By Orville Higgins
A few days ago, a caller on my KLAS ESPN show told me about an interview he had heard on an RJR programme the previous evening. It was Bradley Stewart being very open about his association with Theodore Whitmore. One of the statements that Bradley made was that when he started out as Whitmore's assistant, Whitmore "knew nothing about coaching ... . Nothing."
I didn't hear the interview myself, but caller after caller started demanding that I get the tape from RJR and play it on my show. I tried calling Bradley myself to speak on my show. He didn't answer (and, by the way, Bradley, you still haven't returned my call.) The callers were now insistent that they preferred to hear the RJR interview than Bradley live on my show, because they didn't want Bradley to change his story. They wanted to hear the original.
Hearing Whitmore being chewed out by his former assistant was the kind of juicy news item that football followers would not want to miss. For maybe the first time in my 20-year career as a journalist, I was at a crossroads. Playing an interview from not only a competing station, but in effect a competing programme, is not done on Jamaican radio. A sound bite, maybe, but not a whole interview.
On the one hand, I wanted to hear the interview, badly. I also wanted the listeners to hear it as well, but I was shackled by my long-held tenet that you never did this kind of thing, which might be construed as openly promoting a rival programme.
I was torn between the two positions. In the end, I stuck with tradition - that firmly established, though an unwritten principle in media houses in Jamaica, that you do nothing, nothing, that might be seen as promoting a direct competitor.
Wouldn't play the interview
I told my listeners I wouldn't play the interview, no matter how badly they wanted to hear it. Media in Jamaica had not yet reached that level of ... maturity (?) and I didn't want to be the one to start it.
One or two callers and Facebookers understood my stance, but I would say the majority of them were upset. They weren't concerned one bit with this internal media politics. They wanted to hear a juicy interview and they wouldn't listen to the reasons I was giving.
I understood things from their perspective, and I genuinely wanted to please my listeners, but I wouldn't budge. Thankfully, my friends at RJR who were listening to my programme played back the interview the same evening. News had got around to followers of my programme, on Facebook that the interview would be repeated on RJR that same evening. Many of my listeners heard it, and were able to comment about it on my show the next day.
What was interesting about the whole incident is Patrick Anderson at RJR agreeing with me that previously, he would have taken the same stance that I did, for precisely the same reasons. But after that incident, he agreed that going forward, he wouldn't mind playing back an interview from a rival station, if his listeners found it newsworthy. In fact, he got his announcers on his evening programme to express that same sentiment while they were repeating the Bradley Stewart interview, and suggested that I do the same on my show, if ever they had an interview my listeners would find useful.
I went home that night thinking that media in Jamaica, certainly the sports segment of it, may well have seen a landmark that afternoon, the significance of which wasn't lost on me.
I never believed I would live to see the day when a media powerhouse such as RJR would agree to carry interviews that were done elsewhere on radio in Jamaica, no matter how badly their listeners wanted it. I want to take some credit that my show, and those who follow it, may well have been the catalyst to such a change if it ever becomes commonplace.
It's still only an idea between me and my friends at RJR. I'm interested in seeing which of us will first be that noble to actually do it. I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel, though. Media in Jamaica may have finally come of age.
Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host. Email feedback to email@example.com.