Roseanne not the first media personality to fall from the top
When Roseanne Barr made several racially insensitive and anti-Semitic tweets in May, ABC canceled the successful reboot of her 1980s and 1990s sitcom Roseanne, becoming the first top-rated show ever to get canceled and the first one because of a tweet. But to those who follow Chicago media and its history, there was another person who had a top-rated show canned because of insensitive comments.
Howard Miller was Chicago’s dominant morning radio personality in the 1950s and 1960s, reigning at WIND-AM beginning in 1949. He was so influential, Time Magazine noted Miller was“probably the nation’s single biggest influence on record sales” as WIND was a Top 40 powerhouse in the 1950s, before WLS-AM and WCFL came on the scene. But after riots took place on Chicago’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Miller on his show said the city’s police officers, firefighters, and first responders needed to be recognized for their work during the uprising. But station management saw it as disrespecting Dr. King.
Fearing a backlash from Chicago’s African-American community and others, WIND suspended Miller and subsequently fired him – despite Miller being number one in morning drive at the time. The top spot was soon claimed by rival WGN-AM morning personality Wally Phillips.
Miller was soon scooped up by Top 40 station WCFL for morning drive – but his arch-conservative views and rhetoric were a poor fit for WCFL’s younger-skewing music format and was unable to recapture his past ratings glory. After he was replaced by Clark Weber in late 1969, Miller resurfaced at WGN, and also had a late-night weekly talk show on WLS-TV in a mold similar to right-wing talkers William F. Buckley and Joe Pyne. Miller later surfaced at other local radio outlets before departing the Chicago area. Miller died in 1994 at his home in Naples, Florida; he owned several stations in the state and in Illinois before retiring in 1986.
As documented by Time, Miller’s first WCFL show had Miller saying “I’m proud to be a flag waver! And I’ll be waving it plenty every morning. You will find me ready, hard-hitting with truth and justice.” In a full-page, flag-bedecked newspaper ad, Miller pledged his allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, the President, servicemen, policemen and firemen.” It’s language echoed today by President Trump and numerous conservative talk-show hosts.
Barr recently stated her show was canceled because of her support for President Trump, and later gave a rambling interview on YouTube stating she didn’t know Valerie Jarrett – the target of one of Barr’s tweet – was African-American.
It just goes to show you how history has a knack for repeating itself. But the difference is whereas Howard Miller would actually receive a second (and third, and fourth) chance, we now live in a radically different media era. Unless you work for a company willing to put up with such antics (HBO and today’s version of WIND come to mind), anyone who pulls an act like Roseanne did on a bigger stage might want to consider a career change – to a radio talk show host.