By Ian Berry Staff Writer
The Rev. Bernie Miller's Sunday morning radio show is going off the air after questions about whether it violates federal "equal time" rules now that he is a Hamilton County Commission candidate.
Dr. Miller, a Republican, is challenging Democratic commissioner Greg Beck for the 5th District seat. Dr. Miller hosted a four-hour gospel show on Sunday mornings on WJTTFM and a one-hour show on WMPZ-FM.
Dr. Miller said he was informed by Jim Brewer II, general manager of the stations, that the show was being discontinued because Mr. Beck questioned its legality in light of Federal Communications Commission rules. Dr. Miller said he's been involved in radio since he was 16 and never talked politics on either show.
Mr. Beck said he raised the question through a campaign representative.
"Just the mere fact of his being on there was my concern," Mr. Beck said. "That's what prompted me to ask the question."
Mr. Brewer said he made the decision to pull the show after consulting with an attorney with expertise on FCC issues. He said the choice was either to pull the show or offer Mr. Beck the same amount of airtime.
FCC officials could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Brewer said he wasn't sure whether Mr. Miller's show would require giving Mr. Beck equal time, but he decided to take it off the air rather than risk an expensive dispute. He said whoever it was from Mr. Beck's campaign who called him was very accusatory. He said the person identified himself as Mr. Beck.
Mr. Beck has a radio show of his own each Saturday in which he preaches for an hour on WJOC-AM. On last week's show he spoke of purity, referring to himself as "Brother Greg" but never mentioning politics. Mr. Beck said he pays for the airtime so the show is not subject to the same rules.
Dr. Miller, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship, said he gets sponsors for the gospel show and that his church pays for the other one-hour show, in which he discusses the previous week's sermon. He said there are bigger issues for Mr. Beck to worry about.
"I think it's my race to lose," Dr. Miller said, "because he doesn't have the community support, and he's frustrated."
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Stuart James said Mr. Miller's campaign will fail.
"Bernie Miller is running as a Republican, and a Republican can't win that district," Mr. James said.
Mr. Brewer said the issue could end up angering listeners and hurting Mr. Beck. He said the show draws 9,800 listeners on average, including 8,400 blacks, and is the station's second-highest rated show on Sunday mornings.
But Mr. Beck said he simply was raising a question.
"It seems like black people can't get along, they fight one another, and I don't want anything to be construed like that," he said.
A candidate's radio show has been an issue in Hamilton County previously.
In 2002, the National Republican Congressional Committee filed a complaint against Democrat John Wolfe, who was challenging U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.
Mr. Wolfe was fined $7,200 for failing to report the money he paid for his radio show as a campaign expense.
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