Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Politics on the Airwaves

A new local radio political talk show has started – starring well-known conservative House member Rep. Greg Hughes and Jim Dabakis, who does double duty, a new state senator and second-term chair of the Utah Democratic Party.

Natalie Gochnour, who worked for three Utah governors, two federal agencies, and is now an associate dean at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business is the moderator.

The radio program – called Both Sides of the Aisle — is on the newly-formatted KCPW public radio channel and plays Thursdays at 10:30 a.m.

Hughes, R-Draper, tells me the idea is that two sides of the political spectrum – a conservative and a liberal – will discuss the political and public issues of the day and, hopefully, with some wit and humor, take jabs at each other and their respective stands.

Gochnour, a long-time top aide to former Gov. Mike Leavitt, is there to keep the two guys from blows and lead the discussion.

The program is taped, to meet all three participants’ busy schedules.

That means the three talkers can’t take listeners’ calls.

Hughes jokingly says he’s walking into the lion’s den – because KCPW is well known as a progressive, independent station.

Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, was in full form when speaking to UtahPolicy, saying he’s doing the show for the money.

“I hope to make $10 a year, if we can find a major sponsor.”

“Aside from the cash, I just love talking to Greg. He is just so wrong on so many issues. And he has a delightful cantankerous personality.

“Natalie is a great mind, an extra-ordinary human being. She says, “now, now” and remains calm for the half hour.”

UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott used to work for KCPW, and with 17 years history in Salt Lake City radio market, says he knows that a significant part of KCPW’s listener base is on The Avenues and Capitol Hill area – Dabakis’ Senate district.

But Dabakis says he’s not doing the radio show to help his political aspects.

“The more I speak, the more I alienate my own constituents. This could be more of a down for me; it could hurt me.”

Gochnour says she sees the new show as a chance for Dabakis and Hughes to go after each other, with her in the middle.

“I’m the moderate of the group – guess that’s why I’m a moderator,” she said.

Sometimes she’ll agree with Hughes, sometimes with Dabakis.

“I try to keep them both reasonable and not at extremes.”

Good luck with that.

“They talk faster and louder than I do,” said Gochnour. So moderating the program is a challenge.

The first show ran last week, the second yesterday.

If you can’t listen in live – 88.3 FM or 105.3 FM Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. — you can find it here online.

It’s nice to have a new political discussion program coming on the airways, since over the last year we’ve lost two long-time, respected forums.

A year ago ABC4-TV was sold, and the new owners made a foolish decision in laying off long-time political reporter Chris Vanocur.

Vanocur had a Sunday morning weekly half-hour public affairs program, which I went on occasionally. That program ended with Vanocur leaving.

And just last month KSL-TV announced they were doing away with political reporter Richard Piatt’s Sunday Edition, also a Sunday morning political talk show.

That program is now Deseret News Sunday Edition and will be focused on faith and family issues, not politics, I’m told.

Dabakis said both TV bosses’ actions were “terrible decisions.”

Dabakis said he understands that TV stations across the country are being squeezed financially.

“But they are putting their survival ahead of informing the public, and that’s concerning for we who care about public policy.”

With layoffs three years ago at the Deseret News that cut the staff nearly in half and now serious layoffs at The Salt Lake Tribune cutting the staff by 20 percent, “there are fewer and fewer reporters who don’t have an axe to grind shining a flashlight on government – their numbers are down drastically,” said Dabakis.

He added that such reporting by news organizations “are vital to the continuation of our democracy.”