candidate loses spot on sports radio show
eSPn affiliate pulls neil, who says incumbent Howard spurred move
Local ESPN radio co-host Dan Neil said Monday that he’s off the airwaves until November while he runs for the Texas House of Representatives — and he blames his opponent, incumbent Donna Howard.
But Howard, a Democrat who represents House District 48 in northwestern Travis County, says it was the radio station’s decision to take Neil, a Republican, off the air.
Neil, who until recently had a weekday sports radio show on ESPN affiliate FM 104.9 The Horn, said in a Facebook post Monday that Howard is “forcing me off the airwaves.”
“Apparently she thinks voters will be unduly influenced by my views on the spread formation in football, Ron Artest’s shot selection, or vuvuzelas at the World Cup,” wrote Neil, who has been off the air since May. “She must have a pretty low opinion of voters.”
Howard said in an interview that Neil is “making me sound more powerful than I guess I am.”
“This was something that the radio station ultimately decided on their own,” Howard said. “I had nothing to
do with it.”
Howard said that the radio station took Neil off the air and then contacted her campaign. She said a member of her campaign staff met with radio officials and suggested that Howard get four minutes a day of free political advertising and a transcript of his show, which was on weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. Campaigns often negotiate such conditions.
“We came with some suggestions,” said Howard, a state representative since 2006 who got nearly 54 percent of the vote in 2008. “No demand was made. They were merely discussions. (Radio officials) got back to us to say, ‘Never mind, we’re going to keep him off the air.’”
Bob Proud, senior vice president and market manager for Border Media, which owns the station, said the company’s lawyer made the decision. “Discussions were held to try to find a way to keep Dan on the air, but Border Media’s legal counsel decided it would be best that he stay off until after the election,” Proud said.
Federal law requires equal opportunities for access to stations’ airwaves for legally qualified candidates. That doesn’t always mean equal time, said Michael Schneider, director of programs at the Texas Association of Broadcasters. With more than 1,100 radio and TV stations in Texas, situations like Neil’s come up every election cycle, Schneider said.
There are several options for how stations and candidates may handle it, said Scott Flick, a communications lawyer in Washington who represents several Texas broadcasters. The broadcaster may yank the candidate off the air; the candidate who isn’t on the air
‘Discussions were held to try to find a way to keep Dan on the air, but Border Media’s legal counsel decided it would be best that he stay off until after the election.’
Border Media executive
may waive his or her equal opportunity rights; the candidate may stay on the air while the opponent receives advertisements; or the candidate with the show may decide to go off the air so his or her opponent doesn’t get free advertising.
Some candidates are fine with opponents being on the air, as long as they’re not talking about the campaign, Flick said. But others don’t like it, he said, because it enhances the opponent’s visibility. “If the person is a popular on-air personality, forcing them off the air will win them no points,” Flick said.
Neil’s statement said that being off the air is harming his ability to make a living. He earned about $3,000 a month from the gig — a $2,000 base salary, plus “talent fees” to promote products on the air, said campaign spokesman Eric Bearse. The total he earned from the radio job, which he’s done since last September, represented about 15 percent of his monthly income, Bearse said.
Neil, a former University of Texas offensive lineman who played for the Denver Broncos, draws from his National Football League retirement. He also has a company that distributes orthopedic implants.
Dan Neil Republican, a former UT and NFL player, has been off the air since May.
Donna Howard State House Democrat says decision to pull opponent beyond her control.