As KTTH ("The Truth") shrivels-up into just another cut-out cookie of syndicated Limbaugh/Hannity/Beck jabber-wabber, KOMO's John Carlson (m-f, 9a-12p) for The Weekly Standard writes lovingly, if not a bit self-servingly about KVI, the pioneering conservative talker laid to rest in November by Fisher Communications.
As when he, an afternoon host, was also being paid as director of an (ultimately successful) Tim Eyman initiative campaign to ban affirmative action in the state. To the horror of the stodgy, yet greedy Fisher family, minority groups demonstrated outside the Tower Building, (where KVI lived in those days) chanting "K-K-KVI." Family members futzed, advertisers gave ultimata. Carlson quit in a blaze of media attention that drew KVI into sharp community focus - not in a good way.
John forgot to tell the story of Mike Siegel's firing after his vengeful "neglect" to reign in contributors and listeners who smeared Seattle Mayor Norm Rice with an apocryphal sex scandal. (Read our less reverent version here.)
Siegel's very public radio demise laid a big turd on the rest of his broadcast career; KVI's credibility and image never really recovered in the community at large, no matter how many times Make-A-Wish, Toys 4 Tots, the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, secular homeless shelters and support-the-troops efforts were, as John writes, "lavished with air time and fundraising support."
There were political and legal victories for Carlson, Kirby Wilbur et al over the years: A three strikes law; an anti-health care reform protest that embarrassed Hillary Clinton; the on-air organization that gathered 250,000 signatures in a record 33 days to get an anti-gas tax initiative on the ballot (John notes correctly that KVI won in the state Supreme Court that the organizing activity was not in-kind political contribution, but he conveniently fails to mention, that the measure lost at the polls).
KVI hosts (mostly John & Kirby) eked out those victories over the years. But as a tool for state Republicans and conservatives it was an exercise of diminishing political returns. What appeared at first so powerful and politically formidable was a lightning rod for the progressive majority in the state.
Before KVI came along, many Seattleites had been unexposed to the pissed-off rhetorical extravagances of the right. Instead of trying to win over King County liberals or independents, hosts divisively fell back on anti-Seattle memes that pissed off many of those who residing in this, the largest group of voters in the state.
Carlson doesn't mention his KVI sabbatical to run for governor in 2000. He won the primary to run against popular governor Gary Locke. Despite KVI's high radio ratings in the Seattle suburbs, his popular show, and fairly high Western Washington profile, he did poorly. Much of that was because of Seattle reaction to past excesses (real and perceived) of KVI.
While helping to spoil opportunities for moderate Republicans who might be electable in Washington, the KVI model nonetheless worked as a broadcast model for a good long time. Unfortunately, the white, male, exurban, Boomer demo started to dry up and die off... and there had been no development of a succeeding demo.
Carlson got KVI's End Times right:
The format’s popularity and a surplus of good talent brought competition, namely 770 KTTH. Popular host Michael Medved, who had replaced Siegel in the mid-90s, became the competitor’s centerpiece attraction. Then in 2003 they snared Limbaugh from KVI and began airing Glenn Beck in morning drive. The line-up of Beck-Limbaugh-Medved and David Boze, another former KVI talent, was formidable, and KVI’s numbers started sliding.
The first rule of talk radio is simple: The station with Rush is the leading conservative voice in that market. Period. KVI’s remaining local talent faded away. The station’s parent company, Fisher Broadcasting, moved me to our flagship station, ABC affiliate KOMO Newsradio. Kirby’s contract ran its course in 2009. Rumors of a format flip or station sale were rampant. To their credit, Fisher management tried one last time to make it fly, luring popular ironist Bryan Suits back from Los Angeles, and bringing me back in afternoons to augment my show on KOMO.
It was the radio equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, and it fell short. Management finally pulled the plug the Friday after the election.