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Seeing Red

For better or worse, KHOW's Scott Redmond has people talking.

Over the next seventeen years, Redmond's cavalcade of wackiness skipped from one rock or contemporary-hit-radio station to another, in communities as far afield as San Diego. Along the way, he branched out into television, emceeing a mid-'80s dance show dubbed Airwaves ("I had the lavender parachute pants and everything") and an early '90s discussion program called Talk TV that might have taken his career in an entirely different direction, he feels, had it been picked up by a national distributor. Instead, in 1991, he wound up back at WWL-AM, doing a midday talk show. This move put him on a new track, with many stops along the line. In the past decade, his opinions were heard in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, prior to his arrival in Denver.

On KHOW, Redmond has developed a persona that sets him apart from his peers. For one thing, the host, a self-described "hostile member of the baby boomer generation," has gone out of his way to discuss topics of interest to young adults, who are all too often ignored by the information wing of the mainstream media ("Old at Heart," November 21, 2002). Too bad his attempts at hipness frequently come across as forced. He makes an earnest effort to keep up with current trends in rock, but often champions dreadful bands (like Our Lady Peace), and his heavy-breathing fondness for teen star Avril Lavigne gives off a creepy, Bill Wyman vibe. He also spends too much time congratulating himself for wearing an eccentric hairstyle and for having recently acquired (yawn) a tattoo on his arm. If he ever gets a Prince Albert, pray that he keeps it to himself.

Predictably, Redmond denies that he's making his lifestyle choices self-consciously: "I don't think about doing things just to be cool." But he likes the notion of reaching beyond the traditional talk-show audience to embrace younger folks. "The biggest potential audience for our show doesn't even know what we're doing yet, because they're listening to FM. But if you're authentic and honest and real, you can attract them without alienating more mature listeners. It's not so much demographics as psychographics. A seventy-year-old guy came up to me at a Christmas party and said, 'I love listening to you, because you keep me up to date.'

"There's a lot of distrust among young people when it comes to the establishment," he goes on. "I want to be that member of the establishment young people can trust."

Earning the loyalty of ex-Rivers devotees may be tougher. Following 9/11, Rivers became the region's most vocal critic of government policies he felt would restrict civil liberties and personal privacy, as well as the rare public figure to openly question Israel's actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians ("Many Rivers to Cross," February 7, 2002). These stances turned the host into a target for conservatives, who mercilessly berated him every chance they got, but they also endeared him to area lefties thrilled that their opinions finally had a talk-radio champion.

The latter were understandably upset when Rivers resigned in March 2002, reportedly because he was sick of screaming ("Dead Lines," April 18, 2002). These folks were just as displeased with Redmond's lighter mix; he takes on current events on occasion, but spends more hours talking about "personal responsibility" and pop-cultural phenomena such as Joe Millionaire. Even so, Redmond doesn't worry much about disgruntled Rivers boosters. As he puts it, "I have tremendous respect for him being a former Broncos player; if you play for the Broncos, you're in an endearing position. But his following wasn't so big that I felt I had anything to live up to."

In this spirit, he chalks up the intermittently chilly reception he's received to a lack of familiarity rather than to politics. "If I had the same ideology as Reggie did, it still would be a different voice. So I think it's more a case of just being a stranger. Certainly among those who wanted to hear that specific ideology, they were disappointed. But this is a business. It's not about fairness; it's not about presenting a particular agenda. It's an entertainment medium. Talk-show hosts who think they're like a branch of government that somehow manifests change are putting themselves on a pedestal that can't sustain them. It's just a show."

Many of those who want the program to be more substantial congregated on the KHOW Web site's "Townhall" and Redmond's message board, which was designed to accommodate regular listeners nicknamed "The Posse." When the message board returned, it had been stripped of earlier posts, and the main Townhall section doesn't come across as notably anti-Redmond. But discussion threads from last summer that linger online at www.khow.com/rrcapt.html offer a glimpse into the tenor of the cyber-conversation about which Redmond complains. Mingled in with supportive comments about the host are plenty of potshots, such as "This ego freak has no place on the airways [sic]. Scott, I hope you are reading this. Denver wants you OUT!!!!"

In an effort to prevent the dialogue from degenerating again, message-board administrator Jared Eikenberg penned a stern series of guidelines, including "Please be respectful of other members of our online community, as well as KHOW staff. Please refrain from posting outlandish personal attacks, using foul language, and posting personal information." Eikenberg warns that "failure to abide by these guidelines will result in stricter moderation of users and posts in order to keep these forums going." Each message-board post also sports buttons allowing viewers to "ignore all posts from this user" and "report as offensive." Within days of the board's resurrection, one frequent visitor had already complained about the removal of a message. "I guess it's okay to praise Scott's integrity," he wrote. "But if you ask 'What integrity?', you will be deleted.... How nice, how courageous, how fair."

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