Tuesday, June 12, 2018

KHSU POSTPONES PLEDGE DRIVE BECAUSE OF COMMUNITY OUTRAGE OVER EMPLOYEE’S FIRING




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 Since Whiteside's termination, station underwriters have withdrawn their support and some members have said they won’t pay pledges or pledge again.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

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.


13 comments:

  1. At a guess, it seems like Whiteside was getting waaaaaay too personally associated with the station. Sounds like a real cult of personality going on there and while it's easy, even attractive, to fall into that trap...it can be the kiss of death for a small community radio station. Quite possibly that's what happened here.

    It does sound like Fretwell was an odd choice to run a lefty community radio station, but it's possible he was trying to do the right thing for the station: make sure it wasn't solely dependent on one person (and one person's ego) to function. Although if that's the case, clearly he did it in a manner that was ham-handed and poorly-executed.

    OTOH, who knows? For all we know, it was discovered by the "new boss" (Fretwell) that Whiteside was embezzling like crazy, and keeping quiet about the reason for her firing was all the "olive branch" for her service that she was gonna get. (shrugs wildly)

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  2. The photo labeled “Whiteside with listener” does not show Katie.

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  3. Hmm, this sounds a bit like a political purge.

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  4. Ummm, neither of the women in the second photograph is Katie.

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  5. Thanks for the article, as yes indeed we here in Humboldt are intensely interested in news surrounding KHSU.
    I did want to point out, though, that the photo captioned "Whiteside with KHSU listener" is actually a photo of Anne Holcomb, the director of Food For People (a local non-profit food bank) and myself, Bones Stafford, a letter carrier in Arcata. The occasion was an interview Katie had just conducted with us on the Letter Carrier Food Drive, which was May 12 this year.

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  6. Katie Whiteside is neither of the two women in that 2nd photograph, FWIW....

    Thanks for the background information on Peter Fretwell. I didn't know about those conservative and/or Christian formats he worked in. I wonder to what extent they play a part in this debacle KHSU fans are currently suffering through...

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  7. The photo of Katie Whiteside was taken by the Mad River Union.
    madriverunion.com

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  8. The two women in the photo are Ann Holcomb, executive director of Food for People and Suzanne "Bones" Stafford, letter carrier. They're discussing the annual Stamp out Hunger Food Drive.

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  9. Hi Ken - great work. Actually, during his management of WWFM the station became (and is) a NPR member. Thanks so much.

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  10. Peter Fretwell's pre-WWFM CV explains exactly why he is having problems at KHSU. I would be leery about hiring him for a big city NPR station. When Torey Malatia came to WBEZ, more of the hardcore left listeners were nailing him for his brief period working for a right-wing talk station in Chicago and forgetting about his track record at WFMT and pubcasters. Fretwell should never have been hired for a small market station that behaves more like community radio than NPR in the first place.

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  11. Thank you for your research into Mr. Fretwell's background.
    Not only is this decision to fire Katie Whitesdide unjust, but it reveals an underbelly at University Advancement not unlike the current US administration.
    Peter Fretwell is being supported in this decision by Craig Wruck, Frank Whitlatch and Michael Dronkers from University Advancement. A number of staff and volunteers witnessed Katie Whiteside being bullied by Fretwell, Fretwell professionally undermining her with erratic programming decisions, withholding job-relevant information from her - additionally, staff members have documented disrepencies in Fretwell's application of fair labor law at the station. Emails directed to the station's Community Advisory Board are being whithheld from certain members of the board. In short, all sorts of shenanigans going on. Fretwell did not like Katie Whiteside and sought to oust her - with or without cause. Wruck, Whitlatch and Dronkers are supporting this unjust firing.
    Fretwell has been with the station 13 months, Whiteside has 22 years of service at KHSU. Ms. Whiteside has been there keeping day-to-day station operations and programming rolling through six different General Managers, four Music directors, four Development Directors... you get the picture. She has been solid for over two decades. Ms. Whiteside was unjustly fired. Peter Fretwell is a thin-skinned tyrant. Whitlatch and Dronkers have personal advancement agendas and Wruck... well, that's a joke entirely. In fact, Frank Whitatch and Craig Wruck are not much respected around campus. That they and Dronkers are supporting Mr. Fretwell is sad but certainly not a surprise. This is WAY too much like our curent national administration ...and a very sad thing that it has come to roost in Arcata, California.

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  12. I have been in Community Radio since the summer of ‘78, at KBOO in Portland and have been impressed by Katie Whiteside since first meeting her at the 1999 NFCB conference in SF (yes the year Pacifica imploded just a few months later). Your article, when it finally details Fretwell’s not only conservative but vociferously conservative talk show background reveals to anyone with half a brain what’s happening here (and btw, what the hell did you do to the other half of your brain?). Katie will merely continue her great work elsewhere but good people of Humboldt County, you now need to get busy at HSU Board meetings and maybe even enlist the help of an ally in the Calif Assembly (who finally came to the aid of KPFA and Pacifica in ‘99)— you have a very deliberate troublemaker in Fretwell who, like those corporate shills in the Trump Administration who were appointed to “oversee” agencies they intended on fracturing and dissolving (“drain the swamp” indeed) has been brought in to create chaos and dissension. From the looks of it, he’s doing a great job of it. You not only need to get rid of him but also the idiots (more corporate plants?) who brought him in. GET ON THIS, FOLKS or you will find yourself without important non-corporate sources of information like Democracy Now! and even some local shows. Because as we have now seen, popular support doesn’t matter a bit to these fuckers. Did anything happen at that meeting besides venting anger and protest which has led to more members and underwriters deserting the station? Probably not. But soon there will not be enough local member financial support and then bigger “players” will try to “save” KHSU (these guys are constantly a threat to KBOO and other communities as they hover, waiting for their moment to “step in” and buy these frequencies. Up here in Portland, we are watching and hoping you act now. I would also suggest you contact someone in programming at NPR (as much as I distrust them) and let them know that the community support of a key affiliate in N. Calif is pulling out and KHSU will deflate. Getting Katie to return would be huge in positive publicity. But Fretwell and his buddies must GO.

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