The Media Eye

It never blinks -- even when we wish it would.

Yet, while Stern portrays My Peak in the Morning as wonderfully egalitarian, it's not the free-for-all it might seem. In particular, station personnel are likely to spin only those requested songs they're already playing anyway. "We have a pretty good database, and we do a lot of music research," Stern says. "So we've got a good feel for those songs that aren't incredibly familiar but fans feel passionately about, because we've researched them with people in the demo -- so we'll definitely play those. But we try not to go with the not-well-known and not-well-loved." In other words, anything obscure or unexpected gets chucked out the window. Guess I won't phone in that request for "Jackie Onassis" by Human Sexual Response after all.

Worse, the recorded snippets from listeners don't stand out in the same way live commentary from an actual human does, at least as presently programmed. They sound recorded (which they are) and canned (which they are, too), causing the atmosphere created by My Peak in the Morning to seem automated, pre-programmed -- the very opposite of spontaneous. Odds are good that many of the satellite radio stations presently gearing up to take advantage of new car-stereo technology will use the same approach, and be forgotten for the same reasons.

Of course, it's too early to know if My Peak in the Morning will thrive -- but even Stern admits the program's a gamble. "We're really turning this show over to the listeners," he says. "Let's hope they give themselves good ratings."

The benefits of age: Ex-reporter Dave Minshall's age-discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Channel 7 ("Old News," May 3), ended last week with a jury calling for him to be awarded $562,000 in back wages and penalties, not to mention over a hundred grand in lawyer fees and trial costs. Along the way , it offered a week-and-a-half-long peek at the inner workings of TV news, with the material on view in the U.S. District courtroom overseen by Judge Clarence Brimmer emerging as ugly or hilarious, depending upon your point of view.

Consider the comments of Channel 7 reporter Bill Clarke, a onetime pal of Minshall's, who revealed that he nicknamed his ol' buddy "Deadline Dave" for his tendency to get stories in at the last minute, or sometimes even later. These remarks spurred Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole to vilify Clarke in print for a past offense ("I was outraged at his blatant disregard for basic journalistic ethics," wrote Amole). According to Amole, Clarke had asked him to comment about the now-defunct Denver Symphony Orchestra -- and when Amole declined, Clarke ran file footage of the columnist without identifying it as old news.

Also part of the evidence presented in court was videotape taken at an awards ceremony where, Channel 7's attorneys contended, Minshall had been intoxicated (Minshall acknowledges that he was "tipsy in the first shot, a little more tipsy in the second"). Had I been invited to take the stand, I would have noted that, given the amount of alcohol consumed by the majority of reporters at such functions, Minshall would have stood out more had he not been sozzled.

In the end, most of the claims Channel 7 made about Minshall -- he was supposedly sloppy, occasionally unreliable, and a poor speller and grammarian -- seemed minor when compared with incidents like the physical attack Channel 9's Mark Koebrich allegedly made on a technical engineer at his station late last month, for which he was cited by police. As an indication of how seriously Koebrich takes the matter, he was quoted by gossip columnist Penny Parker in the September 7 News joking about it, using lines like, "Look out, I'm pretty volatile."

But although Minshall won, he remains unmistakably bitter over the way Channel 7 chose to defend itself. "I expected that they'd be mean," he says, "but that didn't make it any easier knowing my wife and four kids and my friends were hearing me described as an incompetent lout." Even a compliment he gives to Channel 7 anchor Bertha Lynn, who testified on his behalf, winds up with a slam at the station: "When you're ten feet away from your boss and you say, 'I was discriminated against when I got demoted, and Dave Minshall was discriminated against when he was fired,' that takes real guts, real class. Frankly, Channel 7 doesn't deserve her." And Minshall also tees off on Cindy Velasquez, Channel 7's vice president and general manager, despite the fact that she didn't start working at the station until late 1997, nearly nine months after he was sacked, and she eventually got rid of the news director, Melissa Klinzing, responsible for getting rid of him.

Velasquez, who says she doesn't remember meeting Minshall until the trial, isn't surprised that some of his ire is splashing onto her: "He's obviously angry, and angry people need to have a target." But she doesn't shrink from defending the station. "We will appeal the decision, most definitely. We believe, especially after listening to trial testimony, that our decision not to renew Mr. Minshall's contract was correct. We did nothing wrong. He had performance problems, so we had reason to question his professional behavior, and after his managers brought these problems to his attention and gave him six months to address the issues, he did not correct them. Thus the decision not to renew his contract."

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