The Message

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."

To avoid this drawback, Caplis tries to link pro-life discussions to items in the news -- and he senses a pent-up desire on the part of listeners to talk about abortion. After a program dealing with a Boulder Catholic church that's been holding services for aborted fetal remains, he says, "I received five times more e-mail than I have for any topic, ever." Instead of labeling and name-calling, he adds, "We focus on the medical facts, and we don't do it in an accusatory way. This country has a history of very good people being very wrong on the big issues of the day; Thomas Jefferson had slaves. So it's not a process of inflicting guilt, but of finally getting it right."

Olinger feels KHOW has done likewise with the Caplis-Silverman pairing; she's pleased by the performance so far. Caplis is optimistic, too, but he's not taking anything for granted: "Craig and I are not going to stick around and do a mediocre show. It's just like when we try cases. If the jury out there, the listeners, decides we're mediocre, we're out of here." But he thinks the God-fearing citizenry likes what he has to offer. "Politicians and the media are recognizing that people are going to bring their faith to the public square," he says. "That is the new reality."

Lawsuit interruptus: On January 24, the wheels of justice finally got around to a suit filed in June 2002 against NT Media (which owns Westword) by Steve Jackson, who worked as a staff writer at this publication from 1993 until 2001. In the complaint, Jackson alleged that he was laid off shortly after 9/11 due to his age; he was 46. NT Media denied any wrongdoing.

Jackson's attorney, Robin Repass, argued her client's case for three days before U.S. District Court Judge Phillip Figa. Then, on January 26, NT Media's attorney, Bruce Anderson, offered a motion for a directed verdict, calling on Figa to rule that Jackson hadn't presented enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find in his favor. Figa granted the motion, bringing the hearing to a close without NT Media having to offer a defense.

In a statement, Westword editor Patricia Calhoun says, "We're very pleased that the judge recognized there was no evidence supporting Jackson's ridiculous claim of age discrimination. Westword and its parent company, NT Media, have not and will not discriminate on the basis of age, color, creed, gender or sexual orientation." In contrast, Repass expresses disappointment, noting that "we continue to believe in our client." For his part, Jackson, who is now editor of the Canyon Courier, declines to comment beyond confirming that he plans to appeal -- giving the wheels a chance to grind on.

Not hip (hop): In an apparent attempt to prove how with-it their paper is, Denver Post editors put an article about rappers scheduled to visit the city during the upcoming NBA All-Star weekend on its January 25 front page. Unfortunately, they immediately undermined their cred by identifying a photo of R&B star R. Kelly as retiring rhymer Jay-Z, whom Kelly is currently suing for $75 million.

For future reference: Jay-Z is going out with Beyoncé, while Kelly has been accused of urinating on jailbait. Even you guys should be able to tell the difference.

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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