(By Andy Bloom) When Rush Limbaugh died, you didn’t need psychic powers to know what was coming next. Within minutes of the announcement of Limbaugh’s passing, hateful and ruthless creatures slid from under the rocks.
They began to post the nastiest and vilest invectives they could on the 21st century’s bathroom walls, Twitter, and Facebook. It also didn’t take clairvoyance to reason that radio personalities would be among those taking mean-spirited shots at Rush. Therefore, it came as no shock when Friday morning’s Radio Ink ran a story about WAPL/Appleton, Wisconsin morning personality Len Nelson’s suspension for making vile comments about Limbaugh’s death on his personal social media pages.
Although WAPL is a Rock station, listeners quickly picked up on Nelson’s comments and reposted his words along with the station’s phone number. Management suspended Nelson immediately. Ironically, Nelson did something that Limbaugh rarely, if ever, did. Nelson apologized.
The Radio Ink story ended with management pondering Nelson’s future and the publication asking: “Should Len Nelson be fired?”
I don’t know Len Nelson, and before Friday’s story, I had never heard of him. My first impression is not favorable. I might call him one of the names Howard Eskin (WIP/Philadelphia) frequently labels callers he disagrees with; “dope, nitwit or moron.” Those might be the kindest words I could say about Nelson.
It’s disquieting to me that people in communications, whether “wacky” morning show DJs, controversial personalities doing Sports and Talk, or journalists, would ever want someone punished for making a regrettable comment or voicing an opinion, even an offensive one.
I am against punishing thought and censorship in almost every case, with limited exceptions (such as screaming fire in a crowded theater, illegal acts, etc.). Most people likely to read this column should be as well. Free thought and expression are at the root of what makes this a great country.
Consider: We ask personalities to entertain for 15, 20, to 25 hours per week. Then we ask them to produce enticing content for digital platforms and perhaps additional tasks. From time to time, something unfortunate gets said. It’s become too common and acceptable to use such statements to end a career.
I have a good deal of experience in such matters. In addition to overseeing WPHT-AM/Philadelphia, as Rush endured the Sandra Fluke controversy, I was part of the crew that helped introduce Howard Stern to Philadelphia in 1986. We performed encore presentations in Washington, D.C. (1988) and Los Angeles (1991). Long before the term “cancel culture” was popular, we understood what it was like to have many calling for the demise of a personality with whom they disliked and the advertiser resistance that came with the territory.
If I were Len’s boss, he’d get an earful for this incident and the lack of respect for a fellow broadcaster who reached the pinnacle of success and just succumbed to cancer. But I would not fire Len. I’ve never suspended or fired anybody over one statement.
While I can’t speak for Rush, I’ll venture a guess that nobody would be more emphatic than him about NOT firing a person for negative opinions about his show. Rush wanted to “beat opponents in the arena of ideas,” not by having them removed from public discourse.
What then, is the price for making offensive statements? The market is the best answer. If a personality regularly says things beyond the pale, the audience will leave, and the problem will take care of itself. If the show maintains a large audience, management should defend its right to take unpopular stances occasionally and focus on sales.
Allow Len Nelson to go back on the air and continue to say what he believes. Perhaps, he’ll have more common sense in the future? And if I may offer one more piece of advice directly to Len, “It’s time for a new publicity shot. This time leave the accordion at home.”
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He is regarded as one of the leading radio programmers in the country. Andy served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. For more information, his email is [email protected]