Static At ESPN Radio
Kornheiser Suspension Latest In Personnel Shakeup
July 17, 2002
By KEVIN CANFIELD, The Hartford Courant
With the recent firing of four producers and a popular on-air personality and the suspension this week of perhaps its best-known talk-show host, ESPN Radio is bordering on disarray.
Tony Kornheiser, the longtime Washington Post columnist who hosts a midday show on the network and co-anchors a 5 p.m. free-for-all on ESPN's TV side, is off the air for a week after management took umbrage at some of his comments.
Kornheiser's suspension follows the firing last month of Jason Jackson, who had been with ESPN for nearly seven years as a television and radio host. Jackson, a source close to the Kornheiser show said, was fired for allegedly making unwanted and suggestive comments to a female colleague.
ESPN's radio unit has been an increasingly powerful force in recent years, annexing drive-time slots at stations across the country and consistently netting the best guests, from Michael Jordan to then-President Clinton. But it has been a summer of chaos at the Bristol headquarters of the sports broadcasting powerhouse. About a dozen staffers, including Eric Schoenfeld, general manager of ESPN Radio, have been let go or given time off for violations of company policy. Schoenfeld, a source said, was suspended for allegedly threatening a co-worker.
Mike Soltys, an ESPN spokesman, said the network would not comment on personnel matters, and neither Kornheiser nor Schoenfeld could be reached Tuesday.
It is clear, though, that this has not been an ordinary month or two for ESPN Radio. According to a source, after Jackson's firing, management looked at e-mail sent by a number of its employees. Though the e-mails were not directly related to the Jackson matter, they did contain profanity. This, the source said, led to the suspension of five employees and the firing of four producers. Two worked on the radio network's afternoon offering, "The Dan Patrick Show"; the other two worked on Kornheiser's show. The firings - particularly that of his show's senior producer, Denis Horgan Jr., whose father is a columnist at The Courant - upset Kornheiser.
Kornheiser discussed the firings of Horgan and associate producer Kelvin Alvarez several times on the show. "I would do just about anything to get them back," he said on a recent broadcast. "Denis' contributions to this show were enormous. All the funny, creative things were Denis', just about."
ESPN management apparently asked Kornheiser to stop talking about the matter on the air. He did but continued to discuss it on commercial breaks, which until recently were broadcast over the Internet.
The network stopped broadcasting the commercial-break banter between Kornheiser and his producers about three weeks ago, and Kornheiser, who reportedly makes $500,000 a year, was notified late last week that he would be suspended without pay for a week.
Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann, a former host of the network's "SportsCenter" who left ESPN in a highly publicized parting five years ago, recently hired Horgan to help write the commentaries he delivers daily for ABC Radio.
"Denis is just one of the funniest, one of the brightest guys, one of the most loyal, one of the best workers I've ever worked with," Olbermann said. "If you've got rules that force you to get rid of a decent guy like Denis Horgan, there's something wrong with your rules."