Silver City needs to give voice to all

By Ned Cantwell

Silver City is proud of herself. The town in southwestern New Mexico likes to say, “You owe yourself a visit.” She likes to say Silver City is the “bes- kept secret of the Southwest.”
Here are some other slogans that might apply. “Silver City — Shame on you!” Or, “Silver City, where freedom took a dive.”

One of her dirty, not well-kept secrets was all over the news recently.

Matt Runnels owns a radio station in Silver City. The son of the late congressman, Harold “Mud” Runnels, Matt is also the Grant County Democratic Chairman.

The radio station runs the daily right wing “blah, blah, blah” of Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives. It countered with a local talk show hosted by a Kyle Johnson who tilts left.

Johnson’s show, Radio Free Silver, lasted two months. That’s when Matt Runnels said enough advertisers had muscled up to force him to cancel the show. He said they threatened to pull ads bringing revenue of $10,000 per month. It was either cancel the program or be driven out of business, he claimed.

Runnels said car dealers, bankers, pizza business owners, all-terrain vehicle merchants and furniture store owners — 20 to 25 in all — were among those who threatened boycott. Strangely, not one of these business types is quoted in the Silver City newspapers. Could it be they are ashamed of their boycott?

Look, would the country be better off without the left-wing idiocy of the Al Frankens and Michael Moores? Without the extreme right-wing ramblings of Ann Coulter and Michael Savage? If all political talk show hosts were as journalistically sound and reasonable as Tim Russert, instead of rabid shouters such as the left’s Paul Begala and the right’s Bill O’Reilly, would not the cause of political debate be advanced? Sure it would.

But this is America, a country that prides herself in giving voice to all. Suppressing opinion through flexing of economic muscle is a right, too, but availing oneself of such a privilege is short-sighted. Would you like a couple of large advertisers in your town controlling political thought? Think about it.

One prominent Silver City resident who says he likes and otherwise respects Matt Runnels suspects the radio station owner is “overplaying” the controversy to get publicity for the station, and for Runnels himself who might have political ambitions. He said Runnels is a rich guy who could weather the storm.

Runnels did not return a call for comment. But it occurs to me the way to milk this situation would be to loudly resist the economic pressure in the name of freedom. Keeping Radio Free Silver on the air against all odds would take a state story national. It would leap from the Albuquerque Journal to CNN.

Silver City liberals have expressed predictable horror in their reaction to the show’s cancellation. And the show’s host himself tipped his extremist hand when he told Silver City Sun-News reporter Thomas Baird the boycotters are more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden.

That’s silly, of course, but in this country Kyle Johnson has a right to say that. But maybe not in Silver City.

Ned Cantwell is a syndicated columnist and member of the New Mexico Press Hall of Fame. Contact him at: