk with Ken Hamblin. And I didn't want to run Liddy live against Rush Limbaugh (noon-3 p.m. on WKRC-AM),” Mr. Radel says.

        Again, it boils down to ratings and money. Mr. Liddy accepts the economic reality and doesn't see some hidden agenda to shut him up here.

        “No, no, no. It is strictly business,” says Mr. Liddy, the convicted Watergate conspirator who spent four years in prison (1973-77).

        “Stations have their own talent under contract,” he says. “They're just not going to do it.”

        That's my answer when people ask why Tristate stations won't air Liddy. Believe me, they're just not going to do it.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.