The Missing Linc

Who on earth would want to work at the News these days? Bernie Lincicome, for one.

When members of the local journalism fraternity first heard that Bernie Lincicome would be filling the Rocky Mountain News sports columnist slot vacated by Bob Kravitz, the majority responded with variations on a single question: Why would Lincicome do it? After all, he'd spent the last sixteen years writing for the Chicago Tribune, a generally well-regarded newspaper located in a terrific newspaper town, and he remains beloved by a great many Chicagoans. After his exodus was announced, compliments flowed in from some unexpected quarters: In its September 1 issue, the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly not known for sending bouquets to media mainstreamers, bid him farewell with a piece beneath the flattering headline "Hometown Team Loses an MVP."

Considering all that, it hardly made sense that Lincicome would be coming to a place that won't even have a Sunday paper in a few months, thanks to its second-among-equals role in the News-Denver Post joint operating agreement. (The deadline for public comment on the JOA is October 12, but you can bet that nothing locals say will convince Attorney General Janet Reno that hearings on the issue are necessary.) And that's not to mention all those Rocky scribes who are climbing over each other to get out at the same time Lincicome is settling in. An example? Mike Romano, whose move from the News's Washington, D.C., bureau to its business section was noted in this space on July 27, has already taken his leave in favor of a gig at Chicago's Modern Healthcare, a medical-industry trade publication. News business editor Rob Reuteman, who's filled the Romano slot with ex-Boulder Daily Camera assistant city editor Gil Rudawsky, concedes that this latest defection left him steaming. "He wasted about three months of my time before stiffing me," he says of Romano. "We had words -- but we won't have any more words."

For his part, though, Lincicome seems perfectly satisfied to be plying his trade for the Rocky. A devoted Colorado fan, he says he spoke with both the Post and the News a decade ago about trading in the humid air of Chi-town for some thinner stuff -- and while nothing came of those talks, he purchased a vacation home in Frisco the following year.

However, Lincicome implies that the biggest factor in the move wasn't Denver's well-documented beauty, but his dissatisfaction with the way his old employers were treating him. He started working for the Tribune company in the late '60s, moving from its Fort Lauderdale property, the Sun-Sentinel, to the Trib during the first half of the '80s; for most of that time, he says, his experiences were great. But things began changing a few years back following a management switch and the hiring of Skip Bayless, a high-profile columnist who parlayed gigs at two Dallas dailies into multimedia prominence: He's written several books and served as a commentator for MSNBC and ESPN. Suddenly Bayless was getting the best placement and the plum assignments -- in part, Lincicome believes, because of his work on TV and radio. "He's a much more obvious media person, which I am not," he notes. "I don't know that I'm uncomfortable with it, but I know my strength is my writing, my wit, my insights. So maybe I'm just a dinosaur."

Lincicome's dissatisfaction was mounting when Kravitz announced he was leaving the News for the Indianapolis Star. So he contacted the folks at the Rocky, who were understandably enthusiastic about bringing him aboard. Emboldened by their interest, he went to the big wheels at the Trib, thinking that they'd try to talk him out of leaving. Instead, they made him what he terms "an offer I could refuse," which he did, thereby amplifying bitter feelings on both sides. A brief farewell to Lincicome remains posted on the Tribune's Web site, chicagotribune.com, but none of his writing lingers in its cyber-pages; a search turns up a reference to the section once devoted to his past columns, but its contents have been deleted.

In the meantime, the News has its man, JOA or no JOA. Lincicome says the agreement itself does not give him pause, and neither does the forthcoming disappearance of the Sunday News; his friend Mitch Albom seems to be doing fine despite working for the Detroit Free Press, a JOA junior partner that doesn't publish Sundays. (Of course, Albom is also the author of the mega-bestseller Tuesdays With Morrie, which probably helps.) "I don't know that much about JOAs and who won the war and who lost it," Lincicome adds. "All I know is that I get four chances a week to sit down and try to make people laugh, pay attention or react in some fashion to my silly little mutterings. And I hope they do."

Thus far, he's gotten his wish. On September 5, in just his second column, he incensed the Denver Broncos faithful by concentrating on the deficiencies of quarterback Brian Griese (he wrote that the QB was "still cursed with a librarian's ligaments in his throwing arm") immediately after Griese had the best game of his professional career in a narrow loss to the St. Louis Rams -- and he hasn't let up on him since. That was followed by "The Incredible Shrinking Curiosity," a September 7 piece that identified Colorado Rockies first bagger Todd Helton -- then within striking distance of a .400 batting average (a prospect that soon slipped away)-- as a "cipher" who ought to wear a tag reading, "Hi, My Name is on the Back of My Shirt."

Some local observers have knocked Lincicome for his extremely idiosyncratic syntax and tendency to ramble in stream-of-consciousness style. But many of us who've followed him over the years know that he's a taste worth acquiring, and a far better addition to the News than anyone had a right to expect. Moreover, he's a welcome alternative to the Post's Woody Paige, whose comic-relief offerings are often unintentional. As reported by Australian journalist Tim Blair in Online Journalism Review, at ojr.org, the September 22 column the Woodman penned from the Land Down Under included his assertion that an Outback community he claimed to have visited was a thousand miles by plane from Sydney, when it's really 240 miles by car. Note to Post bean counters: Check his expense report very carefully.

Granted, some of Lincicome's work can provoke head scratching; his September 15 discussion of the Olympics was just plain nutty. But he hits more often than he whiffs, and his old-fashioned devotion to the print medium is downright refreshing. "There's an authenticity about newspapers that you can't get anywhere else, which is why I root for them to survive not only against other newspapers, but against television, radio and the Internet," he says. "This job gets tougher as the technology gets better, but technology is never going to replace the alphabet."

Go to heck: After Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski was accused of using the slur "nigger" to refer to his African-American peers, the Post reported the story but softened the key term to "the n-word" ("Words Get in the Way," August 31). Expect to see more instances of such caution in the future: In a recent memo to news staffers, Post editor Glenn Guzzo wrote that journalists should steer clear of using vulgarities or obscenities in articles -- a warning that some staffers interpreted as a de facto ban guaranteeing that there was no damn way in hell that either "damn" or "hell" would survive the editing process.

Guzzo disputes this reading. To him, the memo was merely a reminder that a variety of items, including corrections, pieces about the Post, and reports that either identify juvenile crime suspects or employ anonymous sources, need to be run past him or managing editor Larry Burrough before they appear in the paper. Regarding profanities, he notes, "The assumption is that we're going to avoid using those words, but there are going to be times that they'll be approved because of the context and the news value of a quote. They've appeared in the past, and they'll appear in the future. But we'd like to have a discussion about it before they go in." Guzzo insists that no single gaffe spurred his missive; rather, "it was more an accretion of what appeared to be casual usage or casual editing that didn't reflect the rigor we should be applying." But Guzzo does concede that the way the Post dealt with George W. Bush's description of New York Times scribe Adam Clymer as a "major-league asshole" left something to be desired: "We wrote around it so much that you couldn't possibly tell what Bush was talking about."

The presence on network newscasts, as well as David Letterman's show, of subtly bleeped videotape showing Bush making his Clymer observation to veep wannabe Dick "Big Time" Cheney made the Post's squeamishness in this case all the more obvious. But Guzzo says such factors won't dictate how his paper will treat dirty words down the line: "We can't be unmindful of something like that, but we're going to make our own decisions. We don't want the lowest common denominator to be our standard."

Good -- 'cause that's our territory. As one Westword wag acknowledged, a ban on obscenities would pretty much shut us down. Classical action: Over the past couple of weeks, things have gotten mighty weird for classical-radio-loving Denverites.

The latest series of flip-flops began with the announcement that KVOD, Denver's only commercial classical station, had been sold by Clear Channel to Zee Ferrufino's Latino Communications for a reported $3.3 million. This gives Ferrufino an opportunity to resurrect his former station, KBNO-AM, which he sold to Crawford Broadcasting in September 1999. Pending FCC approval, Ferrufino plans to rechristen his new station KBNO, and rehire numerous former KBNO personalities to play what he calls "Mexican regional music," among other styles.

In response, Crawford Broadcasting's Don Crawford Jr. proclaimed he would change the sound at one of its stations, KLVZ-AM/1220, from contemporary Christian music to classical on October 9. This declaration set off a debate within members of Citizens for Classical FM (CCFM), the group that sprang to life after KVOD's abduction from FM, with most members worried about KLVZ's limitations. Although it broadcasts in AM stereo, thereby offering modestly better acoustics than standard AM, KLVZ's power rating is much lower than the old 5,000-watt KVOD -- to be specific, 660 watts by day and only 10.99 watts at night. Does the transmitter run off a food processor?

But before reception could become an issue, another development arose. On October 6, Colorado Public Radio announced that it had purchased KKYD-AM/1340, most recently a part of the hugely unsuccessful Catholic Radio Network, for $4.4 million -- hardly a bargain considering that Ferrufino paid over a million clams less for a station with five times more power (1340 AM is rated at 1,000 watts day and night). And whaddaya think CPR President Max Wycisk plans to do with his new bauble? Bingo: Turn it classical. Not only that, but Ferrufino has agreed to transfer both the KVOD call letters and KVOD's music library to the station, which Wycisk expects to be up and running in one to three months.

At first blush, this purchase makes little sense: CPR had been looking for another FM station so that it could program all news on one signal and all classical on the other. But now it'll have a news/classical mix on FM, at 90.1 on the dial, and constant classical on aurally inferior AM. In acknowledging this contradiction, Wycisk says some minor format tinkering could be done down the line.

Initially, Crawford declared that KLVZ would charge full-steam-ahead with its classical scheme despite CPR's move. But classical buffs who tuned in to the station on October 9 expecting to hear Mozart got contemporary Christian tunes instead. Reached that afternoon, Crawford confirmed that classical had been ruled out, but added that a change would still have to be made because of the sale two days earlier of KWBI-FM by Colorado Christian University to Sacramento, California's Christian-oriented Educational Media Foundation (EMF), which promptly replaced KWBI's traditional inspirational approach with the same contemporary Christian music KLVZ has been spinning.

This whirlwind left CCFM loyalists dizzy. As organization vice president Doug Crane notes, KWBI, which EMF purchased along with stations in Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, would have been a better fit for Colorado Public Radio than lowly KKYD; after all, KWBI is on FM, at 91.1, and operates at 100,000 watts. Now, however, no commercial operator will be offering classical, and Crane says CPR's new purchase "still doesn't address the problem of not having continuous classical music on FM with the full fidelity the music deserves."

Hence, CCFM is still working toward bringing classical back to FM; its next meeting is slated for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, October 21, at the Virginia Village Branch Library, 1500 South Dahlia. "We haven't given up hope," Crane says of the organization's goal. "But there are no new developments right now."

Oh yeah? There seem like plenty of new developments to me.

Changing his tune-- again: As those of you who visited this space last week may remember, representatives of KBPI, a Clear Channel station where the phrase "slinging mud" is taken quite literally, have a history of saying one thing and doing another. Well, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here they go again.

Back in 1998, during a period when syndicated controversy-magnet Howard Stern was being courted by two area stations (the Hawk, which ditched him, and the Peak, which signed him up), KBPI program director Bob Richards repeatedly identified himself as a true believer in local morning shows. In our October 22, 1998, edition, he said, "We think it's in our best interest to come up with a topical Denver morning show where the personalities live and breathe here."

Cut to the present day, when Richards is programming both KBPI and new contemporary-hit-radio station KISS, at 95.7 FM. In the September 21 Denver Post, Clear Channel honcho Mike O'Connor denied that the latter frequency was set to pipe in the early program helmed by Rick Dees at Los Angeles's KIIS-FM, but the show the station started airing a couple weeks ago originates from the very same place: Host Sean Valentine does afternoons for KIIS. Richards insists that the Valentine opus is being assembled specifically for Coloradans, but that's hardly apparent from what's coming over the airwaves. I've monitored significant portions of four separate broadcasts, yet I've heard the word "Denver" mentioned only once. What's more, none of the between-song material was even remotely local -- unless you consider Valentine bragging about his close, personal friendship with Howie from the Backstreet Boys local.

Defending the move, Richards says: "Valentine had Linda Blair and the Goo Goo Dolls and Sting on in the same week, which we wouldn't have been able to do here. But he can also promote contests around shows in Denver. So it's really the best of both worlds."

Would you buy a used rationalization from this man? Me neither.

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