Honor Among Broadcasters

Drug-cartel or kid-porn money–decent folk won’t touch it. But is any money dirtier than labor’s? Sixteen local radio stations just refused this filthy lucre even though they were asked to do nothing in return but air a prounion commercial.

In the broadcasters’ minds the message went beyond the pale. What NABET–the National Association of Broadcast Employees & Technicians–presumed to tell the public was this: Don’t watch Channel Five. To slime Bill Clinton or Jerry Reinsdorf is business as usual on Chicago radio. To slime a fellow medium is unthinkable.

NABET wants to increase the pressure on NBC, with which it’s now engaged in acrimonious contract negotiations. (NBC owns Channel Five.) So the union prepared some 60-second radio spots to play in Chicago and other cities.

Here’s one:

“How sorry would you feel for a company [General Electric] that made over five billion dollars last year? Especially now, when its subsidiary [NBC] wants to reward some of its workers with new positions. Temporary, part-time, we’ll-call-you-if-we-need-you positions. Positions that come without health or other benefits. Sound like an uncaring, cold offer? An offer you wouldn’t think came from, say, NBC? Well, that’s what NBC is currently offering. Send a powerful message to NBC. Tell them you don’t agree that increased corporate profits should come at the expense of their employees. Don’t forget, if it happens to them, it can happen to you. So the full-time technicians, writers, and other employees of Channel Five ask you to join them in watching some alternative programs. Tonight at ten, watch the news with John and Diann on Channel Seven. Or tomorrow morning, check out Bob and Marianne on Channel 32’s Fox Thing in the Morning. You want Channel Five to get the picture? Change yours. Please–just don’t watch Channel Five. Paid for by NABET/CWA [Communications Workers of America].”

Your reaction to the above might well be, Of course nobody would run that! If so, ask yourself why. Because it’s one-sided, negative advertising? Just now, an election season, you’re hearing nothing but. Because it asks the public to swear off the opposition? So does almost every other commercial on the airwaves. Because it’s what the industry likes to call “issue oriented”? One issue a millennium won’t kill anybody. This much is clear: labor was attacking a fraternal advertiser. (A CWA official tells us that before approaching local radio, NABET was turned away by such print media as TV Guide and the New York Times TV section.)

Local NABET officials tell us the Chicago radio stations that rejected the union spots were: WGN, WBBM AM, WLS AM and FM, WLUP and sister station WMVP AM, WNUA, WUSN, WTMX, WLIT, WCKG and sister station WYSY, WGCI, WJMK, and WMAQ.

The tale’s made livelier by NABET’s claims of NBC’s taste for vengeance. Mike Cunningham and Ray Taylor, veep and president of Chicago local 41, operate openly, but other operatives hide behind code names such as 007 and the Phantom. Cunningham told us most stations turned NABET down flat, but a few dawdled. Picking up the tale, 007 claims WCKG and WYSY said they’d take the spots, but at prices “five to eight times the normal street rate. They made it so outrageously expensive there was no way we could afford it.”

What about this? we asked Mike Disney, general manager of the two stations. Professing vague knowledge of what his sales manager might have been up to, Disney said, “I believe we were not really that interested. Obviously WMAQ is a good sponsor of ours.”

WLUP and WMVP showed brief interest. “That was a process of a new salesperson not knowing what to do,” explained general manager Larry Wert. “We just choose not to participate in their dispute by accepting issue-oriented advertising.”

Strangely enough, WMAQ, a station claiming the same address and call letters as Channel Five despite separate ownership, is where NABET briefly believed it had a deal. The union went so far as to Fed Ex a check from its sales rep in Philadelphia so the spots could start running immediately.

General manager Weezie Kramer applied the kibosh. “My basic feeling,” she told us, “is that we do a lot of partnering with Channel Five, and it wasn’t in the best spirit of that partnership. They use our studios. We have a great working relationship.”

Besides, she continued, “There’s a lot of ways they can get that message across. I think I’ve seen bus boards.”

Indeed she has. That’s where NABET finds itself today, at the back of the bus asking solidarity of fuming motorists stuck in rush-hour traffic.

Yet another futile initiative involved cable TV. Rejected by radio, NABET offered every advertising penny, $60,000, to the Chicago Cable Interconnect for local spots on cable networks such as CNN and ESPN. Cable reaches 1.4 million Chicago-area households. “That was my ace in the hole,” confided 007.

CCI sales manager Jim Mittal said no. “Their copy submitted to me stated that at ten o’clock tonight switch to WLS. It doesn’t make sense [for cable] to ask people to switch to WLS. That was one of my big problems.”

NABET’s fortunes finally turned after columnist Robert Feder noted the union’s frustrations in the Sun-Times. WVON called to say, heck, it would run a spot. “I think they’re number 25 in the market. They weren’t remotely being considered by us for a potential buy,” 007 admitted. “But for a couple of reasons we thought it would be a good idea to consider their offer. One, to be able to say we got it on the air. And two, we thought it would be good ammo to show other stations in town they wouldn’t blow away in the wind by running our spot.”

Virtual Baseball: The Results

Score one for the human brain. STATS, Inc. is the computer-intensive outfit that began providing the Sun-Times with virtual baseball once the players’ strike ended the season. Bruce Winge, whom we introduced in an earlier column, is the suburban bank official who was supposed to perform this vital service, only to be bounced at the last moment when the Sun-Times discovered he owns no computing tools save pen and paper.

So over the Labor Day weekend Winge indignantly predicted the balance of the ’94 season for Hot Type and sent us his results. Here’s how his gray matter stacked up against the Sun-Times’s silicon:

The six STATS division champions were the White Sox, 97-65; Yankees, 108-54; Seattle, 76-84; Cincinnati, 96-66 (two games ahead of Houston); Montreal 103-59; and Los Angeles, 82-80. The wild-card berths went to Atlanta, 97-65, and Cleveland, 94-68.

Winge’s picks were the White Sox, 97-65; Yankees, 106-56; Seattle, 76-86; Houston, 93-69 (one game ahead of Cincinnati); Montreal, 103-59; and Los Angeles, 84-78. Atlanta, 96-66, and Baltimore, 96-66, were wild cards.

Individual results were nearly as close. For example, Winge and STATS agreed that Matt Williams would hit 62 home runs and that Jimmy Key would win 23 games, Ken Hill 21, and Greg Maddux 20. STATS found Frank Thomas batting .335, hitting 53 homers (one behind Ken Griffey Jr.), and driving in 140 runs. Winge gave Thomas a .346 average, a league-leading 55 homers (one ahead of Griffey), and 146 RBIs.

What do these numbers mean? Nothing–aside from raising the question of just what hyperrational insights the Sun-Times was getting from its computer. Next to Winge, STATS was the more idiosyncratic: it projected Baltimore dropping out of play-off contention by losing its last seven games.

The New Red Menace

What killed health-care reform? Here’s part of it. The cold war had ended. The nation needed a new red menace.

“We all know socialism when we see it: The Berlin Wall. The Kremlin. Castro’s Cuba. Red China,” warned a Heritage Foundation newsletter this summer. “But what does it sound like? Try these: Standard Benefits Package. National Health Board. Regional Alliances. Managed Competition. Gatekeepers. Price Controls.”

Before the Clinton plan went under, our mail bristled with manifestos. The Heritage packet, which boiled down to an appeal for every penny we could send them plus what we’d set aside to buy the children shoes, carried words of terror from Republican senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma. Nickles warned of “hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats” (his emphasis) and of research that “will slow down to a crawl” for lack of money. He predicted that “promising developments in Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases will be cut off before you ever see any benefit.

“If these predictions scare you, they should,” said Nickles. For sure, senility is a creepier menace than some atheists on the far side of the world, although maybe not as scary as the ones we used to have next door.

“The President has the media at his disposal,” Nickles reasoned. “Almost all of the major news outlets and media stars are fans of big government. So they are giving the Clinton plan pretty much of a free ride.” That’s why the Heritage Foundation was asking for the wherewithal to reach the people directly.

We also heard from Dick Cheney, a former defense secretary writing for the American Conservative Union. “Personally,” he said, “I believe that if Congress passes the Clinton plan it could destroy the best health care system on earth and wreck our economy. It may well,” he continued dolefully, “put between 300,000 and a million people out of work.”

Fortunately, said Cheney, the ACU has been “on the front lines fighting the liberals’ latest grab for power,” exposing “President Clinton’s radical agenda,” and thwarting “some of what the Clinton Administration had in store for America.”

He asked us to send a check.

The choice back in the 50s was easy: Red or dead. With this Clinton scheme we’d all have wound up Red and dead, and we wouldn’t have had a job either.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.