If Montini's spy is listening," John Dayl says as he opens one of his weekend radio programs, "he's going to be disappointed, because I probably won't say anything today that will result in a Montini column."
The KFYI-AM (910) talk-show host then launches into one of several topics, none of which, he says, will devolve into the kind of scandalous remarks that have brought denunciations of Dayl by public figures, satirizing by political cartoonists, and half a dozen scathing treatments by the Arizona Republic's columnist E.J. Montini.
Today, Dayl says, he's going to avoid all that.
But as he's always done during his three hours on the air, Dayl will eventually, and perhaps inevitably, migrate into controversial territory.
And just as inevitably, from his fastidious living room in north Phoenix, Montini's spy will take notes.
The man who has tormented Dayl so persistently for nearly a year sits at a glass table in his living room explaining what has motivated him to tape, monitor and study Dayl in detail since last July.
His name is David Winkler, and he doesn't want John Dayl censored or fired. He wants that clearly understood right from the start.
Winkler has on several occasions sent tapes of Dayl's utterances to Montini and others who have in turn made Dayl notorious, particularly for his comments last year that the federal workers who lost their lives in the Oklahoma City bombing weren't innocent victims since they were part of a "system that moves against you and I [sic]."
More recently, Dayl came under fire for dismissing the seriousness of an 18-hour gang rape of a 15-year-old girl which took place in Phoenix. "These are things I really can't get too excited about," Dayl said, "because it's just one or two of the things that boys will be boys."
In both cases, Dayl's comments reached larger audiences through the efforts of David Winkler.
But even though he's succeeded in getting Dayl into hot water--he's brought the talk-show host some negative press on a national level--Winkler continues to learn what he can about Dayl, gathering tidbits here and there to complete his already abundant dossier on Dayl's thought, life and history.
Meanwhile, Dayl seems intrigued by Winkler as well. "I was hoping that Dave Winkler, who listens to all of these programs and monitors them for this rinky-dink outfit apparently that he's got, I was kind of hoping that he would call in, but he hasn't made it yet," Dayl said last July.
Winkler still isn't calling. And he wouldn't bother to listen to the Dayl show, either, he says, if there were only an alternative.
Spreading out various papers on the glass table, Winkler shows that his "rinky-dink outfit"--he's president of Arizona Media Action, an organization with about a dozen activist-minded members--has a considerable history of monitoring the Valley's media outlets. He and his colleagues have been studying and writing about the area's newspapers and radio and television stations for several years.
His biggest complaint: that the Valley's media commentary is almost completely dominated by conservative voices. It's a domination, Winkler claims, that results from the corporate interests who support stations and mainstream newspapers through their advertising and from the political interests of media owners, who tend to be conservative.
The dearth of liberal voices on radio and in the editorial pages of newspapers such as the Republic, Winkler explains, cannot be rationalized as simply a consequence of Arizona's listening and reading public.
That's the same public, he notes, that voted for Bill Clinton in November.
If the voting public is diverse, however, Valley radio talk is not. For the most part, listeners can choose between right and further right--and, in Dayl's case, the peculiar.
From his collection, Winkler hands over a dozen tapes which he says will show that Dayl consistently makes extremist and irresponsible statements, many of them racist, on a weekly basis.
Dayl, defending himself on the air, counters that his words have often been taken out of context.
A careful listening to the tapes reveals that, to some extent, both claims have merit.
To date, there seems to be little indication that Winkler's efforts have had much effect on KFYI. Station owner Fred Weber strongly defended Dayl last year, citing free speech, in the face of outrage over Dayl's comments about the Oklahoma City bombing victims. After the "boys will be boys" comment and its ensuing uproar, however, Dayl was given a less favorable Sunday time slot. Winkler wonders if the time change was a direct result of complaints about Dayl.
KFYI won't say. Repeated attempts to discuss Dayl's show and KFYI's conservative lineup with the station's management were turned away.
Weber declined to speak with New Times, program director Ed Walsh denied a New Times request to observe a Dayl show, and Dayl himself says he was instructed not to grant an interview (last week, Dayl relented when he was encountered at a public appearance).
Others, such as nationally syndicated talk-show host and former KFYI employee Tom Leykis, are more willing to describe the evolution of Weber's station into an all-conservative format.
Some of them agree with Winkler's assessments. Others don't. But everyone, including Dayl, agrees that there's little opportunity for Arizonans to hear political left commentary on the air.
Until that happens, Winkler says, he'll continue to be a nuisance to John Dayl.
Last August, the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania issued the findings of a detailed analysis of political talk radio. Among the study's conclusions: that the mainstream media had exaggerated the conservative nature of political talk radio and its influence.
Scientific method, the report insisted, had found a remarkable diversity of opinion on the air, with a robust supply of hosts with conservative, moderate and liberal leanings.
In fact, of the 53 national talk-show hosts the Annenberg researchers studied, a total of 12 were found to be "liberal." Two can be heard in Phoenix.
Neither of them--NPR's Diane Rehm and KXAM's Bernie Ward--can be heard on the two most-listened-to talk stations, KTAR and KFYI. And except for Bill Strauss, who can be heard evenings on KTAR, none of the local hosts on the Valley's stations can be easily described as "liberal."
Day and night, however, the Valley's ample conservative population can choose from a plethora of right-leaning offerings, which begin at corporate-Republican Rush Limbaugh and go far into the right's most rarefied extremes.
Among the most repeated messages heard from those hosts: that conservative thought gets short shrift from the mainstream media. Perhaps partly as a direct result of that criticism (and partly to take advantage of what has turned out to be a lucrative media niche), networks, newspapers and public television have in recent years added conservative voices to prove that they're not biased.
The ironic result, says David Winkler: a censoring of views from the left.
He's come to that conclusion relatively recently, he says. It's only been in the past few years that liberal politics and studying media bias have really mattered to him.
Until that time, he had impeccable conservative credentials.
During the late Sixties, Winkler majored in economics at Washington University in Missouri. "I wanted to make a lot of money," he says with a laugh. After graduation in 1972, Winkler drew a low number in the draft lottery.
So he enlisted in the Army and was sent to West Germany. Afterward, he went to work in the insurance industry. Today, he's 46, he's a claims supervisor, he holds an MBA from Arizona State University, he's divorced, and he lives alone in a well-kept home with two cats and a large collection of books on the nation's media.
Until about seven years ago, Winkler says, he considered himself a liberal Republican with only a mild interest in politics.
"I was a George Bush fan. Bush was an economics major and former CIA leader. Ivy League. I thought that was cool," he says.
Then, in 1990, Winkler began a reading binge. Motivated by doubts he'd developed as a veteran during the Vietnam War era, Winkler took an interest in books about American wars and interventions. That led to a fascination with how the media helped sell the Vietnam War to the American public, and how it has acquiesced in other foreign interventions.
He devoured books on the subject and then dove into activism. He joined groups such as Arizona Media Action, volunteering for such activities as helping to bring the film The Panama Deception to Phoenix. He also began writing about the Valley's media for The Current, a local monthly.
One of his main concerns was the overwhelming right-ward slant of radio opinion.
"The radio spectrum theoretically belongs to the public," Winkler says. "It was always believed that commercial broadcasters serve the public in some way. . . . It was assumed that they would go beyond one-sided and erroneous information."
Winkler cites radio history, in particular the Fairness Doctrine, which from 1949 until its repeal in 1987 required radio stations to provide opposing viewpoints when running political commentaries.
"The Fairness Doctrine was supposed to prevent propaganda stations," Winkler says, adding that KFYI's all-conservative lineup is just the kind of monolithic programming the Fairness Doctrine was intended to prevent.
"Even with the Fairness Doctrine, [talk] radio was a right-wing medium," he says. "But there was a small modicum of balance." Since the doctrine's repeal, Winkler says, that modicum has disappeared.
In his column, Winkler kept track of the increasing conservative takeover of local radio and the parade of right-wing guests on local shows.
Then, on July 7, 1996, he discovered John Dayl.
Driving in his car that day, Winkler tuned in KFYI and heard Dayl make statements that seemed to condone the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Winkler could hardly believe what he was hearing.
The next time Dayl came on the air, Winkler rolled tape.
Feeling justified that his skepticism about claims made by government officials in the Viper Militia arrest had turned out to be prescient, Dayl announced that he was in a good mood. He had predicted that the government had overstated its case against the Vipers and its purported plans to blow up federal buildings.
"And, ohhhhh, the innocent victims," Dayl mocked. As far as he was concerned, the government workers, such as those who had died in the Oklahoma City bombing, weren't innocent victims. Dayl claimed that a state of war existed between the American government and the public, and like rear-guard troops in Vietnam, the employees in the Murrah building were working for the enemy.
A caller challenged Dayl. Did he really think the secretaries in the building who died were not innocent victims?
"Not in my opinion."
After taping the program, Winkler waited for a storm of protest to develop over Dayl's words. But none came. So, after several days, he copied his tape of the show and sent it to E.J. Montini.
Three columns, two cartoons and several letters and editorials later, Dayl's words had created a thunderclap of protest all the way to Oklahoma City.
It wasn't the first time Montini and Dayl had clashed.
Seven years earlier, only months after Dayl had arrived in Phoenix from a Cleveland radio station, Dayl had taken issue with a Montini column that had made use of several unnamed sources.
To protest Montini's use of anonymous informants, Dayl slandered him.
In a misguided use of sarcasm, Dayl invented a story that unnamed sources had told him Montini was involved in an affair with an underage newspaper delivery girl at the Republic.
Those comments left Dayl and Fred Weber's radio station wide open to a libel suit.
Montini asked for an apology and got it. To sue Fred Weber and his deep pockets, Montini wrote, might tempt another person, but he wanted to be rid of the entire episode.
Seven years later, Dayl was again the subject of Montini's columns, and it troubled him deeply.
For years, Dayl had been a radio host in Oklahoma City, and one of its most popular. But now he was being pilloried in his old hometown. In a letter to Montini, the governor of Oklahoma called Dayl an ass.
Dayl decided that he had better go to Oklahoma City himself, to explain that his words had been taken out of context, to explain that he was the victim of media bias, to quell the outrage against him in a place that had remembered him so fondly.
At least that's what he told his Phoenix audience just days before he left.
Listening, naturally, was a person who would see to it that Dayl's reception in Oklahoma City would be less than gracious.
At 6 foot 5 and 270 pounds, and with his white mustache and goatee, John Dayl looks like a stretched-out Burl Ives.
And like Ives, Dayl has a most remarkable quality to his voice. Penetrating and mellifluous, Dayl's baritone manages not to rasp despite Dayl's almost constant smoking.
He sits at a small table in the back of Romanelli's deli in northwest Phoenix, dragging on a cigarette. For days he'd promoted this public appearance on his show, but so far only a handful of fans has come by to shake John's hand and pick up tee shirts, coffee mugs and--joy of joys--free bags of breadcrumbs.
"I thought I'd see more of your fans here," says one loyal listener.
"Oh, they're trickling in and trickling out," Dayl answers.
It's a far cry from the kind of adulation he regularly receives on the air from adoring fans.
Dayl has worked in radio for 27 years. Before that, he says, he spent 14 years in the military. Based on shreds of information Winkler has gleaned from Dayl's shows, Dayl is around 60, and he's said that he has married three times, that he's estranged from his two sons, and that he holds a divinity degree.
In the seven years since he came to Phoenix and KFYI, Dayl has been fired twice, hired three times, but not without losing his full-time position in the process. Now he broadcasts on weekends, making $7.95 an hour, he's fond of saying. Former KFYI employees say he's probably not making that little, but they say he isn't making too much more.
For three hours each on Saturday and Sunday, Dayl combines an evangelical rhetorical style, a doomsaying pessimism and a bragging, good-ol'-boy swagger.
His biweekly homily has three recognizable themes: Christianity good. Government bad. Women inscrutable.
With little specificity or attention to daily events, Dayl takes his listeners around and around the same material repeatedly.
Yet despite Dayl's notoriety, the vast majority of what he says is hardly radical. Indeed, it's fairly standard fare by talk-radio standards: that the veterans of Desert Storm may be the victims of a cover-up of their exposure to chemical agents; that the federal government needlessly overregulates; that a godless education system is ruining children; that the IRS sucks.
Again and again, Dayl instructs his listeners to direct their anger over various (mostly garden-variety) grievances at lowly federal workers rather than featureless institutions.
Much of what Dayl says is simply repugnant, especially his swipes at women and minorities. He's said repeatedly that he is the "world's biggest chauvinist pig" and openly admits that he is a bigot.
Jann Renert and Shirley McKean say they have no problem believing him. The two were guests on the Dayl show the day after Christmas 1995. "I was asked to be on the show concerning censorship in the schools," Renert says. "But we didn't get to talk about that more than two minutes."
McKean says Dayl encouraged his listeners to roast the two of them and reacted angrily when they tried to talk back.
Then, during a commercial break, they say, Dayl turned to Renert, who is Jewish, and asked her, "So what's wrong with being anti-Semitic, anyway?"
"He said it in a way that would lead anyone to believe that he is anti-Semitic and proud of it," Renert says. But before she could respond, he went on-air and changed the subject.
"When I look back on it now, I realize that I handled it all so wrong." Renert says Dayl had her so off-balance, she didn't know what to say. Now she wishes she could have repeated his comment on the air and called him on it.
Dayl denies their charge. "I never said that. I never said anything like that. Why would I say that when I have Semitic blood in me? I have never said that, and this is not a 'Fuhrman' denial," he says.
Dayl is also, at times, fairly entertaining, especially when he's overly dramatic. That's when he seems to go into an ecstatic trance and can produce drawn-out paragraphs of relentless invective. Such as the time he recently discussed the prospect of sending U.S. troops to Zaire, his voice rising in a steady, stentorian rhythm until it came to a pounding finale:
"I don't care if those people die. I don't care if the Bosnians die. I don't care if the Haitians die. I don't care if any of these people die. . . . If you are so stupid, if you are so ignorant, if you are so power-hungry, if you are so whatever you are, and if you are so weak and so insipid and on and on and on that you can't deal with the problems that go on in your own government, then just go ahead and tear your country up, burn your neighborhood down, destroy your places of business and your infrastructure and your economic system and die as far as I'm concerned."
It's difficult to take such outbursts seriously. Or much else that happens on the John Dayl show.
One of Dayl's most characteristic traits is to lob a bomb and then head for cover; to denigrate blacks, for example, and then in the next sentence claim he doesn't have a racist bone in his body.
It's a tiresome effect.
Another pedestrian habit: his long, lurching conceits that can take a half-hour or longer to develop. One listener complained that he'd never heard anyone take so long to make such simple propositions. Dayl often takes so long to construct an analogy or build a metaphor that the original point of the exercise is lost in the mists of time.
And that has gotten him into trouble.
Examining his treatment of the recent gang rape--the latest gaffe for which Montini skewered him--it is possible to see that Dayl had attempted to set up a sarcastic premise.
Dayl had reviewed the Julio Valerio incident, the shooting of a teenage Latino suspect by Phoenix police officers after Valerio brandished a knife. Dayl had mocked, in a sarcastic voice, the community leaders and family members who had downplayed Valerio's faults in order to criticize police, who shot the youth more than 20 times.
Dayl's point--although he doesn't really state it--seems to be that some people dismiss the seriousness of crime committed by non-white offenders, blaming a general pattern of discrimination against non-whites for the offender's behavior.
It's a complex point which a host would only develop, one might expect, with an attempt at clarity and evidentiary depth.
Not John Dayl.
He stumbles on as he tries to remember a gang-rape incident which happened years ago in New York City's Central Park. By the time he's finished referring to it, it's nearly impossible to tell if he's still building his original conceit or whether he's off on a separate topic.
And that's when he dives into the recent Phoenix rape, saying that he couldn't "get too serious about this . . . she's only 15 years old, she'll outgrow this. . . . When you take a look at these ethnically--or whatever else--challenged young men and as young and youthful and wilding as they were. And the idea that most of them don't have a future anyway. . . . They didn't kill her, they didn't cut her up, as far as I know. . . . So as I say, these are things I really can't get too excited about. Because it's just one or two of the things that boys will be boys, and they will get out there and do that."
Is Dayl still maintaining the rather complex sarcasm that he had, with difficulty, sustained earlier? Or is the man who freely admits to being the "world's biggest chauvinist pig" now expressing his own views about the crime?
Dayl only clouds the issue when, responding to a caller who complains about his attitude, he cites a psychologist who had written that the victim's mind would have "shut down" after the first hour. In other words, Dayl seems to be saying, the crime really wasn't as grave as reported.
Only later, after the caller has hung up, does Dayl mention that she has failed to grasp his sarcasm.
He's been saying the same thing ever since.
"My point was that there would be a great wave of sympathy for the young rapists, and I was just anticipating it. Am I so subtle? Am I such a wordsmith?" he tried to explain to another caller.
People taking his words out of context, listeners misinterpreting his sarcasm: Dayl says these are constant hazards in his profession. Some people, he explains, make conclusions about his words and then can never be convinced that they've misinterpreted him.
"You can beat the living crap out of them, and they won't let go of that idea," he says as another of his fans arrives at his public appearance to pick up a bag of breadcrumbs.
When it's pointed out that his statements about the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing were far less equivocal--that Dayl stated plainly it was his own opinion such government workers were like enemies in a foreign war--Dayl appears uncharacteristically shy.
"That issue is dead as far as I am concerned. There's no point in dealing with it." He says that no matter how he answers that question, he'll just get himself in trouble all over again. "I'll just throw my hands up," he says as he literally raises his hands over his head.
He's asked if he's surprised that his words have taken on such a life of their own. "I'm reluctant to discuss that. I can't be as candid as I would like to be," he says, and indicates that he's on somewhat thin ice with the station's management.
He's vague about his purpose on the air and how seriously he should be taken, answering that he simply wants his listeners to think about what he's said.
One listener, however, seems to be thinking too much. It's clear that Dayl's silent monitor, David Winkler, has gotten under his skin. Especially since Dayl's experience in Oklahoma City.
"Why doesn't Winkler come to me? Why doesn't he call up and ask me to broaden my show himself? If Winkler's got a problem with me, he should come to me. Hell, I'll give him a shot on the air," Dayl says.
Winkler had made sure that when Dayl arrived in Oklahoma City last August to quell the controversy surrounding him, tapes of his Phoenix shows were already in the hands of Carol Arnold, the KTOK host who would interview Dayl.
She cordially welcomed him back to his old station, mentioning that not a week went by when a listener didn't ask what happened with old John Dayl, and then she played the first of two excerpts that Winkler had sent.
Dayl sounded caught off guard. After several digressions, he eventually told Arnold that the entire thing was a nonstory which had been misreported. But she answered that he had said these things and they offended her.
"You said these things," she said.
"I said those things," he responded, but then he claimed to be taken out of context, that his words had been spoken sarcastically.
That's when Arnold played the second excerpt. It contained the caller who asks Dayl if he really doesn't consider the people in the building innocent victims.
"I don't consider them to be innocent victims, no. They're part of the system," Dayl replies without the least hint of sarcasm. Then he compares government workers to enemy soldiers.
Arnold asked him if it made sense to compare federal employees to wartime foes.
Dayl said sure, but then backtracked. "I say things on the air I don't believe," he admitted.
"So this is all just shtick?" she asked.
"No, no," Dayl insisted, saying that it's not all one thing or another, and then he became completely confusing.
She said he was tap-dancing.
The next three callers she took said he was doing much worse. The last was Dr. Paul Heath, a bombing survivor.
"I want to say this to you very clear and very concise," says Heath. "You are neither informed about the significance of this terrorist event, or the effects in the lives of Oklahoma City and others in the United States. And I pity you for being so insensitive and ignorant."
Dayl dismissed Heath's statement as name calling.
Then, during the news break, saying that he had a phone call to make, he bolted.
"John Dayl reminds me of an old hooker. I hope I'm not 60 years old and have to hike up my skirt one more time to make a living," says Tom Leykis from his Los Angeles home. He says it's obvious to him that Dayl is merely lobbing bombs in an effort to get his full-time job back.
Leykis, a nationally syndicated talk-show host heard on about 225 stations across the country, says he's very familiar with Dayl's show, the statements that have caused controversy, and what it's like to work at KFYI.
In the late Eighties, Leykis was Fred Weber's program director.
"Back then Fred didn't know anything about radio programming, not that he knows more now," Leykis says.
In 1986, Leykis says he constructed a diverse lineup: Charlie Van Dyke in the morning. Conservative Stan Major late morning. A liberal feminist early afternoon. Left-leaning libertarian Leykis late afternoon. And a series of syndicated conservatives in the evening. It was a mix, Leykis says, that allowed the same news to be discussed several different ways. He says Weber made several changes, but generally approved of the diversity in Leykis' lineup.
"Back then Fred didn't know the difference between liberal and conservative. But then along came Rush Limbaugh, and Fred decided that the real money was in conservative hosts. Suddenly, it did become important who was conservative or liberal," Leykis says.
"Limbaugh comes, and he tells people that he's successful because he's conservative, and a number of general managers believed him. But it hasn't panned out." Leykis cites several conservative hosts who have become ratings bombs (Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Oliver North). "It turns out that Limbaugh was successful not because he was conservative, but because he's good on the radio."
Leykis says that station owners like Fred Weber, who stack their lineups with Limbaugh wanna-bes, haven't figured that out. So the reason there are almost no liberal voices on the air in Phoenix: "Because you only have two talk-radio stations. And at KFYI, Fred Weber has decided that he can only make money with conservatives. At KTAR, you have Bill Strauss, who's a liberal, but the rest don't really have strong opinions."
Leykis doesn't buy Winkler's assertion that pressure from conservative corporate forces prevents the success of liberal hosts: "I totally disagree. That's the opinion of someone who doesn't work in the business."
He points out that his show attracts national advertisers, including Domino's Pizza, a company with conservative ownership known for its contributions to conservative causes.
"Advertisers buy numbers. The only time they shy away is when you talk about your penis, like Howard Stern does," Leykis says.
In general, however, Leykis claims, advertisers ignore content.
That does seem true in Dayl's case. Despite Dayl's disparaging comments about blacks, Latinos and Native Americans, his advertisers include the Gila River Indian Casino.
Questions to the Gila River Indian Community about whether it was aware its advertising dollars supported Dayl were directed to marketing manager Sheila Marago.
Marago said that the casino places ads on Dayl's programs because the community wants his listeners "to hear the other side of the story." She didn't explain how enticing listeners to gamble at a casino offset Dayl's negative remarks about Native Americans.
Marago then said that she wouldn't talk "on the record" about how the casino chooses to advertise. When it was pointed out that the casino's ads financed Dayl rather than negated him, Marago said, "We finance KFYI, not John Dayl."
If advertisers are indifferent, however, Leykis does agree with Winkler about the conservative leanings of some media owners. Media owners, for example, such as Fred Weber, who purchased KFYI with money he made from beer-distribution contracts in Michigan. "Fred's right-wing himself. In Detroit his beer empire broke the Teamsters. In Detroit," he emphasizes.
Leykis says Weber's politics also affected hiring. He says that each spring, before Weber's stations were required to fill out Equal Employment Opportunity Commission forms on minority hiring, the company would recruit several blacks and Latinos for menial jobs. Those employees wouldn't last long.
"That sounds familiar to me," says radio and television personality known only as Snake, who currently works for KPNX-TV Channel 12, but for several years was the only black disc jockey on Weber's FM station, KKFR.
He points out the irony of Weber's strategies for his two stations. "On FM we appealed to a non-white audience, but on the AM I was concerned that the station said questionable things about blacks and Hispanics."
Although Leykis suggests that KFYI's all-conservative format reflects the politics of its owner, it's important to point out that Weber did bring Leykis back in syndication in 1994. Less than a year later, the show was pulled.
John Dayl says it's proof that liberal hosts just can't make it in Arizona.
Recently fired KTAR radio host Pat Murphy sides with Winkler, saying that Leykis and Dayl ignore the political pressures that can be exerted by corporate forces in the marketplace. Murphy--a Republican himself--blames pressure from conservative advertisers for his own dismissal at KTAR, where his commentaries had stung Governor J. Fife Symington III and Senator John McCain.
"When I was hired, I was told to make some noise and rattle the cages," Murphy says. "But then I saw the heavy hands of political pressure."
In response to his criticisms of Governor Symington and various conservative causes, advertisers complained and pulled their support of KTAR, Murphy claims. One advertiser only returned after general manager Mark McCoy began to screen Murphy's material before it was read on the air.
In one of those segments, Murphy planned to report that Senator McCain recruits candidates to run against officeholders he doesn't like, then gets them jobs when they fail. Murphy cited the example of Thelda Williams, who unsuccessfully ran against Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza and was subsequently given a job by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Although Murphy had already printed the material in his Mesa Tribune column, McCoy spiked it.
McCoy, who recently lost his job as KTAR's general manager, confirms that he required Murphy to submit his pieces for vetting, and says he killed the McCain piece because he couldn't personally confirm the material.
But Murphy says McCoy had a more compelling reason for keeping the piece off the air. He points out that McCain has become chairman of a congressional committee that oversees broadcasting, and KTAR's license was coming up for renewal. "I can imagine that a broadcaster waiting for licensing wouldn't want a Murphy pissing off McCain," Murphy says.
They especially wouldn't want to anger him now that McCain has proven to be such a friend to station owners. Recently, the senator sponsored a bill that would end the long-standing rule that prevents cross-ownership of newspapers and radio and television stations in a single market.
If McCain's bill becomes law, newspapers like the Arizona Republic and radio stations like KFYI could for the first time be owned by the same entity.
And, David Winkler says, what little diversity of opinion there is in the Valley's market could shrink even further.
"Station owners tend to be wealthy and conservative. We're seeing an increased medium monopolization which is accelerating in the last few years. Radio stations are being bought left and right, bought by wealthy corporations with conservative agendas."
Winkler claims that such pressures also exist where they aren't supposed to: in public radio.
"KJZZ leaves very much to be desired," Winkler says. "They're dependent on money from corporations, public funding and wealthy listeners. This limits them."
What Winkler says he'd like to see happen is the addition of more hosts on public and commercial radio like the recently axed Jim Hightower. A former Texas secretary of Agriculture, Hightower could be heard on about 150 stations of the ABC radio network.
"He's a populist, so he's always talking about corporate corruption and how it's destroying American democracy," Winkler says. "He was funny, too, and, as a populist, he was able to appeal to Limbaugh listeners, even though he criticized business so constantly.
"Hightower went after Disney in a big way. And then Disney bought ABC. ABC had syndicated the Hightower program, and six weeks later they dropped his show completely."
Some media experts, as well as Winkler, consider it a purposeful silencing of Hightower's anticorporate message. Others don't. But Winkler hopes that another station or network will give Hightower a chance to catch on.
Another former KFYI employee, Earl Baldwin, says that such political analyses of who's hired or fired are complicated by the simple question of what gets ratings.
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"There's an assumption that Pat Murphy was let go because he put the spotlight on McCain and Symington. But I think it also was because he didn't have a sense of humor. He was too serious," Baldwin says.
"The key word is 'commercial.' You have to get ratings right away, and revenue right away."
That's the constant hurdle for activists like Winkler who press for balance. He knows that his demands for equal time will always be countered with a simple capitalistic response: Hosts like Dayl make money.
"I realize that he's entertaining," Winkler says. "He's a buffoon, a clown. He's funny. He says outrageous things. But what I'm saying is, can't Fred Weber do any better than that?