WMAL-AM (630) received "hundreds of calls and letters" last week protesting the June 1 firing of midday host John Lyon, according to operations director Jim Gallant. But unlike past episodes, in which listener protests led to reinstatements of personalities, Gallant said Lyon will not be back on the station's airwaves.
In 1979 Andy Ockershausen, then the station's president and general manager, fired veteran jazz announcer Felix Grant with the intention of replacing music with talk-oriented sports programming. But after an onslaught of protest by angry listeners, management was forced to back down. Five years later Ockershausen finally succeeded in dismissing Grant, who is now heard Saturday afternoons on WDCU-FM (90.1). A similar situation was played out when veteran overnight reporter Larry Krebs was sent packing only to have his credentials restored. Later, in what was described as a cost-cutting measure, Krebs lost his staff position but remains on private contract.
"That doesn't play today. The decision has been made. We are moving on" to a talk-oriented format, Gallant said.
Nevertheless, "longtime WMAL listener" Dennis Walsh says he wants to let management know how he feels about its decision to fire Lyon. Walsh, an owner of Flanagan's Irish Pub in Bethesda, where Lyon's band performs several times a month, has organized a protest in front of the WMAL studios at 4400 Jenifer St. NW. The protest, which will include performances by members of several bands, will be held Thursday at noon. "This is not a Flanagan's promotion. This is a John Lyon promotion. WMAL stabbed him in the back after 22 years and we want to make WMAL look bad," said Walsh. "I'm not listening to WMAL."
Another Lyon fan, Morton Davis of Silver Spring, was busy yesterday drawing protest placards with a message to fit the call letters: "WMAL -- We Miss Announcer Lyon."
Other listeners were also stunned by Lyon's firing.
In a two-page letter to General Manager Tom Bresnahan, Ann Martinelli of Hyattsville asked that he return Lyon to the production and vacation relief slot he held until he moved to middays three years ago. Until Lyon returns, Martinelli said in her letter, "my radio has found a new spot on the dial. It's WXTR 104.1 FM. Oldies are something else I grew up with."
WMAL's Award-Winning News
While listeners adjust to changes at the Capital Cities/ABC-owned station, some things haven't changed. WMAL has been named Washington's Outstanding News Operation by the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for the eighth consecutive year. As it did last year, the 14-member news staff won eight out of nine awards, including prizes to Ken Beatrice, Johnny Holliday, Ron Weber and Redskins broadcast trio Frank Herzog, Sam Huff and Sonny Jurgensen for Outstanding Year-Round Sports Coverage; Outstanding Commentary to Larry Matthews for his "Capital Watch"; Outstanding Public Affairs Programming by morning team Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver for their "rolling remote" broadcast from around the Beltway during morning rush hour; and for Outstanding Spot News Reporting by Bob Gneiser, John Matthews, Andy Parks, Milagros Ardin and Larry Krebs for their combined reports on the Amtrak train crash near Calverton, Va., in September. Krebs's old-fashioned reporter's skills shone during that disaster. While all other media outlets -- including ABC Network broadcasts on WMAL -- reported three dead, Krebs insisted that two had been killed. After the smoke and hysteria cleared, Krebs was proved correct.
WAMU-FM's Laura Knoy and Jon Greenberg won in the Outstanding Feature/Human Interest story category for their piece on anti-abortion activists converging on abortion clinics.
WMAL also won four of six Dateline Awards announced last week by the Society of Professional Journalists. Ed Myer, Pat Anatasi and John Matthews captured the Best Spot News award for their coverage of last June's savage storm that knocked out Pepco's power system for a week; Karen Leggett for Best Feature for her stories about adults returning to school for high school diplomas; Johnny Holliday for Best Sports Story on football prognosticator Sister Mary Louise; and Chris Core, Outstanding Arts Criticism for his review of "The Glass Menagerie."
WWRC-AM (980) and WKYS-FM (93.9) won the other two Dateline Awards.
WTOP's Storm Watch
While WMAL's coverage of last June's storm garnered a Dateline Award, WTOP was criticized by listeners, industry observers and even its own general manager, Michael Douglass, for failing to get on top of the story, broadcasting a Baltimore Orioles baseball game instead. But a lesson was learned. When Saturday evening's severe thunderstorm knocked out power in the area, WTOP announcers John Lynker and Michael Harrington and editor Kim Sneed closely monitored the event and interrupted the Birds game with concise, up-to-the-minute news of power outages, downed trees and flooding.