Katie Whiteside (photo courtesy of
Kevin Hoover, Mad River Union)
KHSU 90.5 FM in northern California market of Eureka/Arcata had been planning on having a pledge drive in June. But that isn’t going to happen due to controversy and upheaval caused by the firing of longtime KHSU PD and Ops Director Katie Whiteside.
According to local press reports [link], Whiteside was fired on May 14th for unknown reasons by KHSU GM Peter Fretwell. She had been at KHSU since 1995. Since Whiteside's termination, station underwriters have withdrawn their support and some members have said they won’t pay pledges or pledge again.
Fretwell blamed the administration at Humboldt State University, KHSU’s licensee, for cancelling the June drive. He told the Mad River Union newspaper: "The pledge drive is usually a celebration, and it's just inappropriate at this time.
KHSU is more than just another radio station in the Eureka/Arcata area. People in the isolated coastal area, 300 miles north of San Francisco, have come to rely KHSU as a source of news, culture and connection. KHSU’s format is an amalgam of NPR News, local news, lefty favorites such as Democracy Now! and volunteer-hosted music shows.
According to folks who live there, KHSU is an essential part of life in Humboldt County. For over two decades Whiteside had been the glue who brought the station and community together. So, when folks heard that Whiteside had turfed, it uncorked a deep well of resentment over other decisions made by Fretwell since he was hired as GM a year ago.
In an editorial [link], the Mad River Union said:
Katie Whiteside Was the “K” in KHSU. For nearly 23 years, Whiteside lived and breathed KHSU 90.5 FM. At times, she virtually resided in her office. To many, she was the living embodiment of everything right about KHSU.
On the weekends, Whiteside hosted one of KHSU’s most popular programs – Pagan Dance Music, where she appeared on-air as “Ramona,” Whiteside.
The pent-up anger at GM Fretwell boiled over at Community Advisor Board meeting on May 30th. Around 150 listeners, members, underwriters and station volunteers turned out to support Whiteside, call for her reinstatement and demand answers from Fretwell. One of the protesters told the assembled folks that Whiteside was “the heart and soul of the station.”
Fretwell has made no public statements about why Whiteside was fired. He has referred inquiries to Humboldt State’s administration and the California State University Office of General Counsel. Whiteside has also made no public comments.
MEET PETER FRETWELL
Fretwell and Whiteside have one thing in common: Both have been fired from radio jobs they loved.
According to a report in the Spokane Spokesman Review [link], Fretwell was let go by conservative talk station KXLY-AM in 1997 for unknown reasons. He had been a talk show host at the station for over seven years. Spokane is Fretwell’s hometown. After being fired he spent several years out of radio.
Most of Fretwell's career has been spent in the radio business. KHSU is the first CPB-qualified, NPR-affiliated station he has managed.
He came to KHSU in 2017 after ten years as the manager of WWFM [link], a small noncommercial New Jersey Classical music station that operates from Mercer Community College in Trenton.
Prior to WWFM, Fretwell worked for a series of evangelical Christian and conservative talk stations. In 2002 he enrolled as an undergraduate student at John Brown University (JBU) in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. He also became the manager and the morning drive host at JBU’s radio station KUOA-AM.
At KUOA Fretwell established an “American Family Values” format featuring syndicated shows such as Sean Hannity, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. (KUOA now has an all-sports format.)
After JBU, Fretwell received a MBA from Amberton University, a small evangelical school in rural Texas. He then returned to Spokane and worked at Moody Bible’s KMBR. In 2007 he became GM at WWFM.
WE SHOULD HAVE TAKEN MORE CARE TO COMMUNICATE WITH OUR LISTENERS SUPPORTERS
When Humboldt State University announced that the June pledge drive had been postponed indefinitely, Craig Wruck, HSU’s VP for University Advancement distributed a press release to explain the KHSU situation:
As you are aware, our Program and Operations Director Katie Whiteside was terminated in mid-May. For reasons of confidentiality, and out of respect for our former employee, we cannot discuss the details. Nevertheless, I recognize that we should have taken more care to communicate with our listeners and supporters about this change. I apologize for not ensuring better communication.