Off Mike

In radio jargon, "brokered" programs are shows created by folks who purchase airtime on a station or stations in order to get their messages heard. Many of them are little different from TV infomercials -- they tout products or services related to wealth-generating schemes, wonder diets and the like -- while others offer puffy looks at local restauranting, niche sports, etc. But Mike Zinna did things differently with his signature rant, Colorado Exposed. For the better part of a year, Zinna spent his Saturday evenings at KHOW, fulminating with a sort of splenetic glee about alleged corruption and shenanigans in Jefferson County and elsewhere.

Then, suddenly, Exposed vanished, as did a couple of other brokered KHOW efforts from Zinna's production company: The Pro Bono Show, a legal forum, and The Italian Show, both of which were heard on Sundays. The normally loquacious Zinna won't dish about the details of his departure other than to say that the split was "amicable" -- the very word employed by KHOW program director Jerry Bell. But Zinna implies that there's more to the story than a good-natured parting. "When you stand up for what's right," he says, "you get used to stuff like this."

Zinna has certainly stirred his share of hostility. He waged a running battle against Jefferson County Commissioner Rick Sheehan, who eventually resigned his position after being linked to faxes attacking other county personnel that were sent anonymously to, yes, Zinna ("Outfaxed," August 5, 2004). He followed this victory with a lawsuit against numerous Jeffco government types past and present ("Dog Days," November 11, 2005), and also made assorted accusations against another Jeffco commissioner, Jim Congrove, that were explored by a grand jury. On June 23, Denver District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough announced that no charges would be filed against Congrove and that no more information would be presented to the panel regarding Zinna's claims. For his part, Zinna says he can't talk about "an ongoing investigation" -- and declines to elaborate about what he means by "ongoing."

Given Zinna's fondness for gamesmanship, it's no surprise that he continues to make enemies of the sort who launched a website attacking him a couple of months back. Some of the material on this page is factual, including a listing of Zinna's criminal record, which was explored in a 2004 Canyon Courier piece. Much of the rest consists of unsubstantiated accusations and innuendo, plus a link labeled "Westword Inquiry" that reproduces an e-mail from yours truly asking about the site, as well as a badly worded reply: "Does not Mr. Zinna's record stands on it on, as Exposed?"

Whatever that means.

As for Colorado Exposed, "There was a clause in the contract that said if it's in the station's best interest to discontinue any show, they have a right to exercise it with ten days' notice, and that's what they did," Zinna notes. Prior to that time, he says, he paid $500 an hour for his Saturday slot, selling advertising to defray the cost. (KHOW's rates vary depending on the day and time, and recently went up across the board.) For the first six months of the show, Zinna concedes, "I had to go into my own pocket" to cover this nut, "but I was pretty close to breaking even near the end. As the program became more popular and more accepted, the sponsors started to come out. People were afraid to touch it initially, but then they went, ŒOh, shit. That's a good show. They've got a lot of listeners. I want to jump in there.'"

Right now, Zinna isn't talking about where he'll leap next. He's more than willing, though, to blow an entire brass section in tribute to himself: "I've been doing this for a long time, and nobody has ever proven that anything I've said has been wrong," he declares. "It's up to me to be right all of the time -- not some of the time, but all of the time. And I guess when you're accurate all the time, it makes people nervous."

Truth be told, Zinna seems on edge these days, too -- but anxiety probably won't shut him up for long. After all, KHOW isn't the only station whose airwaves are for sale.

Less Troubleshooting: When last we checked in with consumer advocate and KHOW personality Tom Martino, he was on the defensive about Day & Night Mechanical, a business he endorsed via his and ReferralList. com websites until shortly before the airing of a recent Channel 4 investigation; reporter Brian Maass revealed that one Day & Night employee is a registered sex offender whose probation prohibits him from entering private homes, while its owner was convicted in 1996 of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust ("Exposed," June 1). But even as Martino was dealing with this controversy, bigger changes were brewing behind the scenes -- specifically, the end of his syndication agreement with Westwood One, arguably the country's most prominent packager of radio programs.

The dissolution of the six-year-old deal, which ended the airing of Martino's show on over 200 stations nationwide, would seem to mark a tremendous downturn in the Troubleshooter's fortunes. However, he portrays it as a personal choice. "I decided that I no longer want to do a syndicated show," he writes via e-mail. "I want to simplify my life a bit. That is also why I sold the phone company [Liberty Bell, a three-year-old enterprise purchased in February by New York-based eLEC Communications] and have liquidated much of my real estate. I am 52, and my life has changed dramatically over the last few years. I remarried and had a baby girl and have a boy on the way! I love being a father for the first time! Up to this point in my life, I thought I was unable to have children. In my previous life, I lived mostly outside the home, busying myself with business and expensive hobbies. My priorities have changed. I want to make a wonderful life for my new family and that will involve devoting more time to my loved ones. I am not retiring and will continue on radio and TV -- locally -- and in one other key market" he doesn't identify.

To put it mildly, this explanation leaves a tremendous number of questions unanswered. For example, did Martino ask Westwood One to let him out of his syndication contract, or was the shift initiated by Westwood One? (Peter Sessa, Westwood One's spokesman, will say only that his company "is no longer distributing Tom Martino, effective immediately.") There's also the issue of referral lists for businesses in Arizona, Oregon, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. If Martino will no longer be heard in most of these areas, his endorsement will presumably lose much, if not all, of its impact. So will he close down lists where he no longer broadcasts? And since Martino requires entrepreneurs to pay for the privilege of receiving his thumbs-up, will they be offered complete or partial refunds? Will the changes mean layoffs among Troubleshooter. com staffers, who are asked to look into the background of anyone who wants to be on the list? If so, does that mean Colorado businesses may not be checked as thoroughly as they once were, thereby allowing more operations like Day & Night Mechanical to slip through the system? On top of that, what's going to happen with magazine, a new direct-mail quarterly that Martino hoped to transform into a "Yellow Pages-type directoryŠbut published more frequently"?

Unfortunately, Martino won't go there. "These are private matters," he maintains in a second e-mail. "I simply want to make a wonderful life for myself and my children. I am sure you find this hard to believe and probably feel there is some evil lurking deep down under the surface. I truly wish you knew me better."

Area listeners may get the chance, since presumably Martino will be able to re-focus on local concerns instead of devoting much of his show to shooting troubles rooted far, far away. As for other details, well, those are private matters.

Leaving too soon: Veteran Rocky Mountain News reporter John Accola, a first-rate journalist who contributed to the paper's recent, and excellent, series "A Border Within," died on June 25. He'll be missed by readers and colleagues alike.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts