Still Talking 

Former radio host Leon Gray opens up about his time on Air America.

When Leon Gray showed up at the WWTQ AM-680 studio a few days ago for his regular 4 to 7 p.m. Air America drive-time shift, he was told that his time was up.

"The parting was definitely not amicable," he says.

Gray, a broadcast veteran of several radio and TV stations both here and elsewhere, acknowledges that declining ratings were part of his problem. But this he blames on shaky support from both the station and its corporate masters.

"If you look at Arbitron, that's absolutely correct," Gray says, "but I have to compare the promotion we got to what other stations do to promote their product, to what this company did. Intercom is ashamed of their product. If I bought a new car, I'd like to show it off. They didn't. Dollar for dollar, we over-achieved. My performance was way above the anticipated, given the investment in me."

Another obstacle to success was what Gray considers the over-the-edge commentary of Air America's syndicated lineup. Beyond Al Franken and Jerry Springer, both of whom he admired, the station's one and only local host found little else that was simpatico. "What certain members of the national Air America network did was take a mirror image opposite conservative radio and push it beyond the conservatives' delivery of their negatives," he says.

"For people in this area, knowing that this area is the buckle of the Bible Belt, both black and white, to openly -- as the satellite programming does -- denounce God or anybody's expression of God while at the same time holding up with pride, as Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Maddow do, holding up their atheistic beliefs, their homosexuality, to say 'let's get rid of theocracy and religion and blah blah blah, accept my gayness,' those kinds of things just don't play, to even a lifelong, fourth-generation Democrat in the South."

Don't get Gray started on that. Though he insists backlash from his local progressive audience had "absolutely nothing" to do with his firing, he is well aware that his own religious, heterosexual, and anti-abortion agenda often clashed with the preconceptions of many listeners. But he interprets his demographics differently. "My callers may be somewhat accurately defined as center-left, but my listening audience as a whole would be better defined as center-right."

Of his abrupt dismissal, he says, "I can see the big picture. It was never about me. I wouldn't allow myself to perceive that as being about me."

As for the prospect of acquiring future audiences, Gray is emphatic: "I will not seek another on-air job. I have definitely finished seeking on-air radio jobs. And I won't seek working in news."

Though he won't say specifically, one possibility could be political. Gray has worked for several political campaigns in the past, and he is a known supporter of the senatorial ambitions of Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr.

Gray, a Memphis native who returned to the city in 1994, makes this promise: " I have developed a strong reconnect with this city. I won't abandon it in this time of deepest turmoil."

In other words: One way or another, stay tuned.

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