The radio voice that led the fight against high taxes in Utah is now roiling the airwaves in opposition to Salt Lake City's 1998 U.S. Winter Olympic bid, and some say he's picking a fight to boost ratings.
Radio talk-show host Mills Crenshaw is emerging as a leading opponent to the bid, telling listeners on his weekday afternoon show that officials are making a "sucker's gamble" for the games with citizens' tax dollars.Some Olympic backers say Crenshaw is agitating listeners, many of whom rallied behind the radio personality to vote for three failed anti-tax initiatives, to boost ratings at KTKK Radio.
"Their last cause is gone, and now they need another," said Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce President Fred Ball. Ball is also on the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee's executive board.
One media expert contacted by the Deseret News agrees that KTKK is using the Olympics as a whipping boy to maintain ratings developed when the station was the leading mouthpiece for the tax initiative fight.
"I think they attracted an audience with their tax protest, and I think jumping on another issue will help them build on what they've gained," said University of Utah associate professor Roy Gibson, a radio specialist.
Crenshaw scoffs at the claims, saying the charges originate with Olympic backers who are "scared to death by our shining a spotlight on what's going on."
"We don't need bandwagons. We don't need issues. Every day the elected officials hand us a plate-full of issues," he said, adding that KTKK radio ranks second on the AM dial in ratings.
Arbitron Ratings Co., a well-known rating firm, rates KTKK third on the AM dial with 1.8 percent of the listening market, based on the most recent survey.
KTKK Station Manager Starley Bush also denied the charges, but said controversy associated with Crenshaw's anti-Olympic rhetoric captures listeners attention _ something advertisers find valuable.
"It's certainly easier to sell a product to people who are paying attention," he said.
Gibson doubted, however, such a strategy made good business sense, saying "Geraldo Rivera-style" radio could drive away advertisers, especially those supporting Salt Lake City's Olympic bid.
Bush is unconcerned that any controversy associated with Crenshaw's anti-Olympic rhetoric affects advertising. "I think advertising is totally separate from the issues we address," he said.
Ball finds the radio an inappropriate forum for inciting controversy associated with the Olympic bid, which city officials must assemble to submit to the U.S. Olympic Committee in June, 1989.
"I'm not so sure it's an appropriate vehicle," Ball said, crying foul over the significant number of hours of Olympic opposition aired versus the "infinitesimal" time spent on support for the Olympics.
Appropriate or not, KTKK is a formidable force in the race for public support for the Olympic bid, Ball said. "I think they have the listening audience and they're mostly zealots."
In the last year, Bush estimates, the station's audience has grown some 25 percent, reflecting a growth trend since the station changed its format to talk-radio six years ago.