Famous Van Nuys resident Sandra Tsing Loh guest-blogs for Cathy Seipp on the trouble, past and present, of KCRW-FM, touching on her own firing for the expletive that indadvertently reached the air, but centering on the current controversy surrounding Chris Douridas, who is under suspicion of attempted kidnapping and drugging a teenage girl at a Santa Monica bar. (Note to all: L.A. Times is requiring registration these days, but you don’t have to be a subscriber to do it). Sandra’s comment was prompted by the break in the media silence by L.A. Times columnist Megan Daum, who I think was pretty darn kind to all concerned. At one insipid point, this happens in Daum’s piece:
Others, though, are nearly choking on the drool of their schadenfreude. When the news of Douridas’ arrest broke, even the fact that it was buried on page B3 didn’t keep people from circulating e-mails filled with catty conjectures about who might be next. What if Daniel Schorr was caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart? Imagine if Terry Gross was nabbed on Sunset Boulevard in a compromising position with Divine Brown. Imagine!
However, Sandra hits it right:
KCRW, of course, has a long history of removing people from the air any time for any reason. After (was it?) 10 years, Ruth (Seymour, who runs the station)
recently thought afternoon announcer Cindi Burke’s voice suddenly sounded funny — gone. Joe Frank has a horrific story to tell about being fired by Ruth just before his new series was scheduled to start, with the twist that KCRW then issued a statement that Joe had decided to take a voluntary leave for health reasons. . .
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (aka: in LA Times), I came of age in a time when KCRW’s signature broadcaster was Joe Frank, a writer who spoke openly to us, across the ether, about our deepest, darkest, weirdest, most embarrassing, and at times most hilarious predilections. When he satirized KCRW’s own pledge drives (“Do you enjoy long moonlit walks on the beach in Bali? Do you. . . ? Do you. . . ? Sorry–in fact no, you DIDN’T win the Bali sweepstakes”), it was the break in the sonic wash that gave KCRW, for me, a kind of. . . call it a kind of three-dimensional personality. It was something recognizably human.
My “relationship” with public radio in general, and KCRW in particular, is, for want of a better word, fragmented. I do listen to a lot of public radio, but my listening time is divided between KCRW, KPCC, KKJZ and KCSN, and I’m mostly trying to catch NPR news and jazz or classical music (the latter two of which barely appear on KCRW and are nonexistent on the mostly talk KPCC). So I was happy to see Sandra’s commentaries picked up by KPCC, including the new “Loh Down on Science” (am I spelling that right?), produced by Loh’s alma mater Caltech and which airs at 9:20 a.m. weekdays in the middle of “Day to Day” on 89.3.
I’ve blogged recently on the salaries of top public radio on-air talent, and I don’t know where Douridas falls in this spectrum. But he went from host of the daily “Morning Becomes Eclectic” to a much-lower-profile weekend shift, supplementing his income all the while by doing soundtrack supervising and other record-company work. While not disturbing as alleged kidnapping, the fact that most of the big KCRW DJs (including Nic Harcourt and Tom Schanbel) have outside jobs in the record industry is a giant red flag (as in conflict of interest). Especially if you’re dragging in $100k from the station, do you really need to be supervising soundtracks or doing A&R?
I don’t know Ruth Seymour or any other KCRW employees for that matter, but it’s pretty clear from listening to the station and reading about it that the whole operation is basically Seymour’s personal fiefdom. It may be a “public” station, it may be housed at Santa Monica College, but Seymour is firmly in control of it. One thing’s for sure, the station’s profile has risen tremendously under her tenure. It’s a big business that drags in a lot of money from listeners and corporations. I don’t know if this is good or bad, and I don’t really doubt that the public interest is being served to some extent, but I sure do miss Cindi Burke and Joe Frank.
I also miss the great jazz shows I remember from the ’80s — “Smoke Rings,” and “Straight, No Chaser” (although I can’t for the life of me remember which one aired on KCRW and which was on KPFK). I also think it’s a crime that Marian McPartland’s excellent “Piano Jazz” has no L.A. outlet.
But it all comes down to this. I don’t have cable TV, so for news it’s all about NPR in the car. As long as the “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and “Day to Day” keep flowing, I’m reasonably happy.
Other things I love about public radio: Chuck Cecil’s “The Swingin’ Years,” on KKJZ and KCSN (no, I’m not 80, I just act like it), KPCC’s Larry Mantle (he deserves his $100K) and Kitty Felde, Les Perry’s “British Invasion” show on KCSN, Chuck Southcott’s KKJZ bop program on weekend mornings and afternoons, those “Car Talk” guys, Terry Gross (gay or not) and “Fresh Air,” the fact that “Day to Day” is produced in Los Angeles (or is it Culver City?), the entire KPCC news team, KCRW’s “Left, Right and Center” (so that’s where I know Robert Scheer from).