New Jersey 101.5 is giving Bill Spadea an unfair advantage in 2025 gov race

June 25, 2024 7:02 am

New Jersey 101.5 said Bill Spadea will continue hosting his radio show while he runs for governor. That's a bad decision. (Photo by Hal Brown)

Radio talk show host Bill Spadea has had a lot to rant about recently.

On Friday morning, he needled NJ Transit over its disastrous service shutdowns and slapped Jersey Shore towns where free beach access has apparently led to too-crowded beaches. On Tuesday, he said he’d support state funds to pay for longer hours for lifeguards and he took a crack at Rutgers University.

Sort of typical for Spadea’s morning radio show on New Jersey 101.5. But now that he’s running for the GOP nod for governor next year, Spadea’s show is no longer just a chance for him to raise the blood pressure of his listeners by ranting about high taxes and those clowns in Trenton — it’s a daily, four-hour ad for Spadea’s campaign.

And it’s one that could go on for a while. Spadea’s bosses say they don’t intend to take him off the air until he becomes a “legally qualified” candidate. That could mean another nine months or so of New Jersey 101.5 giving Spadea free campaign ads, four hours a day, five days a week, unless someone steps in to stop them.

There are legal implications to all this — the Election Law Enforcement Commission will consider this week whether New Jersey 101.5 is providing an in-kind contribution to Spadea’s campaign by letting him stay on the air — but I’m less interested in what the station can and can’t do and more interested in what it should and shouldn’t do. Is it fair to let Spadea mouth off for hours every day while his opponents would have to pay New Jersey 101.5 to do the same? Shouldn’t a media company that has a healthy news component, one that is already covering next year’s race for governor, avoid giving free air time to one of the candidates?

I talked to some media watchers about this, like Joe Amditis. He’s associate director of operations for the Center for Cooperative Media, which is based at Montclair State University and hopes to grow and strengthen local news in the Garden State.

“I think it would come down to whether 101.5 considers itself a news organization,” he said. “There’s a lot of blurred lines for some orgs, especially for one like 101.5, which is not explicitly journalism.”

Kathryn Quigley, who teaches media ethics at Rowan University, where she chairs the school’s journalism department, wonders what New Jersey 101.5 would do if Spadea openly campaigned during his show.

“How will they react if he goes out of bounds?” Quigley asked. “Would they pull the plug on his show if warranted?”

The problem is it’s already warranted. Spadea previewed his campaign spiel in the video announcing his candidacy, and it’s nearly indistinguishable from his on-air musings: Taxes are too high, spending is out of control, liberals stink, so do RINOS, drag queens are bad, etc. He could change not one syllable of his show and it would still represent a free campaign ad.

Townsquare Media, which owns New Jersey 101.5, said in a statement when Spadea announced his bid for governor that it is aware of the issues involved here and has imposed some guidelines to ensure Spadea’s show adheres to “industry standards.” It’s unclear what those guidelines are, but one of the radio station’s fixes for this problem is a lengthy on-air disclaimer intended to distance itself from Spadea’s political career, but instead serves as a regular reminder that the station’s star personality is running for governor.

I asked some of Spadea’s opponents how they feel. Sen. Jon Bramnick, who is also seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said he doesn’t think this is complicated: New Jersey 101.5 is giving Spadea’s campaign something of value by keeping him on the air.

“If he’s talking policy, which he does every day, his opinion as to what should be done in the state of New Jersey, that means he’s campaigning and therefore there is value from the station that’s giving him that opportunity to speak,” he said.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who is vying for the Democratic nod for governor, has a different opinion: Spadea’s on-air takes on politics and policy may make him popular enough with Republican primary voters to win next June, but they will hurt him in November.

“I actually hope Spadea keeps his show because I’m excited to see him in the general election,” Fulop said.

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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.” You can reach him at [email protected].

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