WRRK morning host points to lawsuit as
turning point in philosophy, careerBy Dimitri Vassilaros
Saturday, June 7, 2003
It seems like only yesterday that 60-year-old Jim Quinn was a teen idol.
A $10,000 salary brought the pudgy 24-year-old Dayton, Ohio, DJ to the corner of Seventh Avenue and Smithfield Street -- known as "Walk and Don't Walk" -- to rock 'n' roll KQV (1410 AM) listeners in 1967. For the next five years, teenyboppers followed his lead on the rollicking 7:20 p.m. to midnight weekday show while he reminded them he was "Your L-e-e-a-a-a-d-e-r!"
He left the KQV studios on the first floor of the Chamber of Commerce building to go to New York City. But it took Quinn 25 years to cross Smithfield Street -- and the political spectrum -- to become the conservatives' idol on his 5:30 to 9 a.m. weekday show on WRRK (96.9 FM) in the Centre City Tower.
Along the way, he lost 100 pounds, his liberal ideology and a lawsuit that became the defining moment of his life.
In Manhattan, Quinn lost the weight on a crash diet by drinking 55-gallon drums of water after jumping ship from a radio station with plummeting ratings. Of the radio station, he says, management decreed that he play songs such as "Sing" by the Carpenters after Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
From Manhattan he went to Buffalo before coming back here to work at "13Q" (WKTQ , now known as WJAS 1320 AM) from 1977 to 1979. But it's the court case that had its genesis in the late 1980s that changed the course of his career.
He and sidekick Banana Don Jefferson had started doing their wild and wacky weekday morning show on WBZZ (93.7 FM) in 1984. Quinn had been offered a $75,000 salary and another $25,000 to $30,000 in talent fees to work there. It was a far cry from the roughly $51,000 he had been making annually at WTAE (1250 AM) while also working at WPGH (Channel 53) from 1979 to 1983.
The "B-94" money and ratings were great. Life was good, until things became too wacky. During a 1988 "Friday Morning Joke-off," when listeners called to air jokes, one caller included a very risque punch line about Liz Randolph, the show's newscaster.
She sued the morning duo and the station. A Common Pleas Court jury found in 1990 that Randolph had been subjected to the infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and defamation. The station's company was also named in a second suit. Both suits were settled in 1991 for an undisclosed amount.
Quinn leaves no doubt about his opinion on the controversy that followed the lawsuit: "Having been sued for doing what I was paid to do -- off-the-cuff humor -- and after a feminist firestorm in the media in which facts and evidence took a back seat to political correctness, my formerly liberal eyes were opened to the agenda of the feminists, their friends and supporters in the media," he says.
Randolph could not be reached for comment, but her attorney, Samuel Kamin, says: "The whole case defined what conduct was unacceptable related to sexual harassment for on-air personalities. As I recall, it was a jury of men and women, young and old. It was not a feminist jury by any stretch of the imagination."
Quinn says he believes the media had a politically correct agenda in covering his case, and afterward he began questioning his beliefs.
That spawned "Quinn's First Law of Liberalism" -- that liberal programs generate the exact opposite of their stated objectives.
Quinn stayed at B-94 until 1992, when he was making $150,000 to $180,000 -- but by the end of the year, Quinn was "on the beach," radio jargon for being unemployed.
A few weeks later, Gregg Frischling, vice president and general manager of Steel City Media, parent company of WRRK, hired Quinn.
Why? "No.1, he was out of work and had a great history in Pittsburgh," says Frischling, who says he was pleasantly surprised Quinn is not the management headache some said he would be. Quinn's loyalty also was surprising. There is no contract, but there is mutual respect, Frischling says.
WRRK got its now-conservative talk host for a song -- $72,000 that first year -- thanks to the law of supply and demand, Quinn says wryly. And he got Rose Somma-Tennent, his producer and sidekick, in 1995.
Says Somma-Tennent about her friend, "It was the first time I worked with a man who did as much work as I did in preparing for a program."
While trying to stop smoking one day, she says, she was depressed and angry. Quinn brought a huge banana split to her house. "He thought that would cheer me up. Sugar and chocolate -- yeah! A great substitute for nicotine," Somma-Tennent says.
Most would be surprised to know that off the air, Quinn is not very assertive. And that this quiet, mellow guy can be like an absent-minded professor, she says. Sometimes he comes in with the same clothes on as the day before -- or three days in a row. And Quinn always has a toothpick -- or a matchbook cover that he uses as a toothpick. "I think that is horrid," she says.
Does he have any regrets? Hardly. "When bad things happen, they either kill you or make you stronger. The biggest, baddest thing (the lawsuit) was the single most important thing to prepare me for a new career and a new life. Had it not been for that, I would have been a 60-year-old DJ looking for work in Painesville, Ohio."
His South Fayette neighbors might see Quinn driving around in his jacked-up Jeep with his two adolescents from his marriage that ended after 11 years.
"He also is a great father, Somma-Tennent says.
Quinn's goal is to retire with enough money to live comfortably, which he might do in 10 years, he says.
"As long as he wants to be on radio, Jim has a job," Frischling says.
But "10 years" could last a lifetime for Quinn, because he says Feb. 26, 2003, was the one-year anniversary of his 59th birthday.
He knows how fast time flies when you're having fun.
Dimitri Vassilaros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 380-5637.
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