By Joel Warner
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By Alan Prendergast
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By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Like anyone who's lasted more than a week as a talk-show headliner, KHOW's Scott Redmond is accustomed to being ripped by callers. In most cases, though, the blows hurled at him come courtesy of folks he doesn't know, not from colleagues who traipse the same hallways he does. But that changed last week, when KHOW program director Elizabeth Estes-Cooper phoned Redmond's gab-fest to say his decision to close off access to his Internet message board made him look like "a wuss."
Redmond -- who joined KHOW last spring to fill the afternoon-drive slot previously occupied by Denver Bronco turned commentator Reggie Rivers -- wasn't surprised by Estes-Cooper's comments. He'd already discussed the situation with her, emphasizing that the reasons he'd asked the station's Webmaster to hammer the board (located at www.khow.com) had nothing to do with delicate sensibilities. More precisely, he says, he was concerned that "a few individuals were using the message board we'd created to viciously attack anyone in agreement with me. It's fine if people don't agree, but I felt we were giving a few individuals an opportunity to abuse faceless victims."
This argument, which Redmond repeated over the air, didn't make much of an impact on Estes-Cooper, perhaps because he hadn't asked her permission before having the message board disabled. She learned about its removal from angry e-mails of the sort that also made their way to Westword. "I used the message boards to engage in some debates with conservatives from my liberal perspective," wrote one individual, who requested anonymity. "So it angers me that Redmond...shut it down in a fit of pique."
Like this scribe, the majority of respondents to a KHOW online poll favored the board's return. But even if they hadn't, Estes-Cooper told Redmond and his listeners, the results would have been the same: It's going back up -- and it did, on January 10. After all, her vote counted more than anyone else's.
Such electoral irregularities are actually good news for Redmond, because Estes-Cooper remains solidly in his corner despite the message-board incident. She concedes that his ratings are no higher than those garnered by Rivers, who was viewed internally as an Arbitron underachiever. "There's a lag time from when you change a show, and you don't usually see immediate results," she explains. But, she adds, "the advertisers on the show are happy, and there's a lot of chatter in our building and from people on the street. That's why I feel very positive about how things are going."
Redmond does, too -- but he knows he's a long way from completely winning over local talk buffs. Although he refuses to reveal his age, because he doesn't want anyone saying he's of the wrong vintage to discuss certain subjects, he admits to having worked at a slew of signals over approximately thirty years in the business -- and at each stop, he acknowledges, a percentage of listeners warmed up to him more slowly than did others. In the past, however, resistance to his charms has been more short-lived than it's proven to be this time around, and he thinks he's figured out why.
"I don't know if it has to do with Alan Berg, which is a name I always think of, but this market, collectively, has a strong ownership in talk radio," Redmond says "That's true to some degree in every market, but I find it particularly evident here. There just seem to be a lot of people who resist change. If I'm on the air for ten years here, the show will change; it'll evolve with the times. But some people in Denver don't appear to understand that. They've got an idea in their minds of what talk radio should be, and anybody who deviates from that is a bad person.
"I find it interesting," he continues, "that if people come from somewhere else to play for the Avs or the Broncos, they're welcomed with open arms, whereas if you come in from another state to do talk radio, you're considered an outsider. But this city was built by outsiders -- outsiders who came here because it's a wonderful place to live and work. That's why I came here, and why I hope to be able to stay for a good, long time."
If this dream comes true, it'll be the first time in quite a spell that he's been in one place for an extended period. He was born in New Orleans, and he landed his initial job in radio, as a gofer for news-talk purveyor WWL-AM, while he was in high school. He eventually worked his way up to a producer position before convincing his bosses to hand him the morning slot at a rock-music-oriented FM sister station in 1974. "Back then, FM was popular in the afternoons and the evenings, but not in the mornings. And no one was doing personality radio in FM," he says. "But I thought, 'People are people; if they like personality on AM, why not do personality on FM?'" Using the name "Scoot," he interacted with several characters of his own creation, and otherwise attempted to be (his word) "zany."
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."
Such criticism leaves Redmond unfazed, as does the prospect of future rants against him. But for the sake of his supporters, he hopes message-board habitués display some decorum.
"I constantly get calls from people who really, really disagree with me, and we put them on the air; we don't attempt to block those people out," he says. "But there are rules in every aspect of life. I mean, cheap shots aren't even allowed in football. So give us your best -- but make it fair."
Crack reporting: On January 1, Denver Post reporter Howard Pankratz wrote about an incident of attempted fraud that Jose Vasquez, a staff attorney for Colorado Legal Services, described as "really horrific.... We don't see cases this egregious." As it turns out, Vasquez was correct in more ways than he knew. According to Westword staffer David Holthouse, the victim in the matter -- Callie Ayers, age 92 -- spent part of last year selling crack. Holthouse knows, because while he was researching "Between Rock and a Hard Place," a September 5, 2002, report about the crack trade on the 2700 block of Downing Street, she twice asked if he was interested in making a purchase. Her stock line: "Sugar, are you lookin'?"
Attempts to reach Ayers for this column were unsuccessful. But she is described in court papers obtained by the Post as developmentally disabled, with a third-grade education, and she has no criminal record. The same cannot be said for her grandson, Morris Ayers. According to Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's office, he has a lengthy rap sheet and pending court appearances in regard to several allegations, including distribution and possession of a Schedule 2 controlled substance.
These were typical of Morris's extracurricular activities, Holthouse says. Two or three days a week between Memorial Day and early August, he visited the section of Downing where Morris shared a house and attached beauty parlor with Callie and Evelyn Whitner, 71, Callie's daughter, who is also reported to be developmentally disabled. During that span, he saw Morris dealing crack on a regular basis, unmolested by anyone other than a neighbor, Mary, who was disgusted by what was happening to the area.
This brand of commerce was temporarily interrupted in June, when Morris was busted for barring access to the home by a zoning inspector. As Holthouse reported in September, the inspector phoned the cops, who arrested Morris after finding what appeared to be crack in the building. Weeks later, this specific legal difficulty went away because the substance was actually "woo," a type of bogus crack that's a blend of soap and dried breadcrumbs. But before his brief incarceration on the charge ended, Morris apparently introduced his grandmother to the world of sales. "She would sit at the barred window of the abandoned beauty shop doing hand-to-hand transactions through the window," Holthouse says. When she first asked Holthouse if he was "lookin'," he identified himself as a reporter and noted that the police suspected her and her grandson of selling drugs. "She said, 'No, oh, no,'" he recalls. "Then, a few days later, she asked me again, and I said, 'Remember, I'm the Westword reporter.' After that, she wouldn't talk to me."
Doubtless to her regret, she did speak to bail bondswoman Phyllis Brandt. Pankratz's story notes that Callie wrote Brandt a $1,000 check as bond for Morris. Court documents say Brandt subsequently told Callie that the cops would seize the property unless she signed it over to her until after Morris's case was settled -- a statement that was false on every level. As such, DA spokeswoman Kimbrough says, Brandt was formally accused of one count of theft from an at-risk adult on December 18. A Class 3 felony, it's punishable by four to twelve years in prison.
In telling this tale, Pankratz says, he was unaware of Holthouse's article, adding that "it comes as a great surprise to me that a 92-year-old woman would be selling drugs." Less shocked were the residents of Downing Street, who began phoning Holthouse after the publication of the January 1 Post. Mary, who refers to Callie as "Grandma Crack," was particularly unsympathetic. As she told Holthouse, "I'm not saying it's right for some bail bondsman [sic] to screw an old lady out of her house. But I am saying that what goes around comes around."
The eyes have it: On January 10, the Denver Post printed a correction about a purported error in "Women Celebrate Capitol Gains," a Diane Carman column published the previous day. But readers with a certain theological bent may feel this admission of guilt was unnecessary.
In trying to capture the moment when Lola Spradley officially became Colorado's first female speaker of the house, Carman wrote the descriptive clause "With TV cameras and the eyes of her proud mother trained on her beaming face...." Unfortunately, Spradley's mom has been dead for many years, but that doesn't mean she wasn't watching Lola from her perch on a cloud in one of the tonier subdivisions in heaven. So start sending in those angry letters to the editors, true believers. Not only are the people at the Post liberals, they're heathens, too!