WNTA ownership change leads to maverick's departure

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1119461412426.jpg’, ‘photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Stephanie Caltagerone—former WNTA talk-radio host of the Stephanie Caltagerone Show. Her last show was broadcast June 17 from 2-5 p.m. ‘);

Eating dinner at a restaurant in Winnebago the evening of June 20, former WNTA radio talk show host and Republican Stephanie Caltagerone was thankful and hopeful about past and future opportunities to serve the Rockford community. She wanted to thank many people for the past 11 months at the radio station, especially her callers and listeners, but understood management’s decision to release her from her 2-5 p.m. weekday shift.

Known for her tough questions and on-air grilling of public officials, during what was supposed to be her June 20 broadcast, WNTA’s Ken DeCoster informed listeners that Caltagerone would no longer be airing her three-hour show. The announcement was met with disappointment and dismay by her supporters, and glee by her critics and detractors.

Some of those critics and detractors are in powerful Republican political positions in Winnebago County, which is very conservative outside the City of Rockford.

Caltagerone’s departure precedes the transition of ownership on June 30 WNTA-1330 AM from locally-owned and operated Radio Works Inc., to Maverick Media of Westport, Conn. Maverick Media announced March 1 they were buying WNTA from Radio Works—a group of six local radio stations.

Asked to respond to WNTA’s action, Caltagerone said: “I want to thank Radio Works, especially [WNTA talk show host] Ken DeCoster for giving me this opportunity. I loved my job, and the ratings showed I did it well, but this was a business decision. I want to thank the listeners, callers and guests for a great 11 months. …I look forward to the next opportunity to serve the community.”

Consistent with her desire to serve the public, Caltagerone was a Rockford School Board member from November 1999 to April 2003. She did not seek re-election because she moved out of the district to her current residence in Winnebago.

When she took to the air last July, Caltagerone said she was attracted to the talk radio position because of the opportunity for community service, which differed from that of the school board.

Current Rockford School Board member Jay Nellis (Sub-district F) said: “I’m disappointed WNTA is moving away from the local talk radio format. …There are now less opportunities for citizens to voice their concerns. …I think she certainly contributed to the community. …I didn’t always agree with her positions, but I thought it was good that she offered those opportunities.”

Nellis has been a Rockford School Board member since 2001.

Loyal WNTA listener and caller John Kahl expressed his support for Caltagerone by saying: “I love her, and I’m going to dearly miss her. …I know she’s upset for not having the opportunity to thank and say goodbye to her listeners, but let’s have a party for her.”

Kahl said he would serve as point man for the party organization effort (see information that accompanies this article).

Another WNTA listener and caller, Jeff Kallenbach, said: “I believe she pretty much picked up the ball where Chris Bowman left off. …At this point, where do we go now?”

Bowman was a very popular WNTA talk radio show host who died suddenly in February 2004, after a short illness. Although Bowman worked for Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Martin and the national Republican Party in the 1980s, he frequently held Republicans accountable for actions that affected taxpayers, like Caltagerone.

Barb Dent, another conservative, Rockford School Board candidate and taxpayer advocate, said Caltagerone’s “voice will be missed. …It’s like Bowman dying all over again.”

Rockford Ald. Bill Timm (R-9) also weighed in on Caltagerone’s departure, saying: “I really enjoyed working with that young lady. She was fair and very detailed, and I’m going to miss her. She contributed a lot to WNTA and the community.”

WNTA management was not available for comment.

The most explosive comments came from Republican Winnebago County Board member Mary Ann Aiello (R-9) who said: “The listeners were slapped in the face by ending talk radio in this matter. I think WNTA made a terrible, terrible mistake by eliminating talk radio in the afternoon….

“Stephanie held elected officials accountable for their actions. And by eliminating her, it’s a free ride for elected officials. Some members of the County Board are probably tickled to death,” Aiello said.

Aiello’s assertion is supported by actions taken by the Republican County Board caucus the same day Caltagerone was dismissed from her on-air duties.

According to Aiello, who witnessed the June 20 Winnebago County Board Republican caucus meeting, County Board member Chris Johnson (R-4) made a motion to draft a letter to be sent to WNTA management commending them for dismissing Caltagerone.

The motion was approved by the Republican caucus.

Johnson did not return a message left June 20 with his wife for comment.

According to Caltagerone, Johnson and former Republican Winnebago County Board member Tom Seymour assisted Caltagerone during her campaign for the school board position. Seymour is a radio talk-show host on WROK-1440AM, a WNTA competitor.

Concerning Johnson and Seymour’s assistance, Caltagerone said: “I think it’s interesting that people who helped me run as a watchdog of the school district were so uncomfortable with me as a watchdog of the county on the radio….They just became less accountable.”

When asked to comment on the Rockford Register Star June 21 article, “Radio host loses WNTA post over poor ratings,” Caltagerone said, “My attorney has advised me not to comment on the article.”

Editor and Publisher Frank Schier said he was familiar with the last available Arbitron ratings from fall 2004: “Stephanie was up in all categories over Chuck Diamond’s last rating. Her lowest increase in one category was up 68 percent, and her highest increase in another category was up 600 percent more than Diamond.”

Chuck Diamond was the previous host in Caltagerone’s afternoon time slot.

Republicans’ actions June 20 in Winnebago County echo recent efforts by Republicans at the federal level concerning the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to challenge other voices that they perceive as not being “fair and balanced.”

Caltagerone has agreed to write occasional columns for The Rock River Times on issues that pique her interest.

From the June 22-28, 2005, issue

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