With the abrupt elimination of all local programming, all volunteers and nearly all paid staff of KHSU radio station by Humboldt State University Vice President of Advancement Craig Wruck and KHSU General Manager Peter Fretwell, supported by President Lisa Rossbacher, there is no KHSU. The reason given was "budget shortfall." ("A 'Dark Day' at KHSU," posted online April 11.)
Decline in revenue was directly related to the hiring of Fretwell back in 2017. Until then, the station was doing well and income had been increasing annually. It took only a slight dip that year but, by 2018, working conditions were depressing. Communication with volunteers ceased; group email censored; meetings canceled; staff subjected to threats and verbal abuse by Fretwell. It got worse.
The community backlash to Fretwell's firing of the station's most valuable employee in May of 2018 was swift and severe. In a public meeting, outraged donors withdrew financial support. The station lost $90,000, a pledge drive was canceled and supporters called for Fretwell's resignation. But he continued as manager, receiving a salary of more than $100,000 annually. The paid staff received modest salaries and about half the programming was provided by volunteers who worked for free. The "shortfall" could have been covered by his resignation, saving his bloated salary and regaining donors' dollars. Fretwell moved out of state weeks ago but is still being paid. Shame on you, HSU.
It's been a joy to have hosted KHSU's Go for Baroque show for more than 12 years. To the listeners who called to thank me or chat about the music, to fans I met who were delighted to "put a face to the voice," to the man who called every few weeks for many years just to tell me a joke: Thank you for listening. Goodbye. I'll miss you.
Bonnie Burgess, Eureka
Hard to believe that the powers that be at HSU believed that eliminating all local volunteer programs would save money. Who is making these asinine decisions? Our favorite weeknight jazz programs, the daily classical music offerings and Our Saving Grace — among others — all gone. One plank in HSU's mission statement is the importance of serving our local community and maintaining good town-gown relations. Hmm.
I understand that some have asked for a refund of their donations during the recent fund drive. May we suggest that instead you redirect your support to the many worthwhile student programs at HSU. We are sending ours to the Benavides-Garb Student Travel Fund that defrays some of the expenses of our language students studying abroad. But there are so many others including YES, the many departmental scholarship funds, support for the remaining athletic programs, OLLI and our own Webb Student Leadership Fund.
I'm betting that fresh leadership that is on the horizon will right this foundering, but oh-so-valuable community resource: our Humboldt State University.
Buzz Webb, McKinleyville
KHSU's unfavorable audit isn't the result of the exemplary and underpaid staff of the station. The blame can be placed entirely at the feet of the Rossbacher/Wruck/Fretwell mismanagement team. This feels like another case of a few powerful people purposefully ruining a truly good thing — just so they can turn around and proclaim that it's not working.
This past year's $135,000 budget shortfall should come as no surprise. The sharp drop-off in both listener pledges and underwriting support were predicted by KHSU's Community Advisory Board when Fretwell unceremoniously fired universally beloved station manager Katie Whiteside.
There is an easy fix here. Fire Fretwell. For the last couple decades, the general manager position at KHSU has been useless at best and often downright destructive. Eliminating that one salary would instantly save (I believe) at least half of the station's budget shortfall. And the rest would be returned once Fretwell is gone and hundreds of us long-time listener/contributors once again feel enthused about supporting the station.
If all we wanted was "high-quality national programming," we can easily listen to JPR or find whatever we want whenever we want on our devices. What has built KHSU into the station we love is the local programming, the personal accessibility and the democratic feel. If HSU has no commitment to those qualities, maybe the university should think about transferring the frequency to a local nonprofit that does care about a sense of community.
Alan Sanborn, Arcata
A year ago you published a letter I wrote asking the community to continue supporting KHSU with community donations. I was hoping that KHSU could work through all of its issues, remain on the air and continue its role in providing our community with great programming, as well as local, state and international news.
Today I withdrew my long standing sustaining membership, having heard that all but two KHSU staff were fired and that all volunteer radio programs were suspended. KHSU just finished a week-long fund drive asking community members to support the station. A change of this magnitude was not done over night. To allow a fund drive to occur for a station that is now basically gone seems fraudulent to me.
When I tuned into KHSU this afternoon, I heard North State Radio out of California State University at Chico. Guess what? They were conducting a pledge drive. I will not be donating to them. They are not my community. The newscaster requested that the many calls they were getting about the changes at KHSU be directed elsewhere.
I will miss the station. To the staff and volunteers, I am sorry that you went off the air this way. Without you, it isn't KHSU.
It is hard for me to believe that there were no other options here that might have allowed the station to continue to be a part of our community. You are the U in KHSU. We used to hear that on fund drives. Not anymore.
Nancy Corral, Eureka
The gutting of KHSU represents the arrogance, condescension and inhumanity of the Humboldt State University administration — a brutal parting shot from retiring President Lisa Rossbacher, full-time president-in-absentia, and from retiring Vice President of University Advancement (what an irony) Craig Wruck, another bumptious administrator who knows nothing about broadcasting — a classic carpetbagger.
Their unilateral disemboweling of a priceless local institution reflects their utter contempt for the redwood coast community.
It is also an assault on the campus' Department of Journalism, whose weaknesses will be compounded by the devaluing and corporatization of KHSU — to the detriment of students who will get no more than the lip service so typical of the campus leadership.
Predictably, Rossbacher and Wruck, those two profiles in courage and openness, did not sign the administration's announcement of the dismembering.
What a mockery that California taxpayers have had to finance the salaries and benefits of two secretive bureaucrats who have contributed to the dismal reputation of the CSU administration in Long Beach, as well as to that of HSU.
As if these insults were not enough, we taxpayers now have to finance Rossbacher's and Wruck's lavishly financed retirements. Talk about the income inequality gap — while student debt nationwide is $1.5 trillion-plus.
Self-evidently, the two have no shame as they desert the community for their cash-rich retirement, leaving heartbreak and wreckage in their wake.
Paul Mann, McKinleyville
It is a dark day in Humboldt County. KHSU, the station that we loved and listened to and worked for and gave our money to, is gone. A ghost station with no soul has acquired its call letters.
A huge thank you to all the staff, the volunteers, the people and businesses that supported it.
I loved this station dearly as many of the (former) workers there knew. I contributed personally, my business contributed as an underwriter, I did music shows on the air and I was always happy to be on the air during pledge drives.
I was passionate about KHSU and I am seething with rage right now. Along with my deepest concerns for my friends who have lost their jobs with no notice.
My hope is that a phoenix will rise from the ashes and that we can create a true community radio station here. One where we can still listen to Halimah Collingwood and Danielle Orr and the Spirit of Vinny Devaney and all those crazy jazz, country and blues shows, and talk shows with local people talking about local concerns, and those esoteric middle-of-the-night music shows that are just the craziest thing you ever heard!
We need them all. It's called diverse public radio.
Until then ... thanks for everything KHSU people ... it's been swell.
Rick Levin, Blue Lake
I recently moved from the SF Bay Area to Eureka to escape congestion, the soaring cost of living and corporate ethos infecting the Bay Area. It was dismaying to hear that KHSU was cleaning house of many longtime, dedicated employees and de-emphasizing local content and production.
Congratulations KHSU, I'm sure the Masters of the Universe in Silicon Valley would approve.
John Dillon, Eureka
What an integral part of my life the unique programming on KHSU was. Throughout the week I could tell time by the programming.
The California Report at 6:50 a.m. was a signal that got my day started. What I heard on The California Report influenced water cooler conversations. As a teacher, it offered information about the climate of education. There were the stories relating to the well being of the children of this state, and so much more.
Local morning reports helped to frame the day from what to expect, from weather to the occasional traffic report.
What a treat in the middle of the day to catch Art Waves, Through the Eyes of Women, the Home Page. The evening programming from the public affairs shows to diverse music, KHSU filled our home and our cars.
Wednesday nights, City Arts and Lectures was sacred time. Dinner would be worked around the show.
Friday mornings around 7:30, there was pause for Storycorps. If missed, I would be disappointed, feeling I let down a friend.
If I slept through the puzzle at 7:45 on Sunday morning, I knew I could catch it at 9:45. Each week, it was always a challenge.
Driveway moments influenced my teaching, conversations with neighbors, friends and colleagues.
Goodbye dear friend.
Jana L. Kirk-Levine, Eureka
While many folks were surprised about the demise of KHSU, I truly believe Peter Fretwell has accomplished the exact mission for which he was hired. The clues were there all along. After taking a month to size up who he was dealing with — he set about alienating (some say "abusing") KHSU staff and volunteers — in ways big and small.
When Fretwell shoved out Katie Whiteside — he no doubt believed many people would quit in disgust. Most — if not all — decided to stay and fight. When it became clear no one was going quietly, more drastic measures were obviously necessary. Cue the puzzling self-reporting to the FCC of a minor violation, which was used to precipitate a CSU review, which in turn was used as cover for last week's "nuclear option." Game, set, match.
I submit that every pledge-drive conducted since the hiring of Peter Fretwell has been conducted under fraudulent circumstances. I further contend the university (Whitlatch, Wruck, Rossbacher) was fully aware of this bait and switch. In light of this, HSU should be made to return every underwriting dollar, contribution and grant collected since the day Fretwell was hired.
Don't let HSU get away with its sickening confidence scheme! Contact HSU Advancement at 826-5200 and demand a total refund of any and all contributions.
Matthew Knight, Eureka
The recent gutting of the North Coast's beloved public radio station KHSU reveals Humboldt State University's complete lack of respect for our community and its history. Volunteers and staff were treated like criminals — as if they were doing something other than providing the listening area with well rounded, thoughtful programming for more than 50 years — so many hours of work that didn't cost the university a dime — a station that was financially supported by the community until the new general manager fired an employee of 25 years who was well liked and respected. Any shortfalls in funds rest in the lap of poor management. Period.
As a longtime listener and supporter of the former KHSU, it feels like the powers that be at HSU are giving us the finger. One also questions the integrity of the university for gathering money from listeners a week before firing all local programmers and the majority of staff. The relationship between HSU and the broader Humboldt community is at an all-time low, thanks to people who are scheduled to be leaving the North Coast shortly.
Was there a sinister plan to get rid of the station all together or just inept management by the university? The jury's out ... .
Lisa Enge, McKinleyville