Fired traffic reporter Kelli Walker cites racial tension at WLS

Kelli Walker

Kelli Walker

Traffic reporter Kelli Walker, whose contentious relationship with WLS AM 890 morning host Bruce Wolf exploded in an on-air confrontation about race eight weeks ago, has been forced out from the Cumulus Media news/talk station.

No reason was cited for dismissing Walker, whose last day on the air was Monday. Her most recent contract with the station expired last October.

Walker said Tuesday she believes she was terminated because she lashed out at Wolf on the air November 18, accusing him of “racist connotations” and challenging him for citing a “culture of victimhood” in the black community. A transcript was posted here later that day.

Bruce Wolf

Bruce Wolf

“Honestly, I’ve never worked in a more hostile environment in my life,” Walker said in an interview. “I knew going in that WLS was a conservative formatted station, but I understand differences of opinion and political talk. I can accept that. I may not agree with everything that’s said, but I knew I had a job to do.”

What Walker called the “big brouhaha” wasn’t her first fight with Wolf. “Bruce and I had many on-air ‘differences,’ if you will,” she said, “everything from slave jokes to fried chicken jokes, to saying black women were a protected class and that’s the only reason Felicia Middlebrooks has her job over at CBS. These were all things he said on the air. When the conversation that erupted a few weeks back happened, it was merely a culmination of everything I had been dealing with.” When Walker complained to her bosses, she said: “They told me you can’t argue like that on the air anymore.”

Nevertheless, Walker said, her firing came as a shock. “Right now it just looks like they got rid of the African American who was giving Bruce Wolf a hard time,” she said.

Wolf declined to comment Tuesday. WLS executives did not respond to inquiries.

The move comes as WLS is poised to launch a new morning show Monday hosted by Big John Howell, just hired from Salem Communications rival news/talk WIND AM 560. Howell will succeed Wolf, whose future role with Cumulus Media Chicago has not been announced.

Walker, a 15-year veteran of Chicago radio, joined WLS in October 2013 after five years at Total Traffic Network and two years at Traffic Pulse NAVTEQ. She previously worked on the air at WILV FM 100.3 and at WJKL/WRMN in Elgin. She is a graduate of Illinois Center for Broadcasting and attended DePaul University.

“I’m not a bad person, I’m not a racist, I’m not some angry black woman who just starts going off on people,” she said. “It was just very hard to work in that atmosphere and hear racist jokes being flung around and not say anything. I certainly did not just wake up that day and decide to attack him on the air like that.

“If it cost me my job, ultimately, I accept that. But I could no longer continue to listen to the horrible things that were being said.”