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Station finds best choice for slot left by Savage.

Byline: G. MICHAEL DONOVAN For The Register-Guard

THERE WERE TWO overriding issues that resulted in the removal of Michael Savage from KUGN-AM radio's airwaves.

The first had to do with our desire to provide Eugene with a dependable broadcast forum for discussion of the many issues that face our local community. KUGN, first and foremost, is a news-talk station with licensed responsibility to serve Lane County. We felt we needed live, local programming during the period from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., when people are driving home from work - our second most-listened-to time slot of the day.

We have felt that way for some time. We began our search for an afternoon talk-show host in earnest back in August. We interviewed several good candidates, listened to a lot of tape, and tried to imagine how each potential talk show host would relate to the KUGN audience. We found candidates in other cities who had excellent radio skills, but were unfamiliar with Eugene and its unique set of issues and representatives. We found candidates in Eugene who had a marvelous grasp of local issues and personalities, but who, as radio talent, were not ready for prime time KUGN.

Ironically, the publicity generated by the "Voice of the Ducks" controversy actually served to motivate several local candidates to contact us. That is how we re-connected with our eventual selection, Dan Carlin. In Carlin, we found an experienced local journalist with proven broadcast skills who was eager to get back behind the microphone and lead a daily discussion of local issues.

At no time during our search, before or after concerns on campus were raised, did the University of Oregon attempt to influence our program lineup. As its public record indicates, privately the university administration never attempted to influence our programming choices. It just never happened - although true Savage fans, who distrust any campus, will have a hard time believing it.

As far as members of the campus group is concerned, we appreciate hearing from them, just as we do from any community group. They will no doubt continue to disagree with many views expressed on KUGN shows hosted by Bill O'Reilly and Michael Medved. Their true objections seemed more to do with the second reason we replaced Michael Savage with local programming.

The second issue regarding Savage has to do with broadcast standards and matters of taste. Savage is an ambitious man who wants very badly to be a top-rated talk show host. Unfortunately, the field is already crowded with conservative talk shows - Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Michael Medved, to name just a few.

Savage has clearly decided that the path to fame is paved with outrageous excess. He has grown increasingly intolerant and implacable as his show has gone on, reaching crescendos of bad taste with each passing rating period.

Savage is what we call a shock jock. It's more common in rock radio, where the New York success of Howard Stern spawned dozens of imitators, each trying to go farther than the last. Names such as Mancow Muller and, more recently, Opie and Anthony are familiar to radio managers nationwide as syndicated shows that can only be aired at the risk of offending large segments of audience and advertisers. Opie and Anthony were recently thrown off the air in New York for broadcasting a couple in the act of surreptitiously making love in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Their dismissal made headlines nationally and outraged many of their fans. But as far as I know, no one raised First Amendment concerns.

And here's the difference between Savage and other shock jocks. Michael wraps himself in the American flag and demands that you agree with him. Anyone who doesn't will be excoriated on the grounds of their patriotism, sexual orientation, or other handy social stigma. He piles it on, each accusation wilder than before. It is the way he treats those who do not agree with him that sinks Savage below KUGN broadcast standards. If it's not hate radio, I can understand why any number of groups would think it is.

And even though it's really too soon to tell, Savage Nation might do well in the ratings right here in Eugene. How far a radio station will go to attract an audience is something we as radio managers have to face from time to time. It's no different from the content decisions made by TV stations, newspapers, magazines, movie producers or any other mass medium.

Yes, it's true that if you didn't like Michael Savage, all you had to do was turn off the radio. But that's not a very good outcome for a local radio station. We think our new talk show, "Crosstalk" with Dan Carlin, will be a reason to turn it on.

G. Michael Donovan is market manager for Cumulus Broadcasting in Eugene. KUGN-AM radio is one of the company's stations.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 20, 2002
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