A little light might clear the air over radio show

The Baltimore Sun

Why did Morgan State University's radio station put an abrupt end to Tyrone Powers' show this past Tuesday night? It all depends on whom you believe, and they're telling different stories.

Powers says he was forced off the air in a conspiracy involving Kweisi Mfume, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Morgan's president, Earl Richardson.

Mfume flatly denies that he had anything to do with it.

An O'Malley spokesman said the newly inaugurated governor wasn't even sure who Powers is and that O'Malley has more pressing business to tackle than hassling an obscure radio host.

And a spokesman for Morgan said that Powers' show was not dropped -- it was "pre-empted" by other programming.

Remember Diogenes, that guy in ancient Greece who went around shining a lantern trying to find an honest man? Well, I went around shining my journalistic lantern trying to learn the truth about what happened to this show, and the light went out.

Here's what I found. But be forewarned: You might be rolling the dice with your sanity trying to figure out who's telling the truth in this one.

Powers was the host of WEAA's The Powers Report, which ran on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. His fans like him because he says what's on his mind, and his critics say some of his views are inflammatory.

In a telephone interview Thursday morning, Powers said WEAA general manager Donald Lockett called him Jan. 9 and said he had received a call from Richardson's office.

"He said Dr. Richardson got a call from Mfume regarding comments I had made over the last three months about O'Malley," Powers said. "He [Lockett] said he was asked to pull all the show's tapes over the last three months in which I had talked about O'Malley. I told him that would be like asking CNN to review every tape it has making a reference to President Bush."

About two weeks later, Powers said he went to the station and the secretary told him Lockett wanted to see him.

"I got an e-mail to suspend your show indefinitely, immediately," Powers said Lockett told him, even though Powers had two guests at the station waiting to go on the air. Powers said that Lockett added that the show "was completely within FCC standards" and that Powers had neither broken any laws nor violated university regulations.

I called Lockett to confirm the comments he allegedly made to Powers. Lockett referred me to Clinton Coleman, Morgan's director of public relations, who said that he was limited in what he could say about Powers' show, while still managing to speak at some length.

"Suspended is probably the wrong word," Coleman said about the status of Powers' show. "Pre-empted is the word I'm told by station management."

Boy, aren't you glad Coleman cleared that up?

The "pre-emption" of The Powers Report, Coleman said, is "part of the station's ongoing commitment to providing quality news and programming. No decision has been made regarding The Powers Report. The station is re-evaluating its entire line-up. It's an issue that's internal to radio station management." The "re-evaluation," Coleman said, was begun because of new management at WEAA.

Coleman denied that O'Malley, Mfume or anyone else had put pressure on the school about Powers' show.

"This is not something prompted by anyone calling the school," Coleman emphasized. "The governor has not called. To my knowledge, Kweisi Mfume has not called."

And the conversation Powers said he had with Lockett?

"I don't know what Mr. Powers is talking about or where he got that information," Coleman said.

Then I called Mfume. His cell phone message box couldn't take any more messages. But Mfume gave Sun reporter Nick Madigan a quote earlier this week.

"I haven't spoken with the governor about Tyrone Powers or anyone else," Mfume told Madigan. "Even if I had, I don't know that he knows Tyrone Powers. I'm not going to be someone's surrogate."

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney had these comments:

"The governor's not sure who [Powers] is, but he certainly did not speak with anyone about his show."

Kearney added: "Think about this logically. So what he [Powers] is saying is that our list of things to do last week was get sworn in, present the budget, introduce our legislative agenda, hire Cabinet secretaries, and force out an unpaid volunteer radio host who virtually no one listens to. It makes no sense."

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore said he has spoken to Richardson and stressed "the importance of having Tyrone come back." The issue, McFadden said, isn't whether listeners agree or disagree with Powers' comments. The issue, McFadden said, is one of free speech and diversity of opinion.

"Whether you agree with Tyrone on the issues or not," McFadden said, "as long as he's within FCC regulations and doesn't violate university policy, he should be allowed to express his views. I and Senator [Joan Carter] Conway are working very hard to see that Tyrone's show goes back on the air."

Notice McFadden said he had talked to Richardson, not O'Malley. At this point, there isn't a shred of evidence that O'Malley has ever even heard of Powers or listened to the show. Powers' account of what Lockett told him about the reasons for the show's suspension has been confirmed by exactly zero people.

Whoever is telling the truth, two things can't be denied: McFadden has a good point about free speech, and Powers does have a legitimate gripe.

Whether the word is "suspended" or "pre-empted" regarding The Powers Report, WEAA's management should have found a better way of telling him about the decision other than waiting until just before the show was scheduled to air with two guests waiting to go on.


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