Frette or not, there he goes

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Today, I'm told, was John Erling's long-overdue final broadcast on KRMG radio. I haven't listened to his show in years, and once I got out of the habit of listening to Erling in the morning, I rarely bothered to tune in the rest of the day. We would have abandoned KRMG as morning listening many years before, but my wife needed someone saying the time at regular intervals to help her pace getting ready for work.

I grew up listening to KRMG -- Fred Campbell, then Watson Jelks, then Erling in the morning, Jerry Vaughn in the afternoons (later, Commander Ken Rank), Sportsline with Bob Carpenter, Nightline with David Stanford, and the great Johnny Martin, playing big band music every night. As much as I enjoy some of KRMG's nationally-syndicated talk show hosts, I was sorry to see the station cease to be a full-service local station over the course of the 1990s.

Over that same period, maybe starting even earlier, Erling became crankier and crankier. I remember a brief period of improvement, following major back surgery, when he broadcast from home, surrounded by his beloved dogs. He was actually pleasant to listen to, briefly. But he reverted to type.

Erling grew less and less tolerant of conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, despite (or perhaps because of) their growing dominance in Tulsa. He became the voice of the city's establishment, Radio Cockroach Caucus, while his wife used his stage name (rather than his and her legal last name, Frette) to help along her career as a lobbyist. Many people remarked on the interesting coincidences between the causes and candidates he espoused on air and the causes and candidates his wife was hired to support. The question was often asked: Were her clients buying her skills or were they paying for access to his microphone? Margaret Erling worked for the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Board and lobbied at the State Capitol for Great Plains Airlines, in which she was a stockholder. Can you guess where John stood with regard to those subjects?

Erling was adept at baiting callers who disagreed with him. He would pick, pick, pick at a caller until the caller lost his cool. One of his most effective needling techniques was to mischaracterize the caller's point and begin tearing down the straw man he had just built, to the caller's consternation.

If he couldn't get you to blow your cool, he'd just take what you said out of context, once you were off the phone and didn't have the opportunity to rebut. (I wrote an account of one such encounter with Erling, during the Vision 2025 campaign.)

Lost credibility and lost respect led to falling ratings, and the end finally came this year. I have heard that he asked to stay on until after the recall election, wanting to be there to gloat when Chris Medlock was turned out of office. Medlock, as a part of the airport investigative committee, had a hand in exposing Erling's ties to Great Plains Airlines. There was a running gag that they were holding the KRMG morning show job open for Chris should he lose the recall election. Instead, I'm told, around 7:30 on election night, Erling called the KRMG newsroom to learn the results, heard that Mautino was winning with over 70% and Medlock with over 60%. He is said to have responded with a burst of unprintables.


Michelle said:

Oh, his departure makes me so happy. I couldn't even stand to have him on for even a few minutes. I just wonder if they have already programmed the good ol' boy network into their next host, or if he will be someone who lives in our real world.

W. Author Profile Page said:

I never heard Erling. I have heard, however, Michael Delgiorno. I'd listened to talk radio for many years in Chicago (WLS) and St. Louis (KTRS and especially KMOX), so I generally know good radio talent when I hear it. Delgiorno is the most ill-mannered and boorish I've heard in that format.

Of course, it's hardly against the law for a highly flawed, semi-deranged egomaniac to be a radio host. In fact, it seems to be a job requirement.

The deterioration of civility in talk radio in the past decade or so has gradually made me stop listening to it altogether. I find listening to my iTunes jukebox much more rewarding of my time -- although some of those stations on satellite radio are awfully tempting.

Mike said:

I listened to Erling for many years, but gave him up for good about five years ago. He and Margaret used to attend our church (First United Methodist, downtown), but I haven't seen them in quite some time. We're definitely too evangelical and conservative for their liking, and frankly, I was surprised they hung around as long as they did!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 28, 2005 11:44 PM.

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