Yes, it’s true: my “Con Games with Michael Conniff” show is no longer on KNFO FM and that saddens me greatly. But it also true that the program will continue and will remain widely available, with links to Huffington Post, Aspen Post, Aspen Public Radio, FaceBook, Aspen’s GrassRoots TV, and other sites. We will also begin streaming audio and video of the program and make it available on national sites as well, not to mention putting together an iPhone/Pad app for the show. Finally, we are talking to local radio and television stations about further distribution. That could also be in the cards.
KNFO, of course, said not a word about my departure Thursday morning other than the news that there will be “exciting new changes” at KNFO. What’s the biggest change? A fourth hour of the interminable “Imus in the Morning” program where I used to be from 8-9 AM, an hour now miraculously devoid of original content—a compendium of laborious Imus interviews already heard moments before on the program.
So what happened to “Con Games” and yours truly? And why did NRC Broadcasting pull the plug on its only local show just one week short of the start of my seventh year on the air? Why would NRC toss out “Con Games,” the top-rated local radio program in Aspen and Vail—and the only local show on the entire station? Why would NRC allow the show to grow from one hour on Sunday morning (9 AM), to one hour on Monday afternoon (3-4 PM), to two hours in afternoon drive (3-5 PM), to its final destination in morning drive (8-10 AM)—and then say sayonara?
First a few salient facts, particularly the fact the NRC Broadcasting had not paid me a nickel to do the show since October 2009. One of the many problems with that position is I had attempted to buy the station when they said they could no longer pay me, and very nearly pulled it off until the deal fell apart at the last moment. That was in December 2009, and from that point forward I’m afraid to say that my show—always underappreciated and frequently unloved—became an out-and-out target of station management. They tried to move me out of morning drive, the best slot in the schedule, to afternoon drive; then they tried to move me out of morning drive to 1-3 PM, the worst place in daytime radio.
Why would you want to treat a popular show like that, one that literally made the station hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years? (Though they amazingly claim to this day they made no money.) Why would you want to treat your host (me) like that, a guy who always showed up ready to rumble and never missed a day to sickness in six years?
Who the hell knows, but I was not unwilling to compromise to stay on the air. In a moment of weakness I said I would move to 1-3 PM, and I also said I was willing to work for no pay from NRC—but… if they weren’t going to pay me and they were going to put me in the worst slot in the schedule, then I was not going to do so without a contract so they would at least stop jacking me around. As listeners to the show know, there’s a limit to the amount of abuse I will take.
This contract was promised by NRC for months but somehow never made it to my mailbox. The idea of working without pay in the worst time slot in the schedule and going without a contract started to seem like behavior that was beyond insulting to the point of depravity, either mine or theirs. Keep in mind that NRC has put almost nothing into my show over six years. Example? When was the last time you heard a “Con Games” promo on KNFO? I can tell you when: over five years ago. When was the last time you heard me on another one of their twelve stations? Answer: over five years ago.
I could go on and on about non-support but the issue came to a head when I moved my show to a remote location, buying my own equipment to do so. About two weeks ago station management committed to contributing to a solution in the form of a black box. Translation: for the first time in my six years on the air, they were going to spend a tiny bit of money to fix a fixable technical problem. A week later station management said they would do no such thing—why would they put any money into their top local show?—and proceeded to berate me for the technical problem that had committed to eradicate a week before.
You get the picture: dysfunction at the junction. I refused to return to the studio because of the problem they refused to fix, and they took “Con Games” off the air Thursday morning in favor of the scintillating fourth hour of “Imus” that many of you will get to hear twice in the same day. Lucky you!
Unlike Imus and Howard Stern, I never once had a bad word to say about NRC on the air, despite their unfounded fear that I would do so in the end. I worked with many great people there including Sam Scholl, David Bach, Rochelle Obechina, Sara Gutmann, Jake Keubler, Josh Michaels, Mike Connolly, Jill Merriam, Jamie Lynn Miller, Jodie Jacobsen, and especially Bill Haden. “Con Games,” first suggested by Sam, bless him, turned out to be the luckiest break I ever got in my career and will continue to be the straw that stirs the drink in my professional life.
There is one thing that I’m particularly sad about. For two hours a day, people on the Western Slope of Colorado, “the best audience in talk radio,” got to hear and be heard. Nonprofits by the dozen had an open door and an open mike. Local businesses and charities had their say, and so did marginal and mainstream voices from every angle of the political spectrum. It’s tragic, actually, that a station owned by conservative billionaire Phillip Anschutz—a station that, trust me, coins money—never saw the value of their only local show. Keep in mind all such stations operate with a license that is really a public trust.
NRC actually does not own the station: you and I do.
As for me, I was thrilled to read this from Alan Levey on Facebook when he heard the news: “Wow, that really pisses me off. While I only agree with about half of what you say, you are the only forum that I have heard on radio that is open to a full discussion of the topic that you are covering. I hope that you can use this as an opportunity to move up to a larger audience, maybe on a national level. I look forward to your blog and I hope to hear you on a local feed, or maybe a webcast. Keep us informed above and beyond Aspen Post.”
I could go on (and on) but I think it’s time to sign off. I’m Michael Conniff, the host of “Con Games,” and I’ll be right back after this break.
PS Keep those cards and letters coming in to Steve Wodlinger, CEO of NRC Broadcasting (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call him at 970-331-6565.
Feel free to ask him why NRC deserves to keep its FCC license. And tell him the Con Man sent you.