Thursday, January 17, 2008

A radio industry magazine yesterday withdrew a lifetime-achievement award to conservative radio talk-show host Bob Grant, citing racial remarks he made in the 1990s.

Radio & Records Inc. had planned to recognize the longtime conservative commentator with its 2008 Lifetime Industry Achievement Award in the District in March. Mr. Grant, 78, airs weeknights on WABC-770 AM in New York City.

But yesterday, the Los Angeles publication said it would no longer honor him.

“R&R is sensitive to the diversity of our community and does not want the presentation of an award to Mr. Grant to imply our endorsement of past comments by him that contradict our values and the respect we have for all members of our community,” Radio & Records said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Company executives yesterday declined to comment further on the decision to rescind the award.

Mr. Grant, revered by listeners as the father of talk radio, began his broadcasting career in Chicago in the 1940s.

He arrived in New York in 1970 and joined WABC in 1984. He was fired in 1996 in response to on-air comments he made about Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who was killed in a plane crash.

Mr. Grant described himself as a “pessimist” for predicting that Mr. Brown had survived the crash.

Mr. Grant last year returned to WABC, which is owned by Citadel Broadcasting Corp., after spending a decade at rival WOR-710 AM.

Reached yesterday at his home in New Jersey, Mr. Grant said Radio & Records “should be ashamed of themselves.”

“It’s contemptible that they would do such a thing,” he said. “I smelled a rat right away.”

Mr. Grant said he found it ironic that the Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to speak at the R&R Talk Radio Seminar, where he would have received his award.

“I think it says more than I could possibly say,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Sharpton did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

The news of Mr. Grant’s rebuke, announced yesterday at 1:30 p.m., spread quickly among members of the talk-radio industry who seized on the move as an affront to free speech. Industry insiders called for a boycott of the R&R conference, to be held March 13-15 at the Renaissance Washington Hotel. Conservative radio host Sean Hannity interviewed Mr. Grant yesterday on his syndicated show, heard locally on WMAL-630 AM.

“Why don’t we let everybody say everything, and let the audience … decide who they want to listen to?” Mr. Hannity said.

Radio & Records reportedly decided to drop the award after receiving e-mails chronicling on-air remarks Mr. Grant made in the 1990s. The list of remarks, compiled by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, was sent to members of the publication’s staff by a person not affiliated with FAIR, according to Steve Rendall, a senior analyst with the liberal media-watchdog group.

A 1995 FAIR article by Jim Naureckas, titled “50,000 Watts of Hate,” quoted Mr. Grant as referring to Haitian refugees as “maggots” and calling for policemen with machine guns to show up at a gay pride parade. Mr. Rendall said staff members transcribed the comments from tapes of Mr. Grant’s show.

“It seems to me that Radio & Records is doing the right thing,” Mr. Rendall said. “Without the bigotry, there isn’t that much left of Grant.”

Asked about his comments, Mr. Grant did not deny that he made them, but noted they were more than 10 years old.

“You mean there’s no statute of limitations?” Mr Grant said, calling FAIR a “vicious” group that has targeted him for years “and has not let up.”

Phil Boyce, the WABC program director who fired and later rehired Mr. Grant, said he was “shocked and hugely disappointed” by the decision to rescind the award.

“R&R has egg on their face. At the same convention where they are banning Bob Grant, Al Sharpton gets to come and lecture program directors like me about what is good and just and fair on the radio,” he said. “Yeah, there are some things that Bob said years ago he shouldn’t have said. He paid the price, and that’s 10 years ago.”

A spokeswoman for the Nielsen Co., which owns Radio & Records, said the parent company is “standing behind Radio & Records.”

“The decision is totally endorsed by the senior-most executives at Nielsen,” she said.

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