Two weeks ago, the departure of longtime announcer Ken Vincent from public KUOW-FM (94.9) in Seattle triggered complaints by him and others of compromises in station programming, inadequate compensation, creeping commercialization, and, perhaps most notable, needless meddling in how announcers speak.
In short, they said, our beloved KUOW was headed downhill.
Oddly in our age of instant communications, General Manager Wayne Roth and Program Director Jeff Hansen did not respond. A station spokesperson said the two were out of town and were unavailable for comment.
Back in the office, both spoke with Crosscut and expressed puzzlement and dismay over the complaints. Roth, the executive in charge of KUOW, said he was saddened by the departure of Vincent, whom he has known for 22 years and whom he called a friend. He compared Vincent's departure to Bob Edwards' resignation from National Public Radio in 2004. "I guess there's a lot of similarities," said Roth. "That's about all I can say."
But Roth did dismiss some claims that surrounded Vincent's departure. He said no changes are under way at the NPR member station that would compromise quality, commitment to news, or authenticity of any broadcaster. In fact, the station is expanding programming by developing content for distribution through a sister station, Tacoma-based KXOT-FM (91.7), and on the Web and on high-definition radio. A Glasgow-based BBC producer, Dominic Black, has been hired to lead new staff for that effort.
Roth also said most station employees got pay increases this year following a nationwide study of public-radio compensation. "I think our salaries are competitive," he said.
Hansen, whose responsibilities include supervision of announcers and news staff, was especially insistent that there was zero basis for reports that management was telling announcers to speak in a more stataco, abbreviated style, to name one complaint by staffers. He said there was no such directive, orally or in writing, and he had specifically told staff that no such change was desired. "Authenticity is the most prized element of any announcer's style," Hansen said. "Anything that would impinge on that, I would discourage. Why in God's name would I want a clipped, robotic style?"
On the subject of syndicated shows carried by KUOW, Fresh Air was not dropped but moved to KXOT, Open Source lost its funding, and The Writer's Almanac was moved to a different time slot, not cancelled.
A so-called shift to listener call-ins from longer, reported pieces was nothing new and "not a single change in six or seven years," Hansen said. Also untrue was a cutback in arts programming. An arts reporter was shifted to general news, but that happened two years ago, "and we didn't hear a single peep when that happened," said Hansen.
Hansen said much of the criticism about KUOW was just wrong. "There haven't been any major changes for quite a while," he said. "No major changes are planned."
Major or not, there is change planned for one show, The Beat, which is being re-named Sound Focus and more tightly focused on Seattle-area topics. As part of the change, it's less likely that viewers will hear interviews with authors visiting Seattle on book tours. Instead, it might be a feature on horseback-mounted police, a skipper taking a ship through the Ballard Locks, or folk tales inspired by Interstate 90, said Hansen. The goal is to focus on what's unique about the Puget Sound region. The shift won't seem dramatic. "Average viewers won't even notice the difference," said Hansen.
Told of Hansen's response, Vincent said people can make up their own minds by just listening at 19 minutes past the hour any morning. They'll hear that new clipped style, he said.