Cumulus Media, owner of news/talk WLS 890-AM and more than 400 other radio stations nationwide, is on a collision course with some of its biggest personalities over the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all employees.
Dan Bongino, who took over Rush Limbaugh’s coveted midday slot (11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays) in May, is threatening to quit — even though he already was vaccinated on the advice of his doctors because he has Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I’m not really happy with the company I work with right here,” Bongino told listeners last week. “I believe these vaccine mandates are unethical. I believe they’re immoral. I believe they don’t take into account the science of natural immunity due to a prior infection. I believe they’re broad-based and don’t take into account an individual circumstances of why they may or may not want to take a vaccine. And they’re antithetical to everything I believe in.
“So, I’ll say again, I’m not going to let this go. Cumulus is going to have to make a decision with me — if they want to continue this partnership or they don’t. But I’m talking to you on their airwaves. They don’t have to let that happen. And I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t. Because it’s really unfortunate that people with a lower profile than me, who don’t have 300-plus stations, have been summarily either shown the door or been put in really untenable circumstances because they simply want to make a medical decision by themselves.”
His fight with Cumulus, Bongino said in a subsequent explanation, “has everything to do with the principle of body sovereignty.”
Media Matters for America, the progressive nonprofit media watchdog group, reported that despite the company’s mandate, Bongino and other nationally syndicated right-wing hosts continue to spread anti-vaccine talking points while receiving paychecks from Cumulus. (Here is the link.)
They include Ben Shapiro, whose show airs on WLS from 2 to 4 p.m. weekdays, and Mark Levin, whose show airs on WLS from 9 p.m. to midnight weeknights. Both have railed against mandates and promoted non-compliance on their shows.
“The company’s hosts, and talk radio in general, have played a notable role in spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, even as other anti-vaccine figures have succumbed to the illness,” Media Matters reported.
“Cumulus has a history of providing a platform for dangerous content while later instituting rules that run counter to its hosts’ rhetoric. Earlier this year, Cumulus received attention for issuing a directive to employees to cease spreading misinformation about the 2020 election after some of its hosts were implicated in promoting conspiracy theories leading up to the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. Despite this directive, Cumulus hosts continued to spread misinformation on the election seemingly without repercussions.”
Locally Cumulus Media Chicago has strictly enforced the company’s mandate, which went into effect September 27.
As reported here earlier, staffers returning to the office were offered color-coded bracelets to indicate their willingness to engage with colleagues. According to an internal memo, red means “Please stay 6 feet away”; yellow means “Some contact is acceptable”; and green means “Comfortable with appropriate office greetings.”
Marv Nyren, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Media Chicago, declined to comment.
In the latest Nielsen Audio survey WLS tied for 24th place overall with a 1.7 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 234,400.
Thursday’s comment of the day: Phil Ponce: Big fan of Phil Kadner’s work; a solid internal compass and an innate sense of decency. Good luck, Phil, and thank you.