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Radio station tunes out air time request

WXKT-FM says Zoller will continue her show until she qualifies for House seat

POSTED: December 22, 2011 11:36 p.m.

Congressional candidate Doug Collins likely will have to wait for equal time on WXKT-FM 103.7 until spring.

Cox Media Group, which owns the station, insists it is not required to offer Collins the same amount of time on the radio as Martha Zoller, his opponent in the race for the new 9th District seat in the U.S. House.

Zoller is host of a three-hour talk show on the station five days a week.

She and Collins were the first two candidates to declare their intentions to run for the seat, which is anchored in Hall County and includes all or part of 20 Northeast Georgia counties.

The state's new congressional maps await preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice. A decision is expected today.

Jackson County Commission Chairman Hunter Bicknell and former Hall County Chamber of Commerce leader Clifton McDuffie also are in the race. Neither Bicknell nor McDuffie has made a public request for equal time on the station.

Scott Smith, general manager of WXKT, said the station plans to keep Zoller on the air for now.

"Rather than penalizing Ms. Zoller for her interest in representing the people of our state, we are allowing her to continue her employment at the present time," Smith wrote in an email to The Times.

The station manager said WXKT does not have to offer equal time to Zoller's opponents in the congressional race until she becomes a legally qualified candidate in the spring. She plans to leave the show at that point.

"We take our (Federal Communications Commission) responsibilities seriously and, of course, will comply with all FCC political candidate rules," Smith wrote.

Collins requested equal time on the station earlier this month in a letter to Cox Media Group President Doug Franklin.

Franklin's office has referred all questions on the matter to Smith.

Collins alleged in the Dec. 9 letter to Franklin that Zoller has "discussed her campaign on multiple occasions" during her morning talk show.

His campaign consultant, Chip Lake, said the campaign has not received a response from Cox Media. When reached for comment Thursday, he called the station's decision "disappointing," but said the campaign was not sure how it would respond.

Lake said the campaign worries about objective coverage by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also owned by Cox Media.

"Given the fact that Cox Media Group owns the largest daily newspaper in the state, we were optimistic that our request might be granted, given the circumstances," Lake said. "It is impossible to objectively cover this race if ... one of your colleagues is a candidate in the race."

Zoller's campaign staff maintain that she is careful to keep her candidacy separate from the talk show.

Zoller's campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney issued a statement calling Collins' request a "desperate political stunt" by a "professional politician."

"Despite these typical political games, Doug Collins will not be the Grinch who steals anyone's Christmas," Mahoney said. "It is clear that Martha's continued employment is perfectly legal."

 



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