When this newspaper's editorial board endorsed Democrat Bill Clinton over incumbent Republican President George Bush in 1992, many of our readers felt hurt and even betrayed:
If they wanted liberal opinions, they reminded us, they'd have bought the Journal Gazette.
A similar but potentially nastier estrangement seems to be brewing between longtime radio giant WOWO and listeners who perceive a retreat from the reliably conservative talk shows that have dominated the station's airwaves for the past several years. Irritated by a recent programming change and outraged by a series of vile Internet posts against a pro-life leader attributed to WOWO by a local blogger, some are asking whether the station has abandoned its faithful listeners in search of new ones.
To which the man at the center of the controversy firmly answers: No. And yes.
“I do agree with right to life, but I'm not evangelical about it. That's old-school talk radio. I'm more moderate than Pat (Miller), who wasn't comfortable doing the kind of show I wanted,” said Director of Programming Operations Gregg Henson, whose assumption of Miller's afternoon talk-show duties last month apparently sparked several intensely personal but anonymous Facebook attacks against Allen County Right to Life Executive Director Cathie Humbarger.
Humbarger knows being vilified by opponents comes with the job, just as Henson knows any change in on-air personality will please some listeners and anger others. And so that might have been the end of it if not for a post late last month on the “Angry White Boy” blog in which host Dan Turkette suggested Henson had been the source of the Facebook entries erroneously accusing Humbarger of behavior not exactly consistent with her public image.
Just one problem: Henson insists he wasn't the author – and, so far as he knows, neither was any other employee of Federated Media, WOWO's parent company.
“I don't know Cathie, but I'm sure she wants Pat back and has been kind of nasty to me, but she's welcome to come on the show,” said Henson, who became programming director a year ago and said changes in the radio business, listener tastes and economic reality all contributed to the decision to move Miller's show to a weekend slot.
Although WOWO's syndicated talk-show lineup anchored by Rush Limbaugh remains solidly conservative, Henson said Miller's appeal to what he called a “niche” audience limited his audience and, hence, advertising revenue. Although Miller's show rated No.1 in its time slot, his ratings were lower than his predecessor's, Henson said.
Miller, an evangelical Christian who devoted much of his show to conservative social and political causes, had been given the coveted afternoon talk-show slot in 2011 after Pat White was fired after 14 years on the job. But Henson said it's important that WOWO attract a non-traditional audience to its local talk show, especially after its March decision to "simulcast" WOWO's traditional AM signal on a sister FM station.
Steve Jones, president and CEO of Allen County Right to Life, said he doesn't begrudge WOWO the right to change its programming and often listens to liberal-minded shows. But if Henson or some other WOWO staffer wrote those inflammatory posts about Humbarger, he said, it would “be like telling a dirty joke in church.”
That could force his organization to contact WOWO's advertisers, he added. And with its 12,000-member mailing list, Allen County Right to Life is a potentially influential friend – or foe.
“I've long been a WOWO listener and appreciated its integrity and concern for residents of the community,” said Humbarger, who on May 29 e-mailed several Federated Media executives to express her “extreme disappointment” over the posts attributed to Henson. The only reply, she said, came from Clint Marsh in Federated Media's Warsaw office: “Please stop e-mailing me, I don't know who you are or what your issue is, but you are wasting your time and mine.”
To which Humbarger sensibly responds: “Don't you think they would try to determine what was going on?”
Henson, who said he never received Humbarger's e-mail, isn't sure he's obligated to reach out to her but did just that in an e-mail Friday afternoon. It was an appropriate and classy gesture, because WOWO has long personified Fort Wayne in a way other stations have not – a city that can seem stodgy and old-fashioned but is also generally considerate, honorable and, yes, conservative.
Even if this dispute is based mostly on a misunderstanding, it is in both sides' best interest to end it as quickly and amiably as possible. You can't build the future by abandoning the foundation of the past.