Dead air never sounded so good.
KGEZ radio owner and controversial shock jock John Stokes lost his soapbox on Sept. 24 when Flathead County authorities officially shut down his Kalispell-based station. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Ralph Kirscher filed a motion earlier last week forcing Stokes from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The move liquidated Stokes' assets and sent him into early retirement from the world of talk radio.
Stokes has a colored history–literally and figuratively–in the annals of free speech in these parts. He publicly burned a green swastika during a 2002 anti-Earth Day gathering to demonstrate his contempt for conservationists, whom he calls "green Nazis." The Montana Human Rights Network contested Stokes' Federal Communications Commission license in 2007, claiming he failed to serve the public interest. He's been the subject of a string of defamation complaints, the most recent of which landed him in the $3.8 million lawsuit that plummeted him into bankruptcy.
Over the years, Stokes regularly tested just how far the "free speech" argument would go. He viewed his show, "The Edge," as his personal right-wing playpen as well as a launch pad for personal attacks. While we won't shed any tears over the sounds of static coming from KGEZ, we have to admit the shuttering of Stokes' station couldn't come at a more fitting time.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are commemorating the 100th anniversary of their stand for free speech on Fri., Oct. 2. In 1909, the Wobblies took to the corner of Front Street and Higgins Avenue to voice their grievances against Montana's prohibitive public-speaking law from atop a genuine soapbox. One by one, each person that stepped up to speak was arrested, leading to an overflow at the local jail. Eventually, city officials let down their guard and decided that IWW members could speak freely on the street.
Local members of the IWW will reenact the event on the same street corner, but not before allowing members of the public a chance to mount the soapbox first. The event will likely draw the usual crowd of impassioned locals ready to share their latest health care or wilderness legislation tirades with anyone in earshot. Let's just hope Friday's speakers show a little more class than Stokes ever did.