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Robert Feder

Talk show hosts aim for U.S. Senate

July 22, 2003


Believe it or not, Jerry Springer isn't the only Chicago broadcaster who's eyeing a seat in the U.S. Senate.

While the syndicated talk show ringmaster is hoping to capture the Democratic senatorial nomination in his former home state of Ohio, two local radio talk show hosts have their sights set on the soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat of Illinois Republican Peter Fitzgerald.

How Republican John Cox and Democrat Nancy Skinner attempted to use their respective radio shows this week to promote their candidacies is a study in contrasts.

Cox, 48, is a tax attorney and businessman who buys two hours of air time twice a week on west suburban WJJG-AM (1530). He calls his show, which airs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, "The Progressive Conservative."

In an audacious move, Cox invited every other candidate in the race--Republicans and Democrats alike--to take over 25-minute segments on his show while he's away this week. At last report, only three or four had accepted the offer of free and uncensored airtime, but the stunt did generate some positive publicity for Cox.

"I enjoy the opportunity to be on radio to discuss the issues as I see them," Cox said. "A campaign is about a discussion of the issues. This is my way of furthering the debate in the public interest."

On the other side, Skinner, 38, surprised her listeners Sunday by declaring her candidacy on the WLS-AM (890) talk show she has hosted since 1997 with Ski Anderson.

Skinner's announcement also surprised her bosses, who promptly yanked her off the air.

"During her pursuit for candidacy of the U.S. Senate, Nancy Skinner will not be hosting a talk show on WLS," Michael Packer, operations director of the ABC-owned news/talk station, said in a terse statement Monday.

Until further notice, Packer added, Anderson would be hosting the former "Skinner & Ski Show" solo from noon to 3 p.m. Sundays.

While Packer stopped short of saying Skinner was fired, few--including Skinner herself--expect her to be allowed back on.

"I'm very disappointed about it," she said. "I have a connection with my listeners in a way that's hard to imagine. The listeners who see me as balancing out all the right-wing talk radio hosts on WLS all week long are going to be devastated. I am too."

There's no law preventing a candidate from hosting a talk show while running for office. But Skinner said Packer cited company policy and "questions of judgment" in their brief conversation Monday.

Skinner continues to co-host Doug Stephan's "Good Day," a nationally syndicated morning radio show. She also makes frequent appearances as a guest commentator and fill-in host on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.

"The key to my candidacy is that I have been through the crucible of the national media," she said. "I know how to communicate the Democratic message in sound bites and slogans.

"In national politics these days, you live and die by your performance in the media, and I am the most experienced media person and effective communicator of ideas."

Tracking: Lester Holt's 'Today'

*Lester Holt, the former WBBM-Channel 2 news anchor, is first in line to become host of NBC's "Weekend Today." After 14 years at the CBS-owned station here, Holt joined MSNBC as the cable network's go-to guy in 2000. At "Weekend Today," he would succeed David Bloom, who died while covering the war in Iraq.

Nothing is official yet, but Holt reportedly will be teamed with Campbell Brown, White House correspondent for NBC News. Brown would replace Soledad O'Brien, who jumped to CNN as co-host of "American Morning."

*Two Chicago entries are up for national honors in the 24th annual news and documentary Emmy Awards, to be presented Sept. 3 in New York.

WMAQ-Channel 5 was one of only nine local television stations nationwide--and the only one in Chicago--nominated for a national Emmy. The NBC-owned station was cited in the regional news category for its spot news coverage of the deadly scaffold collapse at the John Hancock Center in March 2002.

Chicago-based Towers Productions was nominated in the long-form documentary category for "The Attack on the Pentagon," an episode of Towers' "Minute by Minute" series for A&E on the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

*A new syndicated talk and entertainment show hosted by Ryan Seacrest of "American Idol" fame has been picked up by Fox in Chicago for airing weekdays on either WFLD-Channel 32 or WPWR-Channel 50, starting in January 2004.


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