WBAL Radio, Sun mend rift, team up

Organizations to share resources

Rodricks to co-host talk show

April 03, 2006|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

After a series of meetings over the past three months, executives at The Sun and WBAL, Maryland's largest talk-radio station, have agreed to share news resources under a new working relationship.

The move mends a rift between the two media organizations that erupted last year over comments by talk-show hosts on the station's airwaves.

According to the agreement, veteran Sun columnist Dan Rodricks will regularly share host duties with WBAL's Chip Franklin, beginning in June; The Sun's business desk will provide material for a daily early-morning news show; WBAL will share audio feeds with The Sun's Web site; and, effective immediately, the paper's reporters can begin appearing on the station's broadcasts. The two organizations also hope to co-sponsor political debates during the fall campaign season.

"We've found a way to work together because local news is the franchise for both news organizations," said Timothy A. Franklin, The Sun's editor. "This deal is going to provide Baltimore with deeper and richer local content on WBAL, which our journalists can help provide, and it allows us to get more exposure for our journalism."

Jeff Beauchamp, vice president and station manager at WBAL, said the agreement would be beneficial for both entities.

"The Baltimore Sun is the paper of record in the state of Maryland," he said. "It has the resources, the connections, the wherewithal to bring the depth and breadth to a story that other news organizations can't. We respect that - The Sun has done some things that have been outstanding."

But eight months ago, The Sun pulled all but one of its reporters and columnists from appearances on WBAL. (Sports columnist Peter Schmuck was permitted to honor an agreement to host a regular Saturday sports show.)

The Sun's action was prompted by what its editor viewed as an excess of personal insults directed toward The Sun's staff, including Franklin himself, by WBAL hosts such as Ron Smith and Chip Franklin. It affected most immediately the columnist Gregory Kane, who at the time was appearing regularly on Smith's three-hour afternoon show.

The ban prompted negative e-mails and calls to the paper and much chatter from listeners of the talk shows. The noise soon died down, replaced by a silent standoff. Then, in December, came a thaw.

"We extended the olive branch," Beauchamp said, recalling a telephone call in December to the paper from Ed Kiernan, WBAL's general manager. "The rift had existed for a while. There were some comments that were made on our air that were personal that probably should not have been said."

Beauchamp said that when Chip Franklin heard that the two sides were talking, "Chip told me to express his regret" for a comment in which he had likened the newspaper's editor to dictators.

WBAL's Franklin, a conservative, part-time stand-up comic, has reveled in hammering The Sun. Rodricks has been a frequent target of the talk-show host's derision, so his decision to accept a co-host spot with Franklin is likely to raise some eyebrows.

"I decided to jump in with both feet and give this thing a try," said Rodricks, who had his own show on WBAL for six years starting in 1989. "To be honest, I can't say I'm a big fan of Chip Franklin's show, but I'm willing to work with him to try to produce some good radio."

Franklin had a field day with a June 9 column by Rodricks in which he asked drug dealers in Baltimore to contact Rodricks for help in finding jobs, and many did. On July 3, Rodricks invited drug dealers to "declare yourselves free" to "start a new life" by becoming chefs. The columnist was vilified on air for his suggestions.

Nevertheless, on Thursday, he sat down for lunch with Franklin - their first meeting - and Franklin's producer, Michael Wellbrock, at the station.

"I think we danced around the subject of what happened last year," Rodricks said. "I was all for moving on and focusing on what do we do now."

Still, Rodricks made clear that he would stick to his beliefs, regardless of what Franklin says or does.

"I think it'll have to be a sharing of his style and my style," he said. "I like radio that's planned, well-produced and features informed opinion. I don't like stream-of-consciousness, sputtering radio. Talk radio lacks the moderate, liberal, progressive voice, and that's what I represent."

For his part, WBAL's Smith said the resumption of relations between The Sun and the station "makes sense."

The paper has more than a million readers each Sunday and 1.2 million readers over the course of an average week, according to Timothy J. Thomas, The Sun's vice president for marketing. WBAL has about 320,000 listeners over the course of an average week, said Beauchamp. In addition, the radio station has agreed not to partner with The Examiner, a new, free tabloid paper set to debut on Wednesday.

"I'll see if I can't get Greg Kane back on," Smith said.

Both Smith's and Franklin's shows will run longer as of June 1, a result of the cancellation of Rush Limbaugh's daily show, which will no longer be heard on WBAL after May 31. The increase in on-air hours gives the station time to feature co-host Rodricks.

Steve Sullivan, the paper's multi-media editor, who was intimately involved in the talks between the newspaper and the station, described the new bond as a partnership.

"We never slammed the door and said, `we're never going to speak to you again,' but we both realized that it was going to take a little bit of time to work things through," he said.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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