Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Media Beat: Radio Layoffs Mount As Bean Counters Take Command, Plus: Post Office Closings & The NM Connection, And: Gary Johnson's Choice 

There's more slashing and burning in the local radio industry. Media insiders say the casualty toll now includes 11 full and part time workers at 50,000 watt 770 KKOB-AM, known as the state's "flagship" radio station but now in danger of becoming a shadow of its former self.

The station, home to national conservative talkers Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, was taken over by Cumulus Radio when it purchased Citadel Radio, former owner of KKOB, in a $2.5 billion deal. The bean counters immediately came in and began the layoffs that included Art Ortega the station's compliance officer who has a long history in local broadcasting. The axe also fell on all weekend news personnel. The station that bills itself as "news radio"will simply no longer cover news for a 48 hour consecutive stretch. That "flag" in "flagship" is really starting to list.

Talented talkers Bob Clark and Jim Villanucci are safe--for now. But they can't be napping over the future. Recently, high profile ABQ radio personality Tony Lynn was laid off from a Clear Channel owned station and the even higher profile TJ Trout--a morning fixture on 94 Rock for 25 years--was chased to the exits by the bean counters. Being well-paid is now a red flag in an industry where growth has stagnated and where cheap programming is glorified.

Some program directors argue that the sole point of their radio stations is to get ratings and make money. Of course, that's not the case. The broadcast stations are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the "public interest, convenience and necessity." But in this age of hyper-capitalism gone astray, interpretation of that phrase can be twisted like a pretzel.

In its heyday, ABQ radio had competing news departments, numerous billboards and TV ads promoting programming, prize giveaways that attracted huge audiences and a sense of community. All of that is long gone. Radio in the metro (and elsewhere) today is a stepchild medium. Listeners get half a cup, but the bookkeepers don't mind and it is they who own the day.


TV stations have also done their share of downsizing and are looking forward to the election season when they will take in millions that will pay their light bills for another year. That cash cow, reports Politico, has already started giving in the ABQ market:

The Democratic National Committee is putting an undisclosed sum behind a TV ad in six markets that attacks Mitt Romney as an inconsistent flip-flopper, escalating their attacks on a frontrunner they see as a vulnerable. The 30-second TV ad will run in Albuquerque, NM; Raleigh-Durham, NC; Columbus, OH; Pittsburgh, PA; Washington, DC; and Milwaukee, WI on a mix of broadcast and cable.


A longtime supporter and friend of former NM GOP Governor Gary Johnson checks in here with a warning for the presidential candidate: If you drop out of the Republican contest and go for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination--as you are considering--you will never get back in the GOP.

That may not bother Johnson whose pro-choice, pro gay rights and pro drug legalization stances are anathema in the conservative GOP, but his friend argues that the party could veer to the center in the years ahead if the far right takes the party over the cliff as some argue it is doing.

At 58, Johnson still has time on the political clock so he will want to weigh carefully his next move on the political chess board,

A reader reacting to our Monday blog noting the Martinez's administration change of tune when it comes to the movie industry points out that longtime ABQ GOP lawyer/lobbyist/activist Mickey Barnett is the registered lobbyist for Sony Corporation, a major movie player. Did Mickey, a former GOP national committeeman and a leader of the GOP faction that supported drug legalization, help soften Susana's heart when it comes to Hollywood? It would not be surprising. Wall-leaners say Barnett is at the top of the access list when it comes to lobbyists and the Guv's office. (Other readers opined that Susana may also have had a change of heart because the film industry polls well in the state).

Speaking of Mickey, an insider writes of his role as a Governor of the US Postal Service and the proposed closings of rural post offices in our state:

Barnett never seems to be mentioned in any of these discussions about the 54 proposed postal closures in New Mexico. Especially that there were some rumors that his appointment was related to his and Pat Rogers' desire to see post offices in democratic areas closed to erode their infrastructure and hopefully shrink their population.

Mickey Barnett seems to be hiding well during the postal closure debacle. People seem to forget that we have a New Mexican serving on the Postal Service Board-- selected by (former NM GOP US Senator) Pete Domenici and nominated by President Bush. This plumb appointment was very beneficial to Barnett, but it's not too beneficial to New Mexicans who stand by watching their post offices close while thinking they might have someone looking out for their interests on the Postal Service Board.

Here's the list of closures currently proposed.

In the past year, NM post offices have closed in the heavily Democratic northern Congressional District. They include Capulin, Coyote, Gladstone, Holman, St. Vrain and Valdez.

In 2006, Barnett was appointed as one of nine members of the Postal Service Board of Governors. He receives an annual salary of $30,000 and compensation of $300/day for not more than 42 days of meetings every year. On November 17th, 2011 Barnett became Vice Chairman of the Board. According to their website, The Board " . . . directs the exercise of the powers of the Postal Service, directs and controls its expenditures, reviews its practices, conducts long-range planning, and sets policies on all postal matters...

During Barnett's tenure, he has overseen the closing and proposed closing of many NM post offices, including the proposed closure of the Gallup post office—ironic, considering he testified to the importance of delivery on the Navajo nation during his confirmation:

From Barnett's testimony at the June 28, 2006 hearing before the US Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

"Universal service is critical. I live in a rural State. The mail has got to be delivered out on the Navajo Reservation and places that are very inaccessible. . . "

And let's not forget Barnett's role in the US Attorney scandal. During his background check for his nomination to the Postal Service Board, he inappropriately discussed the Aragon courthouse case with the FBI officer conducting the background check for his Postal Service Board nomination and shared the information with White House political advisor Karl Rove.

This is from the September 2008 Special Report into the US attorney scandal by the Office of the Inspector General:

Complaints to Karl Rove about Delays in the Courthouse Case

"In July 2006, another newspaper article identified former Democratic state senator Aragon as the target of the courthouse case investigation. On October 2, 2006, an article in the Albuquerque Tribune quoted a local FBI spokesman as stating the FBI had completed its investigation and had turned the case over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

That same day, Barnett sent a copy of the Albuquerque Tribune article by e-mail to Rove and Jennings at the White House, and to Rogers, with the message:


This article confirms what I mentioned Saturday. An FBI agent told me more than six months ago that their investigation was done and been turned over to the US Attorney a long time ago. He said agents were totally frustrated with some even trying to get out of New Mexico. I can put you or anyone you designate with lawyers knowledgeable about the US Atty office – including lawyers in the office – that will show how poorly it is being run.

This is part of the problem with appointing such a political animal to a coveted appointment. It's amazing from his testimony that he seems unabashed about being a lobbyist and simultaneously serving in a federal government position.

Besides Sony, Barnett's clients also include Virgin Galactic, the major player in the state-run Spaceport. We welcome any comments from Barnett.


If the conventional wisdom has it right and it's Heather Wilson for the Republicans and US Rep. Martin Heinrich for the Dems for the US Senate next year, Heinrich will fight for the many votes in the state's defense establishment. From a recent Los Alamos stop:

I am an engineer and I understand the labs and I’ve spent the last three years working on committees focused on enhancing and preserving our laboratories...

Los Alamos votes Republican in congressional races. Heinrich positioning himself as a protector of the state's nuclear labs might not draw cheers from liberals, but it could help him keep down Wilson's margin of victory there and in ABQ's NE Heights where Sandia Labs casts a large shadow.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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