The co-owner of WJJL-AM said Monday that his radio station is canceling its public affairs talk show and is considering moving out of the city in the face of "harassment" from city officials and from the firefighters' labor unions.
Meanwhile, a city inspector said the station's studio and office on Main Street would be condemned on Wednesday unless a long list of building code violations there is resolved by then.
John Phillips, who owns the station with his partner Dennis Westberg, announced on the air Monday that the last "Viewpoint" program will be broadcast Friday. "It's not worth the hassle and the harassment" of trying to keep the listener call-in program on the air, Phillips said later in an interview.
"We try to provide an outlet for socially responsible opinion. . . . I guess freedom of speech doesn't exist in Niagara Falls," Phillips said. "We may move our studios out of Niagara Falls."
Phillips added that Wheatfield Supervisor Timothy E. Demler Monday offered to make space available to WJJL in the Summit Park Mall on Williams Road.
Phillips said city inspectors appeared at his station Tuesday, the day after host Mike Anthony said on the air that he didn't agree with a fire union charge that Mayor James C. Galie and Fire Chief Paul S. Shanks were responsible for the death of Ella Lewis, 7, in a Niagara Avenue house fire on March 14. Phillips said, "It seems like it was the fire unions (that brought about the inspection), but I can't swear to it."
However, Richard L. Horn, president of the Uniformed Fire Fighters Association, said: "The firefighters have enjoyed the show, and we believe the general consensus (of callers) has been in our favor."
Horn said the Fire Prevention Bureau reinspected the station Monday, not Tuesday, after a long series of demands that code violations be repaired.
Horn added, "To think that the unions have that authority after the way we've been fighting the (city) administration? If we had suggested that, they (city officials) would have done the opposite."
Charles J. Naughton, the attorney for the Fire Officers Association, delivered a letter to WJJL Monday demanding an on-air retraction and apology for allegedly "defamatory" statements about the unions made by Phillips in a television interview Friday, in the wake of another visit by city building inspectors.
"Hopefully we can come to an understanding in this regard so that no further action is necessary," Naughton wrote. He could not be reached to elaborate.
City Council Chairman Vince V. Anello said at Monday's Council meeting that he had sent a memo to the administration asking how the inspection had come about.
Under the City Charter, Anello said, the Council has no control over administrative functions.
Councilman John G. Accardo said it would be equally illegal for the fire unions to have initiated the inspection on their own.
Dennis F. Virtuoso, the city's director of inspections and planning, said building code violations at the station "are over a year old."
He said if "life and safety issues" in the building were not resolved, his inspectors would "condemn it for occupancy" on Wednesday.
Virtuoso said there is no heat and no hot water in the station, and kerosene "salamanders" are being used to provide heat. He said those are illegal for indoor use.
Concerning the kerosene heaters, Phillips said, "We had sheets saying they didn't give off carbon monoxide."
WJJL's transmitter tower on Buffalo Avenue is not involved in the building code-violation issue.