Saturday, November 03, 2007

Did KNSI just change format under duress? 

By now everyone in St. Cloud has heard about the events at News Talk 1450 KNSI yesterday. I've written and spoken to some people at the station and elsewhere. The facts in Larry Schumacher's Times article are essentially correct. What I think is missing is context.

Let's review the pressure the station has been under:
Let's then summarize this as follows:
  1. Barnett inherited a show from Dan Ochsner, and the show was singular in the KNSI format.
  2. The station runs syndicated conservative talk (e.g., Limbaugh, Soucheray, Savage) the rest of its weekday. It has a weekly show by the local mayor, former Republican state Senator Dave Kleis, as well as current Republican state Representative Steve Gottwalt. The KGOP tag isn't exactly wrong.
  3. Nevertheless, it does not appear the station was happy with the format.
  4. The station was pressured by local DFL and appears to have been stung by the Times' criticism.
  5. It fired Barnett within four hours of the disputed interview, between which times it had received a complaint from a city council candidate, canceled a debate, pulled Barnett from the air, and then waited two hours to make its move. This would seem to imply that the CEO, Bob Leighton, was at least informed and approved of this event, though nobody at the station will speak on the record. At least one member of the family that owns the business was in the station Friday morning.
One is compelled then to ask, did KNSI change its format under duress? What are its intentions to its listeners (of which I am one)?

This should not be construed that I think the station had no right to fire Barnett. It can do what it wants as long as it's not agreed to not censor Barnett through its contract with him; I agree with most that I do not think I would have fired someone for asking those questions (you can hear what was said by listening to this audio on Andy's site and decide for yourself.) It is quite possible that the decision to let Barnett go was made a while ago. But if you expect to be a news talk radio station that has credibility, appearing to cave in to pressure from the DFL and competing media outlets is counterproductive.

I hope the station has a plan to maintain itself as the news talk station that has served the city well as balancing its media ideological spectrum for the last several years.

UPDATE (11/5): Based on additional conversations at the station, I want to clarify that when I said "it had received a complaint from a city council candidate", I do not necessarily mean that the city council candidate ever went to the manager's office or even spoke to him. The only person who says she did was not a witness but says "others tell me." Meanwhile, the candidate and one other person says they saw her leave after a discussion outside the studio. More than this we cannot say with any confidence. I will emphasize again that Barnett's firing may involve more than this one incident but outsiders will be left with that impression, much to the detriment of the station.

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