Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Censorship and Uncivil Airwaves on Houston's Radio News

Earlier this summer I had some civil email exchanges with the Program Director of 740 AM. My specific complaints were their adding Rush and the loser Dennis Miller, the embarrassingly ignorant Joe Pags they rebroadcast from San Antonio, and the bleed over of right wing misinformation into their news updates.

One of the things he mentioned in his defense of the station was that Rush Limbaugh had tripled the ratings of the local talk they used to have in the spot.

Sounds terrific, right? But then he wrote they were now in the top 10 in that time slot with a rating of 4. Tripling your ratings gets you a 4 and only within the top 10? Their local conservative talk must truly be a disaster in drawing listeners.

I made a bet with myself that the locals would soon disappear. Any smart programming would quickly eliminate the local-yokel right-wing clowns and pick up the cheaper syndicated well-publicized shows with direct feeds and publicity from the Right Wing Noise Machine. When you have more expensive local programming producing lower ratings than just piping in a national show it goes - pure business sense 101.

So now KTRH has picked up Sean Hannity in the afternoons. Conservative radio clowns outsourced - poetic justice?

In our emails he denied the beginnings of some right slant on the half-hourly updates. I'll leave that to you to check out what and how they report political developments now.

One odd part of our exchange was that after complaining about the biased inaccurate information of the conservative shows, I confessed to listening to the nightly Coast-to-Coast AM. This show is about ghosts and UFOs and conspiracies and the fringe of science and often well beyond. Take any supposed factual statements on the shows with a large saltshaker of "Don't Trust - verify". I like it, I feel there is a difference between weird speculation and the lies for political agendas I hate.

This past weekend KTRH demonstrated the new forces ruling the station. Coast to Coast AM had a guest on discussing the meltdown in the housing and financial markets. Catherine Austin Fitts is a former HUD Assistant Secretary under Bush 41 whose Republican eyes were opened to financial and government corruption. I now call her my favorite radical Libertarian Green.

In the first hour of the show this past Saturday, the conversation veered to how Halliburton would have made no money, would probably be bankrupt, without the co$t+plu$ contracts from the Iraq Occupation. She also was beginning to get into the current administration corruption as well as the Federal Reserve rescuing the bankers exporting jobs and foreclosing on homes.

After the first hour KTRH pulled the program and played a 10-year old Art Bell program from the archives. I could verify that it was a local decision by switching to 560 AM from Beaumont which continued with the original program.

KTRH - right wing propaganda machine. Did they get a call or was this their decision? Does it matter?

As a marketing advertising guy I thought I understood where KTRH was coming from on some of their programming. By far their highest ratings come from their sports broadcasts. They want a compatible format which keeps those ears when they aren't broadcasting the games. Particularly as the right to broadcast the games is so expensive the pre and post game shows and ears that stay around or come back for anything else are what probably prevents the expensive games from losing money for KTRH. They feel right wing talk is more compatible for their game listeners. (Odd, I see more discussion about baseball on left blogs than right.) I could disagree with that but it is a business argument you could make. With the extremist hate speech often on even the most popular right wing national talk shows is this still a good business model? And if now KTRH feels it must censor critics of Halliburton and this administration and the Federal Reserve has this moved beyond a business model and into their own right wing agenda?

A long digression.

Here is a bit of history which relates to when I first became aware of Catherine Austin Fitts years ago. She began the process of moving away from conservative at about the same time and for related reasons as I did - the Wall Street rape of Federated Department Stores and their employees. I was working inside Foley's when the insane, as in recently released from the mental hospital, crazy Canadian Campeau found Wall Street firms willing to issue junk bonds to enable him to purchase Federated. From an online book by Fitts (bold and italics mine), A Parting of the Ways :
Things came to a head when I arrived at the weekly banking meeting of the Dillon Read partners one morning in 1988 and listened to Steve Fenster, one of the partners who had joined us in 1987 from Lehman Brothers with an interim stint at Chase, make his presentation on why Dillon’s LBO group should take the second position behind First Boston in the Campeau hostile takeover of the Federated Department Stores.[27] During his presentation, Fenster, later a professor at the Harvard Business School, presented a “sources and uses of funds” statement. This is a statement that estimates where the money is coming from to buy the company and how it will be spent and in what amounts. Steve described a significant source of funds would come from “productivity improvements” — a portion of what was needed to fund the cost of hundreds of millions for golden parachutes for senior management and fees for lawyers and investment bankers.

The “productivity improvements” were the increased profits to be generated by middle management over many years — all without partaking of the hundreds of millions pork fest enjoyed up front by senior management and Wall Street. We would get rich and get out up front. The guys in the trenches would work like dogs for years for scraps if the deal were to work. I was stunned. I asked Steve why in the world middle management would stick around and spend years working to generate increased profits without adequate incentives. After all, these financials would be disclosed in SEC filings. The companies’ middle managers would read the proxy and could “walk with their feet.” This meant the company would fail.

If the company failed before we sold new bonds, the Travelers bridge line that we were using would lose millions. If it failed after we sold the bonds, our customers who bought the bonds would get left holding the bag. Fenster looked at me in disgust and said something to the effect of “we will be out in December,” meaning if the deal tanks it will be someone else’s problem. I responded "Steve, our bond buyers won’t be,” meaning that Dillon would be selling the securities to pension and mutual funds and other bond buyers who would then take what could be millions in losses. By this time, Brady had left for Washington and Birkelund was now in command of the firm. Birkelund was trying to build a fortune. Nick had one to protect. It struck me that the balance that the Brady-Birkelund partnership had somehow managed to strike between playing to win in the hot money game and not putting Brady’s personal reputation at risk was gone. Dillon anticipated significant fees and Fenster and the partners around the table were hungry for the quick bucks of big year-end bonuses.

That was when I decided that we might be losing sight of the line between financial engineering and financial fraud....

When the Federated Department Stores declared bankruptcy on January 15, 1990 as a result of their takeover by Campeau using an unsound financial structure, Dillon Read, Travelers and Dillon’s bond buyers were left holding millions of badly discounted securities. By that time, I was Assistant Secretary of Housing-FHA Commissioner at HUD managing billions of defaulted mortgages and coordinating with the group at the Resolution Trust Corporation who were managing billions of defaulted savings and loan (S&L) mortgages. While Birkelund and Fenster were explaining the Campeau-Federated defaults to Travelers, I was learning why Oliver North allegedly referred to HUD as “the candy store of covert revenues.”[28] It took years of cleaning up the mortgage mess to understand that this homebuilding and mortgage fraud was an integral part of the National Security Council’s shenanigans during Iran-Contra and a U.S. federal debt that was growing at alarming rates....

Shortly after arriving at HUD in April 1989, I began to learn about the FHA Coinsurance program. Since 1984, HUD/FHA had allowed private mortgage bankers to issue federal credit to guarantee multi-family apartment projects. After issuing $9 billion in mortgage guarantees, HUD/FHA was to lose something approaching 50% of the value of the portfolio — a level of losses hard to explain with mortal logic. When my staff approached me with a proposal to bail out a mortgage company so they could continue to lose money for us, I asked why we should spend money to lose more money in a way that would harm communities. After a long silence during which 30 staff members intently studied their feet, one brave soul explained to me that the mortgage bank was owned and run by a major Republican donor. Shocked, I said. “I am a major Republican donor,” and pointing to my presidential cufflinks that were adorning my French cuffs, “I got a pair of cuff links. You get cuff links. You don’t get $400 million of federal credit to throw down the drain.” My staff looked at me like I was so naive and clueless that there was no point in trying to communicate with me — better to let me learn the hard way.
I think we all have to learn the hard way - there are some crazy greedy f***ers running the country now and AM 740 has moved into their camp as a follower. The apt phrase I believe is media whore. A civil exchange in emails doesn’t mean I can't see what is happening to 740 on the air.


Anonymous said...

Greedy bastards. All of them.

I used to listen to 740 way back, but began to notice their right wing movement.

And smelled it also.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

When we were younger, radio was a friend. It brought you community news, music, connection. Now it is just painful noise. I don't feel good about Houston in particular or the world in general after listening to KTRH. God help you if you want some news, traffic or weather because you have to take some serious crap through their programming to get it.

And 950 is like some teenage boys' idea of radio. A giggling woman as their signature? Jeebus, it is just big silly dick radio.

Anonymous said...

Wow, where do you dig up this stuff!!?

I am actually more sympathetic to the plight of radio stations than you are. Honestly, if shows with liberal loudmouths could gain the kind of ratings that rightwing nuts can, KTRH could switch over in a heartbeat. In Houston a lot of the liberal shows are on KPFT and are noncommercial in nature. But 740 is all about profits.

The best way to combat the trend of rightwing radio is to shame advertisers--start making webpages with mp3 excerpts/transcripts juxtaposing advertisers with the speeech they are underwriting. The blogosphere hardly pays attention to right-wing radio--it's too fleeting and of course if it's not on the Internet, it just doesn't exist.

Editorial suggestion: as great as both pieces are, I would have broken the Fitts and KTRH piece into two separate posts.

Anonymous said...

KTRH is preaching to the choir, and the choir is shrinking. I refuse to listen to them, not even for traffic or weather. Bunch of right wing crazies.

Anonymous said...

There are two locally produced liberal radio call-in shows in Houston that I know of--neither of which screen calls, it's first come/first served:

"The Other Side," hosted by Glenn Urbach on KPFT 90.1 FM, Thursdays 9:00-10:30 PM

"The Radio Rebel," hosted by John Truitt on KIKK 650 AM, 9:00-10:00 AM Sundays.

KPFT is of course listener-sponsored, but KIKK is commercial, and Truitt's show is the highest rated of their eclectic programming. They keep talking about giving him more time, but I don't know how far they've gotten on that. I think he's starting his fourth year on the air.

Gary said...

I just became aware of the Sunday Morning 650 AM show this morning from someone else who highly recommended it.

KPFT has many other liberal news shows but most don't take calls. Here is their current schedule page: