By Joel Warner
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Here's a startling statement: It's entirely possible that more people in this nation are familiar with Ken Hamblin than any other Denver-based media figure. After all, his radio program, which airs from 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, is heard on more than a hundred stations in the U.S., his newspaper columns are distributed from coast to coast by the New York Times Syndicate, the two books he's authored (including Plain Talk and Common Sense From the Black Avenger, released a few months ago) can be found in practically every major bookstore in the country, and he commonly appears on high-profile television programs. In late October he was the primary guest on HBO's The Chris Rock Show, and he's part of the panel on the Thanksgiving-Day edition of ABC's Politically Incorrect.
But these days, the man whom uninventive scribes have dubbed the black Rush Limbaugh is virtually a stranger in his own hometown. His column appears three times a week in the Denver Post as part of an editorial section that he believes is a bastion of liberalism -- a predictable view, considering that there are probably National Rifle Association jeremiads that aren't conservative enough for his tastes. But he gripes that the Post has never adequately hyped his contributions to it -- in spite of the untold readers he's convinced his presence attracts. And the paper didn't even bother to review Plain Talk, a choice Hamblin interprets as a slight. (Post book editor Tom Walker says there was "nothing personal.") In addition, local fans of his show who don't have access to the Internet -- his program airs live at www.hamblin.com -- can't hear him at all, since no station in Denver carries it. (The show does air in Grand Junction, Durango and Colorado Springs.) Hamblin claims not to be bothered by this state of affairs and mentions how happy he is about his life with a regularity that would please any laxative manufacturer. But despite his frequently expressed impatience with anyone who blames his troubles on others, he seems to harbor a persecution complex as big as all outdoors. According to him, "I'm not isolated from Denver. Denver's isolated itself from me. I have enemies in the political and radio arenas around here, so I've been blackballed."
Of course, Hamblin detractors can list a great many credible reasons for this state of affairs, and plenty of them have nothing to do with comments about "black trash" and "quota Negroes" that have led countless members of the African-American community to charge him with ideological treason. In 1994 he was cited for misdemeanor harassment for a New Year's Eve incident involving a co-worker at KNUS, his broadcast base at the time. Thanks to a deferred-prosecution offer from Lakewood prosecutors, the matter was later stricken from Hamblin's record, but not before he was briefly suspended by KNUS management for mentioning the name of his accuser over the air. That same year, the Post suspended Hamblin's column for two months after he was accused of plagiarizing a huge chunk of an article written by the Rocky Mountain News's Brian Weber -- an offense for which he was lucky not to be sacked. (He's said the incident was the result of "sloppy work" on his part.) Furthermore, the Denver-area ratings he received during the early and mid-Nineties while working at KNUS, KUVO and (for a few months) the defunct 1280 Ralph fell far short of blockbuster status. Can it be considered blackballing to not hire a host without much of an audience?
In Hamblin's mind it can. He chalks up his lousy numbers at the aforementioned outlets to bad management and lack of promotion and says, "I'd put a thousand dollars on the table betting you that if I was on in Denver right now, I'd get a three share [rating] in the first [Arbitron] book, and it would build from there -- because this is my town." Yet with no such offers forthcoming, he falls back on philosophy. "What has happened to me as far as exclusion is pretty common when you consider how many men aren't stars in their own community. And I might have been one if I'd been willing to pucker up and kiss derrieres. But I wasn't interested in that. Just like Frank Sinatra, I did it my way."
And he continues to do so, thanks to the success of The Ken Hamblin Show, which marked its fifth year of syndication in September. Prior to a broadcast last week, the quiet, relaxed atmosphere in his headquarters, located in an office building on South Colorado Boulevard, was a world apart from the bustling, behind-the-scenes frenzy at most big-time radio stations, with only Hamblin, producer Roger Alan, call screener Sarah Kolega and board op Jason McBride occupying a roomy suite of offices. The decor is a tribute to the main man's healthy self-image: An enormous blow-up of Hamblin in his trademark fedora hangs near the main entrance, and another turns up in his studio opposite a display of hundreds of patches he's collected from law-enforcement agencies. "That's my public-safety wall. I'm a strong supporter of police," he boasts, pointing out that he's an honorary deputy sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona. His desk, meanwhile, features a glowing computer, a neat stack of books (including, prominently, his own), a few right-wing novelty items, including a bottle of "Monica Mouthwash," good for washing the taste of Bill Clinton out of your yap, and a photograph of his plane, which he uses to fly to TV tapings and personal appearances. He probably mentions his adult children -- Ken Jr., better known to aficionados of Denver dance culture as DJ K-NEE, and Linda, a California-based producer for the National Enquirer TV show -- and his two grandchildren more often than the aircraft, but it's surprisingly close.