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Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
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Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 6. April 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. August 4, 2020. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1302.

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(April 1979). Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 6. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1302

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 6, April 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed August 4, 2020, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1302.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date April 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women
  • Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
  • Newsletters
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Text
  • Image
Original Item Location HQ1101 .B74
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the UH Digital Library About page.
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Title Page 6
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File Name femin_201109_549af.jpg
Transcript Media Matters by gabrielle cosgriff Before Nikki Van Hightower went on the air March 20 to host her daily call-in talk show on KTRH Radio, station manager Hal Kemp congratulated her on the dramatic improvement in her audience ratings. (The new figures had just been released.) After the show, he fired her, telling her the station had decided to go to another format in that time period. "I felt wounded," said Van High- tower, "even though I was anticipating it. Rejection isn't pleasant and it doesn't do much for your ego." Van Hightower was hired by the station in March 1978, just after Mayor Jim McConn had fired her from her job as women's advocate for the City of Houston. She shared a two-hour talk show with Ed Brandon, Channel 13 TV meteorologist, until he left the station in the summer of 1978, and did a daily commentary for several months. Pressure from advertisers and city officials contributed to her firing, believes Van Hightower, "I was told by a station employee that Blue Cross would not advertise in my segment because of a commentary I did on the rights of homosexuals." Other advertisers, including a hotel and a grocery chain, had refused to advertise in that time slot, said a source at the station. When a Breakthrough reporter called the sales department at KTRH, the information was volunteered that advertisers had refused to advertise on her show, and had put pressure on management. Van Hightower's was not the only show on which clients refused to advertise. Sears withdrew their advertising from Jim Bell's call-in show. Bell left the station recently. Van Hightower told Breakthrough that after she did a particular commentary, critical of city council, station manager Kemp called her into his office. Kemp told her that "upper management" at the station had received a call from a city council member. "He didn't tell me to cool it, or anything like that," said Van Hightower. "He merely said they had received a call. After that he started reviewing my commentaries before they went on the air." Van Hightower had been doing a daily commentary for about three months at that time. Three months later she found a memo in her box telling her that her commentaries had been cancelled. No reason was given. Kemp later announced that more advertising time per hour was needed. The cancellation came a few days after Van Hightower broadcast what she considers one of her strongest commentaries—a criticism of city officials and police chief Harry Caldwell for their handling of Iranian student demonstrations. Kemp denied there had been any pressure from city officials or advertisers. In a story by Erna Smith in the Houston Post (Mar. 23) Kemp said that Van Hightower did not develop as a "broad-based" program commentator. Although the call- in show had high ratings during the last rating period, he believed they should have been higher, said Kemp. Van Hightower joined Brandon on the air in March 1978. The Arbitron ratings for Brandon's show in October- November 1977 (before Van Hightower joined him) showed a total of 30,800 listeners from 2-3 p.m., and a 6.7 percent share of all metropolitan listeners. Brandon left the show in the summer of 1978, and by the October-November ratings of that year, Van Hightower's total audience was down to 17,700, with a 3.4 percent share. It was then that management decided to make a change, according to a station employee, and Van Hightower would have been fired at that time if a replacement could have been found. Van Hightower was given no specific information on those ratings, and was told by Kemp only that she "did very poorly" and "we'll have to talk." When the talk did not materialize, Van Hightower requested a meeting with Kemp to discuss any problems. Kemp made an appointment, later cancelled it, and never mentioned it again. "I knew then," said Van Hightower, "that he didn't want to talk." Ironically, on the same day that But this case was somewhat different from the firing of just another talk- show host. Van Hightower was, and is, a highly visible public figure and had been fired before because of her outspokenness. The Houston Post story of March 23 was the first public acknowledgment that Van Hightower had been fired (a rare instance of the media covering the media). It gave rise to a question at the mayor's press conference that morning, which in turn led to a report on KTRH's midday news show. Referring to that story, Post reporter Tom Kennedy asked Mayor McConn at his press conference, "Will she (Van Hightower) be your p.r. man?" "Well, it would be p.r. person," smiled McConn, to laughter from reporters. McConn then went on to say that he had not put any pressure on KTRH to fire Van Hightower and that he never listened to her show. The KTRH report carried only the mayor's "no pressure" remarks, and "I think it's very difficult for management in media to take any risks. They run scared about ratings all the time." Van Hightower was fired, the Arbitron ratings for January-February 1979 were released. They were the best the station had had in that time slot for the last two years. She had a total of 32,900 listeners and a 7.5 share of all metropolitan listeners. In three months, her audience had more than doubled. The January-February figures were higher than Ed Brandon's most favorable ratings. "I think they brought on a very controversial person when they hired me," said Van Hightower. "They were hoping that with my past exposure it would skyrocket them to the top of the ratings (for that time period). When that didn't work out and it was a slow building process, they got very uneasy about me and about controversy and shifted back. I think it's very difficult for management in media, who run scared about ratings all the time, to take any risks. I sensed that they did (take a risk) but when it didn't have instantaneous results, they couldn't hold up." KTRH airs no local commentary, which of its nature is more controversial than the national, syndicated type. Their only political commentator is Ronald Reagan, who is aired daily. Investigative reporter Jack Anderson has a daily syndicated commentary. Whether the station is moving away from controversy in its programming or not, the management certainly took a dim view of any controversy over their action in firing Van Hightower. "As a standard, when somebody leaves they go without mention," said KTRH talk-show producer Shane Fox. ended with a comment from KTRH news director Ben Baldwin to the effect that Van Hightower's firing was a "programming decision." Interestingly enough, Baldwin was in Corpus Christi that day, attending a conference on hurricanes. The station apparently reached him there to record his comments. That Friday was also the first day since the firing that listeners were able to participate in an "open forum" call-in show. Host Bill Hazen invited listeners to talk about "anything that's on your mind." Well, almost anything, as it turned out. Callers who said that they wanted to talk about Van Hightower were informed that they would not be allowed to do so. It is a valid argument that there is little to be gained by an "after-the-fact popularity contest on the air," as producer Fox put it. But Fox refused to discuss the ethics of an "open forum" that is restricted without the listeners' knowledge. "You're asking me to second- guess management," he said. "The proper channel (for comments on the firing) is to write a letter." On the Thursday morning, Janice Blue had followed that channel by delivering a letter to Hal Kemp, with copies to other station personnel, expressing her views on the firing. (She also sent a copy of the letter to the F. C. C, to Arthur L. Ginsburg, Chief of Complaints and Compliance, Broadcast Bureau Room 332, 1919 M Street, N.W. Washington D. C. 20554.) Telephone receptionists at KTRH had told callers that Kemp would accept opinions on the firing only in the form of letters—he would not discuss it on the phone. They said that in the few days after the firing they had received "a lot of calls. A lot." When I called Kemp for a pre-arranged interview, he said he had changed his mind and would not grant me an interview. Citing Blue's letter, he said he felt that since we worked for "the same organization" no useful purpose would be served. He objected to the fact that she had written the letter "castigating" him, without checking with him first, in spite of the fact that he had asked people to use this form of communication. "I resent her letter being issued without asking me first," said Kemp. "I have no objection to a personal view. What I object to is . . . not even getting the original, just getting a copy of it like everybody else. I think that was in extremely poor taste." Blue says he received the original—the copies were Xeroxed. When I asked Kemp what he felt about the station's accountability to its listeners in the matter of forbidding discussion of Van Hightower on an "open forum," he replied "That's neither here nor there and I have no comment for you." "How do you suggest then that we communicate on this issue?" I asked. "If the Houston Post doesn't mind," said Kemp, "you're free to quote from the interview I gave the girl on Friday." "The girl?" I asked. "Ah-hmm," he affirmed. The "girl" was Erna Smith, who wrote the Post story in which Kemp denied that any pressure had been applied to the station by advertisers or city officials. Since Van Hightower and other sources at the station claim otherwise, it is unfortunate that the management chose not to clarify the matter. It is also open to conjecture whether Van Hightower failed to develop as a "broad-based" commentator, as Kemp claimed. "I knew that there was a turnover," said Van Hightower. "You can just tell. You hear different voices. You hear different issues." Obviously, she had lost many of Brandon's listeners in the first few months, and was quickly building a following of her own. In three months her audience had increased dramatically, to the point where she had the best ratings in that time slot in two years. It looks as though the station lost a winner after all, since the ratings are the bottom line of commercial broadcasting. But the real losers were the listening public, who had finally been able to hear something of substance and integrity on a talk-show. "I don't agree with you much of the time," said one caller, "but I admire you for having the courage to say what you believe." That was a sentiment repeated often over the last year. "At first, Nikki did abysmally," said producer Shane Fox, "but she improved and gained experience. Her strength was her intellect and her wit and the power of her convictions." Van Hightower said that she plans to stay in Houston, and would like to go into lecturing, public education and writing. "I'm getting it into perspective now," she said of the firing, "but it's a shock for HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH APRIL 1979