KBYR gives talk show host a week's suspension

NO PAY: Rally organizers were bombarded with nasty calls after he aired their numbers.

September 15, 2008 

Anchorage AM radio host Eddie Burke has been suspended after broadcasting the phone numbers of women involved in organizing a protest rally against Sarah Palin over the weekend, his station manager said Monday.

In a statement, KBYR-AM 700 station manager Justin McDonald said broadcasting the numbers last week was "breaking station policy." Burke will be suspended for one week without pay, he said.

"Though I do not agree with some of the comments he made, as a licensee, we attempt to respect everyone's First Amendment rights, including Eddie Burke's, our listeners' and our nonlisteners'," McDonald's statement said. "That does not mean I condone inciting violence or harm in any way to people wanting to voice their opinions with peaceful protest."

Last week Burke, host of a conservative daily talk show, called rally organizers Charla Sterne and Ilona Bessenyey "socialist, baby-killing maggots," read their phone numbers on the air and encouraged listeners to call them. The women said their voice mail quickly filled with angry, profane messages, some of them threatening.

Burke later apologized for calling them maggots and said he didn't realize he was giving out personal cell phone numbers.

The "Alaska Women Reject Palin" rally drew as many as 1,500 people to the lawn of Loussac Library on Saturday, organizers said. That included Eddie Burke and a group of pro-Palin demonstrators who numbered an estimated 100.

McDonald hosted Burke's show on Monday and made it clear that Burke had already apologized for putting out the cell phone numbers. The suspension was a disciplinary measure, but McDonald still supports Burke's right to say what he wants on the air, he said. On the show, McDonald encouraged listeners to welcome Burke back "with warm hearts and lots of love," and to "e-mail Eddie, tell him you love him." Most listeners who called in were behind Burke and had disparaging things to say about the anti-Palin protesters and the media.

News of Burke's suspension reached Sterne and Bessenyey late Monday afternoon. Both said that the controversy and coverage helped to increase rally attendance.

"There's no question there were people that were galvanized by how insulting he was," Bessenyey said.

She called his suspension "pretty minimal." She didn't think the discipline was meant to make Burke change his ways.

"This is what he does for a living, calling us names on the air, belittling us," she said.

Sterne said she was glad that the station did something. Burke's on-air actions provoked an outpouring of support from across party lines, she said.

"Ultimately, I think he'll probably be back on the air and he'll be continuing his hateful behavior," she said.

This is the second time this year a station has suspended a radio personality for on-air comments. KBFX 100.5-FM hosts Greg Wood and Chris Wilcox, known as Woody and Wilcox, were suspended for two weeks in April after an on-air gaffe about Alaska Native women.

Find Julia O'Malley online at adn.com/contact/jomalley or call 257-4591.

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