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The theory that faith and family values, red-state style, were the determining factors in the 2004 election may be overly simplistic, but local lawyer turned radio personality Dan Caplis detects plenty of merit in it. "What we're seeing now has been in the works for a while, and it's seismic," he says. "It's dramatically changed the political landscape and will continue to do so, because it's not as flimsy as partisan politics. It's here to stay."
So, Caplis hopes, is the program he and fellow attorney Craig Silverman share weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on Clear Channel-owned KHOW, and early indications are positive. The outlet's afternoon-drive slot has underperformed ever since yakker Jay Marvin split during the summer of 1999; Reggie Rivers, syndicated screwball Phil Hendrie and the odd couple of Scott Redmond and Bob Newman failed to generate the sort of numbers management expected. However, Caplis and Silverman, who debuted on KHOW in September, have at least temporarily reversed this trend, according to the just-issued fall Arbitron survey, which covers most of their first three months. The associates' ratings among men between 25 and 54 -- KHOW's target age range -- are double those from a year earlier, and more women in this bracket listened as well.
Additionally, Caplis and Silverman have proven adept at fueling controversies, which generates the kind of publicity that feeds on itself. Their first big score revolved around the "Merry Christmas" sign on Denver's City and County Building. After Caplis portrayed Mayor John Hickenlooper's seemingly benign interest in replacing these words with "Happy Holidays" as an insidious attack on Christians everywhere, many church-goers reacted with resentment -- and their anger swelled days later, when Pastor George Morrison complained that Arvada's Faith Bible Chapel had been prevented from entering a religious float in the annual Parade of Lights. The stories soon went national, and if they irritated many secularists, who saw them as overinflated culture-war diversions, they demonstrated how in tune Caplis is with the current zeitgeist.
Then, on January 28, during a remote from the University of Colorado at Boulder campus, Caplis and Silverman landed the first live radio interview with CU professor Ward Churchill since news broke about an essay in which Churchill likened 9/11 victims to "little Eichmanns." The two can't be credited with bringing these remarks to the attention of publications such as the New York Times. But it's likely that their brutal tag-teaming of Churchill helped inspire CU regents to schedule a February 3 meeting to deal with the flap, and perhaps even hastened the prof's resignation as chairman of the university's ethnic-studies program.
Caplis trusts that he's in the right medium to make things happen. "Talk radio is a real privilege, because, to my mind, it's the best opportunity out there to try and affect public opinion," he says. "You can lay facts out there for people to consider and, hopefully, change the world in some small way."
Born in Chicago to a left-leaning cop and his homemaker wife, Caplis attended a seminary during his teens and seriously considered joining the priesthood before enrolling at CU. There he was bitten by the political bug, rising to the office of student-body president during the late '70s -- but when he ran for the state Senate as a Democrat a few years later, "I got killed for my pro-life stand." The experience convinced him that a career as a lawyer was a better fit for him, but he also had an interest in the media, and in 1989, when Channel 4 asked him to serve as a part-time legal commentator, he eagerly signed up. The opportunity not only brought him into contact with then-anchor Aimee Sporer, whom he subsequently married, but it led to further assignments on KOA and the former KTLK, which now broadcasts Air America. During the latter signal's coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial, Caplis first worked with Silverman, then a deputy district attorney. "I've always been a big fan of Dan Caplis," Silverman says. Their compatibility was a major incentive for him to accept KHOW's offer to join Caplis on a regular basis, as was a generous salary offer and enough flexibility that he, like his cohort, can keep his private law practice going.
Both men say they try to split airtime evenly, but as a practical matter, Caplis is the more equal of the two. Kris Olinger, director of AM programming for Clear Channel-Denver, says Caplis was put in charge of "driving" the show -- managing the clock, determining when a call is over -- because of his longer radio experience, and that makes his role more dominant. Furthermore, Silverman, a self-proclaimed moderate, likes to let Caplis offer his take on a subject before responding; as he puts it, "I prefer counter-punching." This system gives Caplis a chance to push his pet themes, particularly his opposition to abortion. Caplis acknowledges that even conservative media icons such as Rush Limbaugh sidestep the issue, seeing it as "an absolute turnoff, a ratings killer." The reason, Olinger believes, is because "the arguments don't change, so if you're not careful, you're doing the same show over and over."