By Jeffrey Haveson
Talk Media Consultant
Newark, NJ — Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco are back at Trenton-based New Jersey 101.5 after a 10-day suspension, but what have we learned from this as an industry?
For those who don’t know or have forgotten, the suspension was meted out to Dennis and Judi after they repeatedly called New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewalon, who is a Sikh, “the guy with the turban” and “Turban Man,” and Dennis defended the name calling by saying “if that offends you, then don’t wear the turban (man) and I’ll remember your name.”
This is a perfect example of why talk radio stations, be they public or commercial, news talk, conservative talk, progressive talk, sports talk, financial talk, or other, need real producers.
By real producers, I don’t mean the glorified gofers and “yes people” that many stations call producers nor the overworked board ops who are also charged with screening calls and chasing down guests.
On the other hand, I also don’t mean someone who acts as the host’s supervisor. The program director should be the supervisor over both the host and the producer.
A real producer is a trusted partner to both the program director and host, who shares their vision for this particular program and the station in general, and supports the host in creating content that fits that vision. It is all about the vision. If the host and/or the producer don’t have the same vision for the program as the program director, one/or both of them need to be replaced.
Talk radio can be like a child’s play date. Real producers create the environment for the host(s) to play in. They provide the toys (information and audio clips), invite the playmates (both the guests and callers), insure that everybody plays nicely in an informative and entertaining way, and make sure that the host(s) don’t say something stupid that could undermine their reputation and the station’s brand.
What happened to Dennis and Judi is what can happen when a talk station does not have real producers participating in the preparation and execution of its shows.
Among the responsibilities of a real producer is to be a sounding board as to which topics, news stories, guests, and bits should be part of any day’s show. The host and the producer each pitch ideas and together make a consensus decision on the various elements.
Only if the host and producer agree that an element fits the vision, is it included on the program. If the host believes an element fits the vision, but the producer does not, the host can appeal to the program director.
However, because the host has to believe in every element of the program, if the producer believes an element fits the vision, but the host does not, the producer cannot appeal to the program director, and the element is not included on the program.
In many cases, what sounds to the audience like an off-the-cuff bit was well-planned in advance, after it was pitched and all angles were discussed. If a host pitches a bit and the producer believes it will cross an unacceptable line, the bit shouldn’t be done, unless the host appeals to the program director and they support the host.
Under this scenario Dennis and Judi would have needed either the producer or program director to agree with them before they could have done the “Turban Man” bit.
Since the “Turban Man” incident did happen, either Dennis and Judi did not discuss it with their producer, or they did and the producer or program director didn’t think it was a problem.
If the “Turban Man” bit was really off-the-cuff, spontaneous, and came to Dennis, while he and Judi were on the air, live, there are other safeguards that could have, if not prevented this event, stopped it from getting out of hand.
Judi could have challenged Dennis when he first said he would call the attorney general “the guy with the turban.”
But, she didn’t. In fact, she sang “Turban Man.”
Or she could have challenged him when he defended the name calling by saying, “if that offends you, then don’t wear the turban (man) and I’ll remember your name.”
But, she didn’t.
In fact, later on, she sat on the fence, when Dennis asked “…Turban Man, is that highly offensive?”
Her response was “To me, no. To people who wear turbans, could be.”
If you have two hosts, there should be two opinions, especially, when one is going into the deep end of the pool.
Disagreement doesn’t have to be just between Republicans and Democrats, or liberals and conservatives.
Judy has a very personal, non-political argument she could have given, that would have blunted the damage created by Dennis’ remarks. As a Jew – one who is very public about her Orthodox observance – Judi could have said, “My husband wears a kippah, and I would find it offensive if you referred to him as, ‘the guy with the kippah’ or ‘Kippah Man,’ and if you defended those remarks by saying ‘if that offends you, then don’t wear the kippah (man) and I’ll remember your name,’ I would really be offended.”
That would have stopped Dennis in his tracks, there would have not been the protests, because someone had spoken out against perceived bigotry and for freedom of religion, and Dennis and Judi would not have been suspended.
Since Judi didn’t try to stop the bit, the producer and/or program director could have stopped it, once it began. They could have had Dennis and Judi take an early break, and told them to switch the discussion into their arguments about the attorney general’s marijuana policy, so they could leave “Turban Man” behind. Then, they could have had Dennis and Judi apologize before the protests began.
However, there is no indication that the producer or program director did so. In fact, the announcement of Dennis and Judi’s suspension came at midnight (Wednesday night/Thursday morning) many hours after the program had ended, and after many hours of protest. Why did they wait so long?
This is not about trying to change Dennis and Judi’s opinions on any subject. It is not about trying to change their politics.
This is about stopping them from saying stupid things. It is about freedom of religion. It is about preventing bigotry from being expressed on the air, intentionally or unintentionally. It is about preventing a host from making the religious observances of someone with whom they disagree, a target of their wrath. It is about preventing the reputation of a radio talk show host and the brand of their radio station from being sullied by the host saying something stupid.
It would have been as equally offensive for Dennis to say… if that offends you, then don’t wear the habit, kippah, crucifix, or hijab, as it was for him to say “if that offends you, then don’t wear the turban (man) and I’ll remember your name.”
Talk radio stations, political, sports, or otherwise, in the divided climate we are currently in, need to use their producers and program directors, to stop hosts from thoughtlessly saying stupid things that can hurt constituent communities, and reflect badly on the host’s reputation, and the station’s brand.
Jeffrey Haveson is news/talk media programming consultant. He is a well-known radio veteran who served as executive producer for news/talk WWRL 1600 AM, New York for 11 years before it changed formats first to Mexican, and then Indian and South Asian programming. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.