Station pulls plug on talk show after comments about councilor’s family

Station pulls plug on talk show after comments about councilor’s family


WESTERLY — Fans of “Cardinal Knowledge With Lombardo,” the two-hour talk show that aired for just over one year on WBLQ on Wednesdays, will be disappointed this afternoon when their favorite hosts are missing from the local airwaves.

The show was canceled last week by station owner Christopher DiPaola after a comment that co-host Robert Lombardo, a local lawyer and municipal critic, made about Town Councilor Mario Celico’s children during the Sept. 27 radio show.

In recent weeks, Lombardo, after learning a family court judge had found Celico in contempt of a court order issued in the divorce case, has discussed Celico’s divorce case on the air. The comment about Celico’s children was part of his remarks about the divorce case.

The primary focus of “Cardinal Knowledge With Lombardo” — Julie Cardinal, a local real estate agent, is the other co-host — was Westerly government. The approach was sometimes educational — for example, a show was dedicated to explaining the 35 charter-revision questions voters faced in November. Similarly, a segment analyzed the failed elementary school redesign proposal.

But few, if any, of the episodes failed to include sharp criticism leveled by Lombardo at a variety of town officials, particularly Town Councilors Jean Gagnier, Philip Overton and Celico, and perhaps most of all Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy, a one-time guest on the show. Officials were often labeled as charlatans and buffoons hiding behind a cloak of “verisimilitude” — one of the High Street lawyer’s favorite terms.

During an interview with The Sun, DiPaola said he had met with Lombardo two days before the last show and told him that he preferred Lombardo stay away from the divorce topic altogether, but in all cases not to discuss Celico’s children.

“It’s a tough situation. I really have been enjoying the show... if it’s a public official, they are open to criticism no matter what,” DiPaola said.

“But the kids are not public officials ... I don’t ever want to involve kids in anything,” DiPaola said.

DiPaola, who came up with the idea for the show and pitched it to Lombardo and Cardinal, went on to clarify, saying “for the time being I pulled the plug on the show but I’m keeping the door open for him to call in” or to serve as a guest on other programs. Lombardo and Cardinal are not paid to do the show.

Lombardo has a different recollection of the Sept. 25 meeting that took place when DiPaola came to Lombardo’s office. According to Lombardo, DiPaola initially asked after the Sept. 20 show to meet with both Lombardo and Cardinal at a different location but instead came to Lombardo’s office unannounced without informing Cardinal. During the meeting Lombardo said DiPaola asked him not to discuss Celico at all. Lombardo said he refused. “I told him I’m not going to censor myself,” Lombardo said.

Had DiPaola asked Lombardo to refrain from discussing Celico’s children, Lombardo said he probably would have agreed, adding that the comment he made about Celico’s children “slipped out.”

Lombardo said DiPaola told him he had received complaints about the show and canceled it because of pressure he felt from advertisers and town officials and noted that WBLQ’s broadcast tower is on town-owned land off Margin Street. The show, Lombardo said, garnered the most listeners of any show on the station. In the first year Lombardo missed just one show. Ultimately, he said, the end of the show comes as a bit of a relief.

“It gets tiring. I’d understand if [DiPaola] just said, ‘I don’t want you on the air anymore, it’s too much’ I’d get that, but just tell the truth,” Lombardo said.

At the same time, Lombardo said the apparent ending of his radio career seems to follow a pattern he said he has observed elsewhere in town. “You can say nice things about people, you just can’t say bad things,” Lombardo said.

Cardinal, who had missed a few recent shows tending to personal and business needs, agreed the show could be tiring, but said she had planned to continue and was hoping to direct it in a more “positive” direction by booking more guests. In the past when guests appeared, Cardinal said the shows seemed more interesting and productive.

Cardinal offered praise and respect for Lombardo but stressed that she did not always agree with his opinions or like how he expressed them and said the comment about Celico’s children was “out of line” and “distasteful.”

“But I can’t be mad at Robert. He is who he is and he’s not doing anything to me,” Cardinal said.

Most of all, Cardinal said she was angered that DiPaola talked only with Lombardo during the Sept. 25 meeting, and never informed her of a warning.

“I’m very disappointed, almost to the point of disgust, with the way this was handled by Chris DiPaola,” Cardinal said.

Had Cardinal been present in the meeting, she said she believes she could have helped broker an understanding between herself, DiPaola and Lombardo. Like Lombardo, Cardinal said she believes DiPaola made a decision to protect himself and his business. “He won’t confirm or deny if he was pressured but I know that he was pressured,” Cardinal said.

Celico said he was aware the show had been removed from the air.

“I know it was canceled and I’ve heard it might have been because [Lombardo] was discussing my personal life, but I don’t know if that is a fact or not,” Celico said. “I really don’t know what to say — it’s Chris’ choice.”

Celico said he received an email from Lombardo discussing his intent to discuss his personal life on the air and has heard that Lombardo has also made critical comments on social media. Celico has run the Town Council’s meetings since former Council President James Silvestri resigned in June.

“I didn’t respond. He talked about me even before I assumed a leadership role on the council. I devote my energies, and I think everyone on the council does, to doing my work. I can’t be bothered by what people say or think about me. I try to do the job,” Celico said.

The town has leased the Margin Street property to local radio station owners for decades, well before DiPaola owned a station, Celico said. He said he hoped no pressure was exerted by town officials.

“I’ve never been part of a discussion like that. I would find it very unfortunate if anyone took that kind of position and held something against Chris or put pressure on him because of that tower. I would be very disappointed by that and don’t believe it happened,” Celico said.

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