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Denver’s talk-radio duo rules airwaves with civility
DENVER | “The Caplis & Silverman Show” tackles the thorniest political issues of the day, but it’s one radio program people can’t say lacks civility.
And they credit being lawyers.
The hosts — Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman — don’t see eye to eye on religion, abortion, gay rights and a swarm of other topics covered on their weekday show. They still let each other finish a thought before lobbing the next verbal volley.
And even when things get heated, which is routinely the case, Mr. Caplis is quick to begin a rebuttal by referring to fellow lawyer Mr. Silverman as his “brother.”
“It’s our courtroom training,” Mr. Silverman explains. “You don’t interrupt somebody in court. You let somebody talk, and then respond. It’s bad listening if you’re talking over each other … . I would say it’s common courtesy, but it’s just not common enough right now.”
“You see people cut the opponent off when they’re about to get beat,” Mr. Caplis said.
At a time when highly rated talk-radio and partisan TV-news stations are coming under increasing fire for fostering a national climate of incivility, a kinder, gentler talk show without name-calling, insults or other histrionics sounds like a recipe for failure.
Except that “Caplis & Silverman” has been on the air here since 2004 — from 3 to 6 p.m. on KHOW-AM 630 locally, with the show available to the rest of the country via live streaming and podcasts — and often beats national talk-show hosts heard in the market and breaks stories that reverberate across Colorado.
Consider the time Scott McInnis, the six-term U.S. representative and Republican front-runner in Colorado’s gubernatorial race, whose campaign started to go downhill after he swung at — and missed — an obvious question by Mr. Silverman about charges he misused money meant for his re-election campaign.
Other statewide movers and shakers avoid the show altogether. Count new Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper among those who won’t grace the KHOW studios when Mr. Caplis and Mr. Silverman are working the radio beat.
The former Denver mayor made the decision after the co-hosts grilled him on not releasing the names of the charitable organizations he contributed to and his statements regarding racially motivated attacks in Denver last year. Nearly 700 people currently “like” the Facebook page dubbed “Why is Hickenlooper Hiding from Caplis and Silverman?”
“The only people who don’t come on our show are those who can’t back up their ideas, can’t answer the tough questions,” says Mr. Caplis, 54.
Michael Harrison, founder and editor of Talkers Magazine, which covers the talk-radio industry, said the duo’s approach makes them novel in today’s market.
“Yeah, talk radio gets a little wild and woolly,” he said. “At the present time, they are not the norm. It is unusual, and it’s very good.”
The Hannity-Colmes, Parker-Spitzer comparisons to “Caplis & Silverman” aren’t as neat as one might expect. Mr. Caplis is a rock-ribbed conservative, while Mr. Silverman is merely left-of-center on most issues. He ran to the right of Bill Ritter — Colorado’s just-retired Democratic governor — when the two competed for the district attorney’s office in 1996, with Mr. Silverman running on the platform “politics and prosecution are a poor mix.”
And, late last year, Mr. Silverman, 55, announced he was pulling the lever for Tom Tancredo over challenger Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for governor as well as for Republican challenger Ken Buck over the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet.
“I struggled with it,” Mr. Silverman said of the decision, citing Mr. Hickenlooper’s unwillingness to engage the issues in venues like their show and Mr. Bennet’s “dirty” campaign tactics. “I have to be true to myself. That’s what people put me on the radio to do, to express my honest opinion, not my phony, ratings-driven opinion.”
Mr. Silverman honed his broadcasting skills by providing legal commentary on a number of high-profile Colorado cases with a national scope, such as the JonBenet Ramsey killing.
He was already a fan of his future partner, who had a solo radio show long before adding a co-host into the mix. Mr. Silverman would often bring a transistor radio to the golf course so he wouldn’t miss one of Mr. Caplis’ broadcasts.
Mr. Caplis invited Mr. Silverman onto his radio show, and the two clicked. When they butted heads over accusations that Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant had raped a woman in an Eagle, Colo., hotel, people took notice.
“I saw the case was weak and was going to fall apart. Dan disagreed. We started arguing about it, and people liked it. And [radio] management liked it,” Mr. Silverman recalls.
Both contend radio management allows them to say what they please and never asks them to spice up their arguments for the sake of ideological battles.
“I don’t think it would work if I tried to make stuff up,” Mr. Silverman said.
During a recent broadcast devoted to the case of the racy videos made by Navy Capt. Owen Honors, the hosts look like the lawyers they are during the day.
Each dressed impeccably, with Mr. Caplis wearing a sharp vest and Mr. Silverman’s tie roguishly askew. Their studio is spotless, save their laptops, which they consult throughout the show to research news or read listener e-mails.
“That’s why I love this issue; it’s mixing everybody up,” Mr. Silverman said with clear delight, gesticulating as if cameras were catching him in action. The two tear into the captain’s story for a full three hours, examining it from every possible angle as callers flood the studio lines.
Mr. Caplis’ smooth baritone complements his on-air partner’s voice, a raspy instrument leavened by a salty sense of humor. Mr. Silverman is quick with a joke, often trying to rile his partner with something mildly provocative. Mr. Caplis plays the starched-shirt conservative to a T, avoiding sexual banter in favor of flyover-country-approved puns.
Mr. Silverman’s ability to switch sides on ideological issues won’t necessarily hurt the program’s left-right appeal, said Mr. Harrison, of Talkers Magazine.
“It wouldn’t ruin the show if they started agreeing with each other,” he said. “As long as they remain true to their core values and intellect, that’s what their listeners expect of them.”
Being courteous never blunts the force of one of Mr. Caplis’ opinions.
“You have to meet the full strength of their argument and defeat it if you can,” Mr. Caplis said of his approach. “That’s why, from Day One, we agreed to do the show this way. Anything short of that is less value for the listener.”
Mr. Silverman sees the radio show as a natural extension of his legal practice.
“Through the adversarial process, that’s where the truth emerges, that’s what happens in the courtroom. And when we do the job right on the radio, certain truths are revealed,” Mr. Silverman said.
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