Brotherly love: KFGO vows Heitkamp bid won’t sway content

Heidi Heitkamp

FARGO – Entering the race for U.S. Senate, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp already has the ears of a prominent voice on North Dakota airwaves.

Her younger brother, Joel Heitkamp, hosts the morning “News & Views” talk show on Fargo’s KFGO-AM, where he also oversees the station’s operations.

The Democratic siblings’ ties naturally raise questions about potential conflicts of interest, now that Heidi Heitkamp is a candidate in what will likely be a heated campaign against Rep. Rick Berg, the presumed Republican candidate.

Joel Heitkamp

But managers of Radio Fargo-Moorhead, the parent company of KFGO and five other Fargo stations, said the kinship won’t influence the station’s operations.

“We’ll treat Heidi like any other candidate,” said Nancy Odney, the company’s chief operating officer and KFGO’s general manager.

Federal regulations require broadcasters to provide equal time to political candidates so as not to unduly influence the electoral process.

Odney said staff at Radio Fargo-Moorhead have had “extensive conference calls and information to make sure we understand all the rules on this matter.”

“We don’t anticipate any problems in this regard,” Odney added. “Our entire on-air staff understands the political rules and implications.”

So do state Republicans.

“(North Dakotans) have a high expectation of fairness from Joel Heitkamp given his personal ties to the candidate,” Republican Party spokesman Matt Becker said Tuesday. “We hope for the sake of the importance of this race that his coverage is fair and accurate.”

A known Democrat himself, Joel Heitkamp vowed his show won’t cater to his sister’s candidacy.

“I will continue to give equal access to both parties,” Heitkamp said, adding: “At times, it may seem as though I’m being unfair, but it’s a lot like the prom. You can ask them out but that doesn’t mean they have to come.”

Republican candidate Duane Sand has appeared on “News & Views” several times, while Heitkamp said “Rick Berg is afraid to come on.”

Berg’s campaign declined to comment for this article.

Both Sand and Heidi Heitkamp have guest-hosted the talk show in the past, but Joel Heitkamp said that won’t continue during the campaign.

Heitkamp said he also won’t influence KFGO’s news coverage in his role as operations manager.

“It’s really clear: Anything that relates to this race falls under the jurisdiction of (news director) Paul Jurgens,” Joel Heitkamp said. “I give you my word: I will stay out of the news business.”