Point of View: Position Papers

New York’s AM Talk Radio Stations Lag In Hiring Minority Talk Show Hosts
September 19, 2002

Diversity of radio talk show hosts is still lagging at New York?s AM radio stations with ?all-talk? or ?news talk? formats, reports the New York Civil Rights Coalition. The exception is WNYC AM 820.

?The employment of only whites in the plum on-air positions of talk show host is emphatically routine and so persistent to be alarming,? comments Michael Meyers, Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. ?Significantly, the persistent absence of minority radio talk show hosts is the case and the pattern despite the stations? hiring opportunities,? he added.

The findings are the result of the group?s Third Annual Survey on Minority Radio Talk Show Hosts, sent to the managers of New York?s AM radio stations with ?news talk? or ?all-talk? formats. It asks the managers to self-report on their employment of talk show hosts in an effort to ascertain the facts about complaints from listeners of an apparent absence of non-whites in these stations? line-up of talk show hosts. The group?s survey was sent, and responses received, over the summer, and its findings were released today.

The civil rights group singles out News Talk Radio 77 WABC for its harshest criticism:

?WABC is a highly successful talk station, with on-air personalities of various backgrounds, who are drawn from a nationwide talent pool,? notes Meyers. ?Yet, WABC Radio audaciously still hires and broadcasts only Caucasian talk show hosts in its seven-day-a-week, all-talk schedule. Even The Mickey Mouse Club is more diverse than the line-up of talk show hosts on Disney-owned WABC Radio,? Michael Meyers added. Moreover, it is our opinion that this pattern of no talk show host opportunities for racial minorities at WABC Radio is either ignored or denied by its top management. Indeed, their failure to hire a single non-white regular ?news talk? show host is masked with doubletalk or misleading representations about their on-air minority personalities.?

The group?s survey asked the radio station managers to report on their regular news/talk show hosts by race/ethnicity. WABC?s Program Director Phil Boyce responded, ?WABC has had no changes since our last report? in summer, 2001. Mr. Meyers disputed that response, in a pointed reply to Mr. Boyce: ?How can you report [that there?s been no changes]?,? asked Meyers in a follow-up letter to Boyce.

In his letter, Meyers noted that WABC did have changes in its line-up of talk show hosts since last year?s survey. According to WABC Radio?s own website, its hires as talk show hosts since the civil rights group?s last reporting period included John Batchelor and Paul Alexander of ?Batchelor and Alexander,? who were added to WABC Radio?s line-up of talk show hosts last summer. Also, attorney Mark Levin was hired, who hosts ?The Mark Levin? talk program on Sundays, from 12 Noon to 2 PM. Mark Simone, another recent hire, also has a weekend talk show, Saturdays, 1 to 4 PM on WABC. And, the self-described ?angry white man? Dr. Mike Savage, host of ?The Savage Nation? was added to WABC?s line-up.

Meyers also took exception to WABC?s having last year reported Babita Hariani as ?Co-host? of ?The John Gambling Show.? In his letter to Mr. Boyce, Meyers pointed out that last year, that show was titled, and it still is titled, The John Gambling Show. WABC?s website identifies Ms. Hariani, who is of Indian descent, as ?Morning News Reporter,? not as a talk show co-host. Meyers contends that Ms. Hariani has never been introduced on air as Co-host of The John Gambling Show. Other co-hosts, like Steve Malzberg and Richard Bey, are so identified as co-hosts. [Malzberg and Bey are co-hosts of ?The Buzz? show on WABC.]

WOR AM 710 Radio fares no better than WABC Radio. For the third consecutive year WOR reported that it employed zero racial minorities as talk show hosts. Neither WOR nor WABC offered any explanations or any plans to remedy this underemployment situation.

On the other hand, WNYC AM 820 Radio, which is listener and corporate-supported, reported gains in its broadcasting of minorities as talk show hosts. Last year, WNYC had just one minority talk show host on its broadcast schedule, Jo Ann Allen, an African-American. This year, in addition to Ms. Allen, WNYC AM reported several minority talk show hosts, including Tavis Smiley, an African-American, host of ?The Tavis Smiley Show?; Nguyen Qui Duc, a Vietnamese, host of ?Pacific Time?; Maria Hinojosa (Latina), host of ?Latino USA?; Steve Curwood, an African-American, host of ?Living on Earth?; and Elvis Mitchell, an African-American, host of ?The Treatment.? In contrast to the past two years, this time WNYC AM Radio responded to the civil rights group?s survey.

Michael Meyers summarized the civil rights group?s findings as follows:

?We acknowledge and are gratified by the progress WNYC AM 820 has reported with respect to improving the diversity of its line-up of talk show hosts. More opportunities as on-air talk show hosts are possible. But, we are enormously disappointed with the witting or unwitting lack of purpose, focus, and commitment to diverse hiring at both WABC 77 and WOR AM 710. These are two major New York area commercially-sponsored AM radio stations. Their chronic and persistent lack of attention to achieving racial diversity among their line-up of talk show hosts ought to be for them an embarrassment. The hiring authorities at these stations ought to be ashamed but they appear not to be. Neither do their corporate entities appear to be either aware of or particularly concerned about this underemployment as a problem.

?Why they have not done better in terms of more diverse employment of talk show hosts is not a mystery?it is a failure of leadership and of vision. So, we again urge these stations? managers to lay aside their feeble excuses and denials, and to cease and desist with their head-in-the-sand view of broadcast possibilities. We?ve entered the 21st century?a time for them to be both more responsible and fully accountable for their lack of affirmative action in this aspect of radio broadcasting.?

For more information, contact Michael Meyers at 212-563-5636 beeper, 917-474-0810 .

Op-Ed Articles