As the Web Turns
For a talk-show host working at a station with ratings more anemic than one of Dracula's victims, KNUS's Jimmy Lakey has plenty of both defenders and detractors -- and the best place to catch up with the very different things they say about him is DenverRadio.net. The site, created five years ago by longtime broadcasting junkie Rob Hatch, not only provides the latest news about format changes, hirings and firings, and other radio-related info, but also features a "Comments and Rumors" section where radio fans and insiders congregate to bitch, moan and gossip in the least restrained, most outspoken manner conceivable. Thank you, First Amendment.
Since Lakey, 30, is a regular subject of such gab, it was only natural that hints, which began popping up last week, that he might be interested in buying the site generated incredibly disparate reactions. On August 6, a Greenwood Village resident who signed herself as "Whimpering Wendy," wrote, "Please tell me NO!! Tell me that Jimmy Lakey isn't taking over this Web site!!!! Please someone tell me that!... A conservative, a Christian, a Republican. How much more wrong could this guy be???" Then there was "Another Lakey Fan," who declared, "Some of you have used this site to lambaste Jimmy Lakey and make immature assertions about him personally and professionally. I hope to God that he is buying the site, as it will confirm that there is a just God getting revenge on idiots that pollute His planet. Sweet irony!"
We'll find out soon enough if said irony stays sweet -- because shortly after these items were posted, Lakey formally purchased DenverRadio.net, for what Hatch refers to as "an undisclosed sum." The deal puts Lakey in charge of a site that's become a favorite stop for Colorado's radio lovers and radio employees; Hatch says some months it generates 200,000 hits. But it also makes him responsible if anything bad happens to what's become something of a local institution. A Web surfer named George sounded a cautionary note in his DenverRadio.net post: "I hope that this passing of the torch doesn't kill all of the hard work Rob has done over the past few years."
Well put. Hatch first fell in love with radio at age sixteen, when an intern gig at a Colorado Springs Top-40 station led to a regular on-air shift. Other jobs followed, with Hatch working behind the microphone and behind the scenes at a handful of signals in Colorado Springs, Denver and, briefly, Los Angeles. But by 1996, when he started DenverRadio.net, he was no longer on a station payroll, which allowed him to report with welcome objectivity. Better yet, he demonstrated a fan's enthusiasm for his subject. "When I started, there was hardly anyone doing any reporting about radio," Hatch says. "It was mainly Dusty Saunders and Joanne Ostrow in the major papers, and they were missing a lot of the things that were going on. And since I still had a lot of contacts, I could keep up with the changes and hear about them before they were in the papers."
DenverRadio.net steadily got bigger and better, providing access to ratings for outlets across the state and a variety of polls about stations and personalities. But beginning earlier this year, signs that Hatch's site was losing momentum were leaking into its content. First of all, the rate at which news updates were posted slowed considerably. Then Hatch put up a note revealing that, because of an unspecified financial crisis, he was seeking donations to keep DenverRadio.net aloft -- a nakedly sincere plea that was largely ignored by his naturally cynical fan base. (During the first month or so, Hatch collected a grand total of $3; he eventually wound up with around $50.) Finally, a couple of weeks back, he sent out an e-mail to those on his address list stating that the site was for sale.
This announcement generated considerably more of a response than did Hatch's request for contributions. He thought he'd hear mainly from radio hobbyists looking for excuses to get more closely involved with the medium, but instead he was immediately contacted by several area radio personalities -- the most persistent being Lakey, whose alleged participation in the site is often debated by posters. For instance, Lakey zoomed to the top of a poll in which voters were asked to choose Denver's "Sexiest Radio Personality," prompting doubters to accuse him of fixing the election. For his part, Lakey swears he didn't even know about the poll until some of his listeners brought it to his attention -- but he was happy to talk about it on the air.
"My viewpoints are politically conservative," Lakey says, in a considerable understatement. "But on the show, my philosophy is sacred cows make good hamburger. I like to have fun." As evidence of this assertion, he brings up his most successful stunt to date. On April Fool's Day, 2000, he reported that Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore had chosen Mayor Wellington Webb as his running mate. The gag produced a brief flurry of activity among other local media organizations and, according to Lakey, permanently strained his relationship with Webb. "Since then, Webb's office won't even return our phone calls," Lakey boasts.
Among the most persistent fears voiced by DenverRadio.net addicts is the prospect that Lakey will infuse this well-balanced site with religious rantings and right-wing propaganda. Such concerns can't be dismissed as paranoia: Lakey is a former youth minister who speaks frequently about his non-denominational Christian views ("I'm full gospel, charismatic -- one of the crazy people," he says, laughing); he works for a station owned by Salem Communications, based in Camarillo, California, that specializes in Christian programming; and he's made veiled allusions of late about a run for Congress. But Lakey promises that he'll limit religious and political posts to his personal Web site, JimmyLakey.com (it currently spotlights a book by self-proclaimed black conservative Jesse Lee Peterson under the banner "Boycott the NAACP!"), and he pledges to protect the freewheeling quality of the "Comments and Rumors" page to as great a degree as he can. After pointing out that his Web master, Kathy Chavez, will be handling the day-to-day operation of the site, he says, "Even Rob pulled some things down from that page -- anything that sounded threatening or was way too grotesque. But otherwise, we don't have any intention to censor that board. I think it's a lot of fun, and I hope people take it with a grain of salt. Because I really am a nice guy."
Hatch, who plans to take some time off before deciding what to do next, seconds that emotion. "I'm pretty impressed with the guy," he says. "And from what he's told me, I think I'm leaving the site in really good hands."
This opinion isn't universally held, as Lakey acknowledges -- and those who dislike change won't be thrilled to hear that the new owner is keeping his options open regarding future alterations. Even so, Lakey insists that his goal isn't to undermine DenverRadio.net, but to make it better. "I've had people say that I bought the site to get even with people, or silence them," he allows. "But when I hear that, I just laugh. I say, criticize me all you want. Just spell my name right when you put it in an Arbitron [ratings] diary."
Getting your fill: Among the most frequently asked questions when Colorado journalists get together is: Why does Denver Post columnist Chuck Green still have a job? After all, even when his columns are free of glaring errors (an affliction from which he's not exactly immune), they're often completely incomprehensible. Witness his August 3 effort, a crazy bit of babble supposedly written by his clone.
So why's he so bulletproof? Does he have videotape of Post owner Dean Singleton killing somebody, or what? As it turns out, Singleton professes to legitimately like Green's work, and says his column is among the most-read parts of the paper. But at a certain point, you'd think even Singleton wouldn't be able to shrug off Green's epic laziness, which garnered national attention with August 1's "Flowers Made Me Forget," in which Chuck took the entire piece to admit that his column hadn't appeared the previous Monday, because he forgot to write one.
This jaw-dropper got the attention of Jim Romenesko, the man behind the country's premier journalism-about-journalism Web site, Poynter.org/MediaNews, who used it as the jumping-off point for a discussion about what Green's peers do to fill space during "the slow season." Top columnists from around the country responded, some making jokes about the query: Dave Barry wrote, "During the slow season, I make things up. Of course, that's also what I do during the fast season." But most saw the sort of blatant filler in which Green trafficked throughout "Flowers" as an indication that the writer in question wasn't doing his job. Typical were the thoughts of Kevin Riordan, metro columnist for the Courier-Post in Cherry Hills, New Jersey: "I'd advise any columnist suffering from slow season-itis to get out of the newsroom and have a look around."
And your back yard doesn't count.
Blame it on the name: Predictably, Green recently defended, sort of, the Post's unfathomably stupid decision to refer to Invesco Field at Mile High, which opened its doors to the public last week, as "Mile High stadium" no matter the context -- straight news stories, sports updates, whatever. But credit him with being more honest than his bosses, who initially insisted in every available media venue that the move is primarily stylistic and doesn't have an editorial component -- claims of innocence that are about as believable as O.J. Simpson's. Sure, Green's August 10 submission, "Name Game Gets New Player," was childish in the extreme, with repeated references to "Infested Field." But despite the denials, childishness is what the policy is all about.
The facts are these: The Post was out front in supporting the Mile High name, as demonstrated by a February 3 editorial headlined "Mile High Forever." But in that same offering, the unnamed author stated, "We and many, many members of the community put up a good fight" to block the Invesco name, "but it's over. It's time to concede." In the months after that, Post scribes seemed to take their own advice, using the phrase "Invesco Field at Mile High" over a hundred times, including twice on August 7, the day the paper sent out a memo detailing its out-with-Invesco policy. This suggests strongly that the real reason behind the Post's stance was the recent spat with Invesco over a Woody Paige column in which he quoted an Invesco official referring to the stadium as "The Diaphragm." It helps, too, that Invesco isn't a big Post advertiser. If the facility had been named Foley's Red Apple Field at Mile High, would things have gone down the same way? Doubt it.
For the Rocky Mountain News, the Post's boneheadedness is like a gift from above. Prior to this announcement, the hottest topic at the dailies was the prospect that the Rocky would lose its newspaper exclusive on Saturday -- but such talk was pushed to the back of the shelf by the new stadium-name guidelines. The Rocky got things just right in its enjoyably snotty August 9 editorial, "Invesco Field, Despite All" ("We'll be calling it Invesco Field, for the simple reason that we report the news and Invesco Field happens to be the name of the place"), and even Vince Carroll, who's not exactly Mr. Comedy, got off some funny lines at the Post's expense. The Post, meanwhile, is being made a journalistic laughingstock from coast to coast; as Rocky columnist Gene Amole wrote on August 10, even CNN gave the ridiculous brouhaha coverage.
Some will argue that the Post deserves praise for being pugnacious, but that would be true only if execs at the paper were up front about their motives, instead of yelping, as editor Glenn Guzzo did in an August 12 column, that they're going with the Mile High name largely because that's the way most people will refer to it. (Does that mean the Oakland Raiders will henceforth be known as the Oakland Bastards? Just wondering.) In every other way, though, the Post's choice looks reactionary, foolish, provincial -- the sort of thing that explains why so many people elsewhere in these United States continue to view Denver as a cowtown.
Dean Singleton has said he wants the Post to be a great newspaper. Judging by this (and lots more), it's got one helluva long way to go.
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