Leon Gray ended his talk show Thursday night with his weekly health segment. Moments later, he was handed a letter by the program director telling him he had been fired.
For almost three decades, Gray has been associated with WLOK-AM 1340, the long-standing gospel music station owned by Gilliam Communications. In addition to co-hosting a morning show, Gray had also become known for his controversial evening program, The Bottom Line. He would have celebrated the second anniversary of that show next week.
Company president Art Gilliam would not comment on the reason for Gray's departure "out of deference to the employees," saying that the station had decided to make a change. But Gray believed that statements he made about Shelby County district attorney Bill Gibbons led to the show's demise. "The reason for the change, in my opinion, was about pressure," he said. "I don't know where the pressure came from, but I feel it had something to do with my weeklong questioning of Bill Gibbons and the selective prosecution by the office of the district attorney general."
For a full week on his 5-7 p.m. show, Gray questioned Gibbons' reaction to exonerated Memphian Clark McMillan's monetary award for wrongful time served in a Tennessee prison. Last month, McMillan's attorney filed a petition with the Tennessee Board of Claims for $1 million in compensation for the 22 years his client spent in jail on a 1980 rape charge. Before the board ruled on the claim, Gibbons sent a letter asking the board to consider McMillan's criminal past before awarding any restitution.
"I feel obligated to bring to the attention of the Board the fact that a grand jury found probable cause that he had committed 16 other crimes," said part of the letter. Eventually, McMillan was awarded more than $800,000, but Gray felt Gibbons' letter was unnecessary.
"I did call Gibbons a racist on the air," said Gray. "But I was not asked to recant my statement. He is a public figure, and when a person is an elected official, you are fair game."
District attorney's office spokesman Jennifer Donnals said that Gray had attempted to contact Gibbons regarding the matter, but when Gibbons tried to return the call, the two never made contact. She said Gibbons was unaware of Gray's firing from the station.
Gray had also joined his cousin and New Sardis Baptist Church pastor LaSimba Gray in questioning the district attorney on its prosecution of three day-care van operators who left 2-year-old Amber Cox-Cody in a van, while not charging a Bartlett minister for a similar offense with his own daughter. The children died in both cases.
The Bottom Line had become known as a straightforward talk show addressing issues within the African-American community. "Some people have called the way I come off as harsh," he said. "We have a vast number of black talk shows in this market with opportunities to laugh and joke, but for my two hours I wanted to be reaching out and dealing with problems."
The Bottom Line will be replaced with a half-hour inspirational, prerecorded message by New Salem Baptist Church pastor Frank Ray. The station will then revert to gospel music.
Gray, who owns the name of his show, plans to remain in radio at another station.
"It was a good two-year run and I have no negative comments about Gilliam," he said. "I'm not the first person this has happened to. When people decide that they are going to be a voice, there is a target drawn on those people immediately. I was not wrong in this instance. I would make the Gibbons statements again." •