San Diego On September 18 -- the last day of KOGO talk-show host Roger Hedgecock's annual vacation -- the station filled in for him by inviting Larry Lucchino, CEO and minority owner of the San Diego Padres, to guest host. Lucchino, his guests, and call-in listeners discussed subjects ranging from the Padres' playoff chances to the fireworks set off at the Padres' scoreboard when Chicago Cubs' slugger Sammy Sosa hit his record-tying 63rd home run of the season. But so much of the show centered around Proposition C on the November ballot -- the controversial proposal to allocate nearly $300 million of public money to build the Padres a baseball-only stadium downtown -- that one opponent of the project called the show "a two-and-a-half-hour infomercial for Proposition C."
The show was introduced by two tape-recorded lead-ins by Hedgecock himself, one of which called the guest host "my friend, Larry Lucchino." In the other, Hedgecock introduced the topics of the show as "baseball, playoffs, World Series and -- what about those plans for a new downtown ballpark?" The show coincided with a downtown rally, ostensibly to celebrate the Padres' winning the National League West championship but actually organized by the Committee of 2000, the official campaign organization supporting Proposition C.
Producer Jimmy Valentine said that Lucchino was given full control of his program, just like all the other guest hosts who filled in for Hedgecock on his vacation. "We gave the broadcast to each of our guest hosts to use as they saw fit," Valentine said. He also insisted that "the bulk of the show had nothing to do with C." But a tally based on a transcript of the broadcast indicated that 8 callers (including 3 of Lucchino's invited guests) unequivocally endorsed the stadium project, 2 others supported it but expressed concerns, 1 (the next-to-last caller) opposed it, and only 8 of the 19 total callers didn't discuss the stadium at all.
A variety of people were enlisted to support the stadium project on the air. "Every player on this team knows the importance of getting a new ballpark, what it means to keeping a competitive team on the field," said Padres center-fielder Steve Finley. ESPN sports commentator Peter Gammons credited new downtown ballparks with revitalizing Baltimore, Denver, and Cleveland. City councilmember Byron Wear appeared to announce an accounting study by Deloitte & Touche that, he claimed, "shows...we did make the right decision to move forward with this project."
Rank-and-file callers not only boosted the stadium proposal but also ridiculed its opponents. One caller, identified only as "Chris," joked that the stadium should be called the "Bruce Henderson Memorial Field" -- after the former city councilmember who filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block the project -- and said, "It could kind of be like our own version of the Meadowlands/Jimmy Hoffa. You just wouldn't know exactly where Henderson was, somewhere in the ballpark, you know?"
KOGO's news reporter Whitney Southwick also got into the promotional swing of things. Reporting live from the Committee of 2000's "pep rally" downtown, Southwick called the Proposition C campaign "the next battle, after winning -- what? First the playoffs, and then the Big One, huh?" And Lucchino himself, following up on Gammons's statement that he'd been impressed with the quality of the San Diego fans' response to Sammy Sosa during the Padres-Cubs games, said, "We have faith that, with the right kind of facility, this can be an exceptional baseball town.... And, of course, if I can do a shameless political plug here, so much of that future will depend on our ability to be successful on November 3 with Proposition C."
Lucchino's broadcast did include some criticisms of the stadium project, but two of the three callers who expressed doubts about it said they were going to vote for it anyway.
Only "Randy," the next-to-last caller, asked what stadium opponents consider the $64 million question: Why wealthy team owners (Padres' majority owner John Moores is reportedly worth $600 million personally) feel they need almost $300 million in public money for the project. "If it was such a great deal, why doesn't private money come into it?" Lucchino didn't answer him at all. (Actually, under the Memorandum of Understanding between the Padres and the city, the Padres are obliged to raise $115 million in private-sector contributions, 28 percent of the total budget, but are not required to make that entire investment themselves.)
Opponents of Proposition C called the Lucchino broadcast irresponsibly one-sided. "A number of people from our side called in, and they would put us on hold for about ten minutes and then hung up on us," said Chris Michaels, co-chair of Strike Three on Proposition C (S.T.O.P. C), the official campaign against the proposal. "Later on we called up Jimmy Valentine and asked if they would give us equal time for a show against Proposition C. He said, 'We don't do equal time.' "
"We don't," Valentine said when asked to confirm Michaels's story. "The equal-time provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court years ago. We provide balanced coverage, but equal time doesn't apply." As evidence that KOGO was providing "balanced coverage" on the issue, Valentine cited an on-air debate on Hedgecock's program August 24 and said Hedgecock's last show before election day, November 2, will be given over completely to another debate on Proposition C.
Valentine also claimed that Hedgecock hasn't made up his own mind how he's going to vote on Proposition C -- even though some of Hedgecock's on-air comments before his vacation mirrored the pro-C literature, notably the claim that the stadium will be funded completely by hotel taxes and redevelopment tax increments and won't involve new taxes on San Diego residents. "He's still not convinced, and he's concerned about some aspects of the financing."
San Diego isn't the only city in which a radio station owned by KOGO's parent company, the Cincinnati-based Jacor Communications, is being accused of favoring a sports-team owner seeking a public subsidy for a new stadium. In Denver, Citizens Opposing the Stadium Tax (COST), the official campaign against a November 3 referendum to finance a new stadium for the Denver Broncos football team, complained to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that hosts on Jacor stations were being ordered to support the Broncos referendum because Jacor's Denver stations broadcast both Broncos and Rockies games. (In San Diego, Padres games are broadcast by KFMB, a non-Jacor station that is also a major competitor to KOGO in talk shows.)