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The Man You Hate to Love

The toughest executive in Denver radio pleads his case.

Folks tuned to the Mix morning show on August 20 got a taste of these grabbier tactics: After an interview set up by producer Matt "Slacker" Levy failed to happen (the fourth such problem that week), program director Ron Harrell went on the air at the behest of co-stars Dom Testa and Jane London and suspended Levy for a week with pay, prompting a barrage of phone calls both pro and con. In explaining the situation, Harrell sounds very much like Visotcky: "Dom and Jane were very frustrated, and so was I. It didn't contribute to the integrity of the show or of the radio station for things that we were promoting to keep falling through, and we had to do something about it." He adds, "Personally, I would have preferred to have it happen behind the scenes, but I try to give the morning show full creative freedom. And in the end, it was entertaining radio, which is what we're trying to make."

The jury's still out on whether the Peak is succeeding on that score. A hard alternative station designed to take chunks out of KBPI-FM/106.7 and KTCL-FM/93.3, both Clear Channel stations, it hasn't been blowing away the competition; in the spring book, the Peak trails KBPI by a substantial margin in cumulative ratings and is barely ahead of KTCL, and revenues are a question mark. But from a ratings standpoint, the Howard Stern experiment has been a smash with the 18-34 market, landing in third place just a whisker behind the Fox's meal ticket, Lewis and Floorwax. Yet Visotcky, who insists that the Stern program had already been purchased by the Peak prior to his arrival "despite what my critics say," refuses to gloat about its performance. Instead he fixates on what he sees as unfair attacks directed at him and his station following Stern's remarks -- attacks that he feels, with some justification, were spearheaded by enemies at Jacor using News media columnist Dusty Saunders and his Denver Post counterpart, Joanne Ostrow, as weapons.

"This whole thing was manufactured by Jacor," he fumes. "The first day it happened, which was a Wednesday, I got thirty or forty phone calls -- that's all -- and none on Thursday. But on Friday, it's plastered all over the place by Dusty Saunders, who's actually a Jacor employee [Saunders and Ostrow co-host a media show Sunday mornings on Clear Channel-owned KHOW-AM/630]. To me, that's totally against ethics. I majored in journalism, but people like Dusty Saunders are the reason I didn't go into it. In the long run, though, they did me a big favor. We had this whole ad campaign set up for Howard before any of this happened, and they just went ahead and told everyone where he was. And people found him, for whatever reason, and they realized that everything they'd been told about him wasn't true, and they liked what they heard. So thank you, Dusty and Joanne. Thank you very much."

The News's Amole, who called Visotcky a "tasteless boob" in a May 25 column protesting the move of KVOD from FM to AM, comes in for the same sort of paddling from Bobby V. "Gene Amole is a hypocrite and a sellout," Visotcky says. "He sold the radio station -- and Gene-o, if you wanted to make sure it never was anything other than classical, you shouldn't have done that. But because of the big controversy he stirred up, its ratings have actually gone up since moving to AM. So he actually did us a big favor." As for the substance of Amole's argument -- that AM doesn't have a sonic range sufficient for the broadcast of classical music -- Visotcky begs to differ. "There's a lot of people I could put in front of a car radio and play FM and then play them AM, and I'll bet they couldn't tell the difference. But people in this society always need something to bitch about, so they're bitching about this."

No one at AMFM is complaining about Jammin' 92.5. KDJM's first several weeks on the air were a bit bizarre -- the outlet endlessly hyped a $25,000 name-this-station contest only to pay the dough to a woman who suggested that execs keep the "jammin' oldies" tag they were already using -- but the profits were immediate; according to Visotcky, its revenue beat KVOD's during the first month. "KVOD was making no money, and it's my job to maximize what I've got," he says. "Jammin' oldies is the hottest format in the country right now, and I knew it would work here just like it's worked everywhere else. And right now, the ratings we're getting for Jammin' are triple what KVOD's had been. Triple."

Visotcky claims to be satisfied with KVOD-AM's current numbers. But when asked if he's committed to keeping the station alive, he replies: "Hey, I'm committed to results. I'll tell you right now, if KVOD loses all its advertisers and the people don't follow it, I will blow that station up in a heartbeat. We are not a non-profit company. We are a for-profit company. We have a responsibility to our advertisers and to our stockholders to make AMFM a great company, and if KVOD isn't making it greater, it's gone."

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