can­di­date loses spot on sports ra­dio show

eSPn af­fil­i­ate pulls neil, who says in­cum­bent Howard spurred move

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By corrie Maclag­gan

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.’

BoB proud

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.

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