Clear Channel’s KFI-AM LA afternoon drivers John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou recently gave out the cellphone number on-air of Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a longtime immigrant rights activist, in a campaign against the California Dream Act (state tuition assistance for illegal immigrants).
But what followed was a barrage of hate-filled phone calls that followed on that cell phone and office numbers, because the hosts and urged listeners that opposed to The Dream Act to call him. Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told The LA Times he got more than 400 calls, many of them filled with hateful language and calls for violence.
“It’s never been as cutting, as humiliating as these calls were,” Cabrera said. “These calls were intended to diminish me as a person.”
Here’s one: “Hi, this message is for Mr. Cabrera. Listen, you pile of garbage…You need to pack your [expletive] up and go back to wherever it is you came from. Nobody wants you here. You are invading the legal people that are in this country and ruining this country. I hope you choke in your own vomit.”
The incident has since struck a chord among leaders of civil and immigrant rights groups across the state, many of whom saw it as the latest example in a long history of the popular radio show inciting anger and vitriol.
“It was the last straw,” said Alex Nogales, National Hispanic Media Coalition CEO. “These guys have been at it day in and day out. It’s the same ugly rhetoric.”
No doubt, the duo are known to get involved in local issues:
* In 2003 they were instrumental in the recall of California Governor Gray Davis.
* After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 re-election, John and Ken criticized several of his policies. The tirades culminated with an image of Schwarzenegger’s head on a sword after the governor signed the largest state tax increase in US history.
* In the run-up to the 2004 elections, they devised a “competition” that they dubbed Political Human Sacrifice, in which five Republican Representatives from California were grilled regarding their stance on illegal immigration. The “winner” would be the Representative whom the show’s listeners saw as the worst on illegal immigration restriction; John and Ken would endorse his or her opponent in the general election and urge listeners to vote for the opponent. Political Human Sacrifice was conducted in a fashion similar to reality television series such as Survivor.
* On May 2, 2005, KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin made comments alleging that Kobylt employed an illegal immigrant. Kobylt demanded that Rubin apologize on his program for making this allegation without any basis in fact
* In 2001, Kobylt gave cheese to Mexican immigrants waiting in line to turn in INS documentation, which Spanish media asserted was insensitive.
* When LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said to a group of illegal alien activists “We clean your toilets”, the duo urged their listeners to send toilet brushes to the mayor’s office, where thousands were received.
* When Long Beach residents protested the presence of several paroled registered sex offenders living in one apartment complex, John and Ken hosted a remote broadcast near the complex on 2/19/08. Fueled by this story, on 3/11/08, and approved with a required second vote on 3/18/08, Long Beach City Council members voted 7-0 to enact 18 ordinances heavily restricting the residency and recreational activity of all registered sex offenders.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition led what some believe was a successful campaign to get Lou Dobbs off CNN for similar reasons. Dobbs resigned days after the coalition’s president met with the head of CNN, but the network has denied that meeting led to Dobbs’ resignation.
Now the coalition has joined with several major Latino and immigrant rights groups, including the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the National Immigration Law Center, in calling on KFI to remove the show’s hosts or face a boycott of its sponsors.
KFI PD Robin Bertolucci declined to discuss the incident but said she planned to meet soon with the group’s representatives. “We’re looking forward to talking to them,” she told the paper.
RBR-TVBR observation: This is what good, local, proactive radio is all about—getting people to listen and participate in their community. According to Talkers, the duo are the only radio show to top one million listeners in the Southland. Just as long as they have the skills not to overstep the bounds of decency (and know how to apologize well if they do), they’ll keep the numbers high. Controversy is not only entertaining but it gets folks from both sides to listen. No doubt, though, they’re pushing the boundaries with this one.