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Static in Silver City: Liberal Talk Show Forced Off the Air By Local Advertisers at New Mexico Radio Station

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Radio Free Silver!–the sole hour of liberal programming amidst a slew of right-wing talk on KNFT in Silver City, New Mexico–was forced off the air when advertisers threatened to pull their spots from all of the station’s programming if the show continued to be aired. We speak with the host of the show as well as KFNT’s station manager. [includes rush transcript]

Back in May of this year, radio station KNFT in Silver City, New Mexico began airing a new local talk show called “Radio Free Silver!” The one-hour morning program was broadcast five days a week and hosted by Kyle Johnson–member of the Grant County Peace Coalition.

Radio Free Silver! was the sole hour of liberal programming amidst a slew of right-wing talk on KNFT’s air–including seven hours of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage.

But after just two months Radio Free Silver! was off the air. Why? Because 20 to 25 of the station’s advertisers threatened to pull their spots from all KNFT programming if Radio Free Silver! continued to be aired. KNFT’s owner and station manager was faced with $10,000 a month in lost advertising revenue and was forced to drop the show.

  • Kyle Johnson, former host of Radio Free Silver! He currently works as the communications director at the Interhemispheric Resource Center.
  • Matthew Runnels, station manager and owner of KNFT in Silver City, New Mexico.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Kyle Johnson, who is the former host of Radio Free Silver!, and Matthew Runnels, who is the station manager and owner of KNFT in Silver City. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

KYLE JOHNSON: Good morning. And welcome to New Mexico

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be with you here. Matthew Runnels, can you describe what happened when the trouble started? You’re the station manager.

MATTHEW RUNNELS: Good morning, Amy. I appreciate you having Kyle and I on. Good morning, Juan, to you also. Essentially, like you said, I made the decision, one day that Kyle had come in with another gentleman, and had spoken on another morning show that we had from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., and I should say these were on our AM Station. We have an AM and FM combination here. After Kyle had gotten off the air, I caught a bit of controversy of people calling, saying did you hear them, did you know what they’re talking about. I said no, but when Kyle walked out, I said you know what, Kyle, we evidently pushed a bunch of buttons there, so let’s you and I look into doing a one-hour show. Essentially he at first was going to do it on Saturdays for one hour, and I convinced him that we need to try to do it five days a week. Once we got into it, like you said, there was a lot of turmoil over the show. We were threatened with a boycott by the Grant County Beef Association, and it just escalated into that. You know, $10,000 in New York is not a lot of money on a radio station. In Smalltown New Mexico, it’s a tremendous amount. It’s a large percentage. We just, because of pure economics had to pull the show.

AMY GOODMAN: Kyle Johnson, what did you think at the time? Can you talk about the content of your program?

KYLE JOHNSON: Yeah, Radio Free Silver!, as I would describe it in a short phrase, is liberal alternative progressive viewpoints on the full range of issues. It wasn’t strictly political. The range of issues included environmental things, health issues, universal health care. There are a lot of local water issues in New Mexico. There were issues of domestic violence both from men’s and women’s viewpoints, other quality of life issues, dark skies, wolf reintroduction. The full gamut. During the two months we were on, I had approximately 40 guests. These were almost all local people. So, it wasn’t just my voice that was being silenced it, was the voices of these members of the community as well as the right of the public to hear and evaluate for themselves the full range of ideas in the marketplace of ideas.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Kyle, what did you do to get the Beef Association upset? Or what shows —

KYLE JOHNSON: I’m a vegetarian.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But aside from that did you have any guests specifically on the show that got —

KYLE JOHNSON: No. Actually, I live out in Gila, as I drive into Silver City, a half hour drive, which is populated heavily by folks who have cattle ranches. I see the big Pearce signs, not the ones that are two feet by three feet, but the ones that are six feet by eight feet. I think that the general tone of the show is one that they are very much opposed to. I think that Steven Pearce is — I would not be surprised, certainly, if he’s aware of this, but if he was even to some degree involved. So, I think it’s a national issue. I think that kind of assessment is exactly what they didn’t like. Because even though I would talk about a range of issues, I would always look at them with some sense that, okay it’s a local issue here. But it’s a national issue there. When you talk about universal health care, you can say, well, New Mexicans are not covered, but why is that? It’s because there’s opposition at the national level and it goes back to the beginning of the Clinton administration. It’s probably why they were jumping on him for the entire eight years, because they wanted to make sure that was a non-starter. I think that those kinds of positions and policies and objectives that go out over years and cover large areas are fundamentally what’s driving this.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthews Runnels, just a quick question to Matthew Runnels, the station manager, did the companies in town, the local businesses, approach you en mass, and did you say, I mean, you’ve got Rush Limbaugh, you’ve got Bill O’Reilly, you’ve got Michael Savage. Why not allow in another viewpoint?

MATTHEW RUNNELS: I was only approached by four or five. You have to remember I have five salesmen, and I was getting a lot of feedback from the salespeople on the streets. You know, so if you multiply the people that I personally spoke to by the five salespeople I have, that’s where you come up with 20, 25, 30 people. No, it was not en mass. It was on a single basis. I did discuss that with them. And since then, we have changed some programming. We have a gentleman now named Ed Schultz that is on. Bill O’Reilly is on. We changed him from his spot from 2:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon to 7:00 to 9:00 at night. We don’t run Michael Savage anymore. But yes, I did discuss that with them. Every time I listened to Kyle’s show, because I am so busy, and I don’t have time to sit and listen to the radio all the time — every time I tuned in, and I tuned in — well, I don’t know, four times, five times, they were talking about voter registration, people getting out and talking, you know, getting registered to vote and expressing their points of view and water issues, which are very important to everybody. And, so, I never did see the content of the show ever being that offensive. Also, you know, Kyle’s a very intelligence, articulate gentleman, and in a free society, if you don’t have debate, and you don’t have somebody talking about other issues and discussing it, then you essentially just have a censorship, it’s really quite sad what has transpired.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Matthew, have you ever been approached by advertisers complaining they would drop their advertising for Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly or Michael Savage?

MATTHEW RUNNELS: You know, we do. On a national basis and on a local basis, there are a lot of people that don’t want to be associated with any of that talk. Because, you know, they don’t want to look like they’re either on the right or on the left, or anywhere. They just don’t. In fact, it’s quite difficult to find anybody to do any of those shows, and at times we have looked at just dropping all of the talk shows, and going to a music format.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, in terms of the reaction to Kyle’s show, what was markedly different, then, about that?

MATTHEW RUNNELS: It was just pure out and out blackmail. It was so venomous. I was shocked by the venomous remarks that I was getting back from the salespeople and hearing myself, and I was pretty shocked and stunned and pretty disappointed more than anything, because I really thought that everybody was human enough that they would — even if they didn’t agree — because I don’t agree 100% with what I do. There’s many a day that I wake up and go, what was I thinking? It was the type of scenario that I thought they would respect each other as one human to another and allow it to keep going. It kept escalating to the point where it got to be economic blackmail.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Runnels and Kyle Johnson, we want to thank you for being with us from Silver City.

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