Thursday, December 6, 2012

Catholic Commentators - Revisited

Who would believe the idea for one of the most controversial talk shows in Seattle radio history would be sparked by banter around the watercooler or better yet around the pop machine?

"The Commentators" concept was inspired by listening to liberal KOMO TV commentator Ken Schram and conservative KVI radio talk host John Carlson try to "one up" each other near the pop machine at Fisher Plaza. 

My office was a few feet away and every day I would hear this intriguing banter. 

One day I poked my head out of the office to watch the two go at it when Schram snapped, "What are you looking at, Kelly?," I said, "I hear a radio show in this." 

And that's how "The Commentators" was born.  It took a few years for the show to find a timeslot on KOMO Newsradio, but eventually we gave the idea a shot.

The thing I liked most about "The Commentators" was the fact that these two genuinely liked and respected each other. Sure the partisan friction was intense at times, but they would always walk out of the studio knowing it was just a radio show, but their common ground friendship was still intact.

I'm sad to report that "The Commentators" never took off with the Seattle radio audience.  Perhaps it was too intense for most listeners.  Perhaps conservative listeners didn't like hearing a liberal get the upper hand in on-air arguments from time to time.  Perhaps liberal listeners didn't appreciate the thoughtful reasoning of a conservative who ran for Governor in 2000 as the GOP candidate in one of the "bluest" states in the nation.
Even more sad to report the abrupt end to the radio and TV career of 35 year KOMO veteran Ken Schram.  His last day on the air is this coming Monday.  The man known for showering people with "Schrammies" for bonehead moves or for beliefs that ran counter to his own had his contract bought out by Fisher Communications. 
At 65, I hope Ken slows down, enjoys life and writes a good book about his career.  I would read it as would many other longtime admirers of his wit, wisdom and most of all his sarcasm.
I am also a proud holder of a "Schrammie." Thanks, Ken, for all the great memories.

Here's a story written about "The Commentators" at launch in the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese newspaper by longtime friend and former KIRO FM anchor and reporter Linda Thomas.

(UPDATE:  Ken Schram passed away after a short battle with kidney disease this past week. Please keep Ken, his family and friends in your prayers.  Peace...)


Reprinted from Catholic N.W. Progress

Catholic Commentators: Ken Schram and John Carlson

By Linda Thomas
KOMO Commentators Ken Schram (left) and John Carlson (right) disagree about most of the subjects they discuss on their daily radio show, but both have a respect for each other and for their Catholic faith.
The self-described “radio odd couple” with a daily show on KOMO-AM 1000 are a study in opposites.
John Carlson wears a tailored shirt, tie and pressed slacks. Ken Schram is dressed in a casual short-sleeve shirt and slightly rumpled pants.
Carlson uses a yellow highlighter to go over his notes during commercial breaks, while Schram glances at a stack of papers and then disappears for a cigarette break. Carlson speaks in complete sentences; Schram is more likely to spout off with the comment, “That really gets my BVDs in a bunch.”
But for all their differences – including the fact that Carlson is a politically conservative talk show host on KVI Talk Radio 570 and Schram is a liberal television commentator for KOMO 4 News – they have at least a couple of things in common. The two men share a radio program from 10 a.m. until noon each weekday and both are Catholic.
“Even with our faith we’re very different Catholics,” said Schram.
“Ken is in many ways more traditional than I am with respect to religion,” Carlson explained.
“He’s a pre-Vatican II Catholic and I went to school right after Vatican II when church rules were more relaxed.”
“The church is too relaxed,” Schram interjected.
Schram grew up in The Bronx borough of New York and went to Catholic schools until he was kicked out of high school. He won’t say why. But he is outspoken on church issues. He thinks the pope should consider allowing priests to marry and women to become priests. However, he feels it is not appropriate for lay ministers to serve the Eucharist.
“That’s what makes Ken so totally unique,” said Carlson. “He believes it’s okay for women to be priests, but it’s not okay for anyone to be a lay minister.”
“I’m a walking, talking dichotomy,” Schram acknowledged. “I’ve always separated the faith aspect of what Catholicism represents from the political or social side of the Church and I don’t apologize for my views.”
They agree 25 percent of the time, maybe less
Articulate, intelligent and befuddled are the words Schram used to characterize his co-host. Carlson described Schram as impish, irrepressible and fun to work with. For the record, Carlson also called his partner “childlike” but that lead to a debate about whether Schram was childlike or childish. They settled on impish.
Since the KOMO Commentators radio show started four months ago, Carlson and Schram have debated hundreds of topics.
During each two hour show they discuss 12 news issues. Subjects on a recent show included: a study that claims strict parents raise overweight children; the Mariners; the sale of a popular tavern in the University District; and medical privacy laws.
Their most heated debates have been about gay marriage and Tent City, the temporary camp for homeless men and women.
Schram said they have opposing views 80 percent of the time (75 percent according to Carlson), but they’re able to explain their opinions without screaming at each other or getting angry.
“It’s like when you’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table with Uncle Rupert. You like the guy even though you disagree with him,” said Schram. “John and I genuinely like each other and we try to have intelligent conversations.”
“I think people like hearing both sides of an issue but they’re tired of the shouting and the ‘I’m right you’re evil’ mentality of most talk shows,” Carlson added.
Turn on the radio and think
Their goal with the program – which includes interviews with newsmakers but no calls from listeners – is to entertain, educate and “get people thinking.”
The KOMO Commentators’ popularity will have its first test in July when Arbitron, the company that measures radio audiences, releases its report. Both hosts say they’ve had positive feedback from listeners. And program manager Dennis Kelly said the new show is gaining an audience.
“The program appeals to both news junkies and talk show lovers alike,” said Kelly, Program Director for Fisher Communications’ AM radio stations.
Kelly, also Catholic, admitted to “uttering a prayer that Ken will watch his language and John will keep a compassionate heart.”
Occasional distasteful language isn’t the concern about Schram, who has a devious habit of trying to make Carlson laugh when he reads live commercials. Schram resorts to tearing up papers, flicking paper clips or making faces and 50 percent of the time he causes Carlson to make a mistake (less than 25 percent according to Carlson).
“Can you believe what I have to put up with while I’m trying to serve our clients and listeners?” asked Carlson.
“You love it,” said Schram.

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