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Q: What did you try to do to improve the
situation in Houston?
A: Well, we decided to test the theory
that the public owns the airwaves, that
broadcast owners simply lease them from
the government, and that they can lose
their licenses if they aren't responsible to
the community. We felt women were a
part of the community they have to serve.
You know, as an individual you are
powerless, but with an organization like
NOW - a 50,000 membership - you have
clout. National NOW's Media Reform
Task Force was pretty sophisticated in license renewal and challenge contests.
They had two national suits going which
served as models for the rest of the chapters.
So we took on KPRC-TV. Their general manager had a belligerent attitude toward women which he expressed to us on
tape. Plus KPRC had the worst record for
women employed. When we asked about
their affirmative action program, we were
told that the FCC did not require them to
include women. Minorities, yes. Women,
no. This meeting took place in December
1973. A year before, the FCC mandated
stations to include women. So when we
left the station we sent him a registered
letter, asking for a copy of his station's
affirmative action program. From that
point on, their lawyer was present at all
of our negotiating meetings.
National NOW taught us how to monitor 24 hours of the station's programming
over one composite week period in February. About 50 women were involved.
This is where I first met Gabrielle Cosgriff
and Lynne Mutchler, who are with Breakthrough, today. Gabrielle was the head
of the NW-NOW Chapter's Media Reform
Task Force. She was a real student of the
media and we were soulmates from that
time on. Lynne was a genius with computers and tabulated all of the resutarttfj^Jr
monitoring project. She was our expert
witness in one of our negotiating meetings
with Channel 2. So, when we'd say, "90%
of the voice-overs on commercials at your
station are male." And they'd say, "You
can't prove that." Lynne would flip
through the computer print outs and say,
"No, it's actually 92.7%."
Q: Was there any visible progress during
A: Yes. A month after our first meeting
in December 1975, the station hired its
first woman hard news reporter, Carole
Kneeland. Two months later, another
news reporter was added and a woman
anchor was on the air by April 1974. We
credited that to the sensitivity of Ray Miller, the news director.
Q: I know you were the national NOW
spokeswomen at the National Association
of Broadcasters Convention during that
period and that you also testified at a
Senate hearing. Did that help build your
case with the local station?
A: Yes, it did. The NAB came to Houston in March 1974 and so did Richard
Nixon. Remember the Dan Rather incident where the audience applauded Rather when he rose to ask Nixon a question
and Nixon asked, "Are you running for
anything?" and Rather said, "No, Mr.
President, are you?" Well, that was the
mood at the NAB. I felt like 1 was at a
Legionnaire's convention. Rather gave us
our only relief . . . except for our own invention, that is. Outside we carried placards like NBC: When Will Women Meet
the Press? Soap is Dope, Stop Soap Addiction-, and Annul the Newly wed Game.
You can see how much good it did, but
we did get local and national television
coverage and we were able to at least vent
our feelings on the image of women in
the media. It could get some people to
A month later the national NOW people helped me prepare my testimony a-
gainst the appointment of Rev. Luther
Holcomb, a white Texas Baptist minister
to the FCC. He had been a real Nixon
man and this was to be one of three
Democratic seats on the seven-member
commission. It was really a tough number
to testify—I had never even appeared before city council—especially when Barbara Jordan and the Texas senators appeared and gave their pro-forma speeches
before Kathy Bonk and I testified. All the
TV lights were on for their glowing speeches. Barbara Jordan called him "a man of
the cloth." Then they turned down the
lights for our testimony. The late Senator
Cotton slept through our testimony. Only
the late Senator Hart and Senator Baker
asked us questions. But the Washington
Post gave credibility to our testimony,
and two weeks later they reported that
Holcomb withdrew his name because the
Nixon connection became an issue. I credit NOW with that victory!
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So, yes the impact tuterea aown nome.
After all this activity, the stations knew
we were quite determined.
Q: Well then, did you challenge KPRC-
A: No, we signed an agreement instead.
Our lawyers in Washington were disappointed, I know. Certain people here felt
the station showed signs of good faith by
the changes in the news department and
that these trends would continue to other
But after all that work, I wish we had
filed a petition to deny their license, because looking at the station today, not
that much has changed.
I tried to hold out for a monthly women's magazine show. A 30-minute 60 Minutes kind of program, but they wouldn't
agree to it. The most we got was a Women's Advisory Council, which turned out
to be a ladies' auxiliary group. We could
only recommend the composition, so
guess who was sitting across the table
from me at the first meeting-Wanda
Schultz, founder of Happiness of Womanhood. This is the way they diminish our
We did get to produce a television pilot. The station met all the production
costs. Rhonda Boone and I co-produced
it in April 1975. I think they pre-empted
Adam 12 one Tuesday evening at seven to
air Just Like a Woman. The reviews were
excellent, but we couldn't find any Houston corporation with the courage to fund
it. Shell, Texaco, Conoco, Southwestern
Bell, Foley's. They all admitted it was excellent, but they wouldn't sponsor it.
Texaco held out to the last second. The
day before it aired, Texaco's pr chief told
me that they had just signed up Bob
Hope to do their national promotions and
all their budget was going to him. We
wanted only three thousand dollars for
five months work for five of us.
Q: What did you do after that?
A: I went to the mountains. In New Mexico. I was pretty discouraged. I saw a lot
of dreams go up in smlpke, as they say. I
went back east to visit my family. I spent
several months there. Nothing was drawing me back to Texas. I felt like it was
pretty hopeless territory. My husband
and I separated the day I did get back. I
would say that was the lowest point of
Q: But you started Breakthrough a few
months later. What changed your mood?
A: Bill Moyers may be surprised to read
this- I'll send him a copy to be sure he
does read it-but it was something he said
in an introduction to a panel discussion
on the image of women in the media. It
was at the Austin Conference on Women
in Public Life, a sort of prelude to the
IWY conference. It was November 1975.
He told the audience that he had recently
been the guest of a British writer and was
struck by a painting the author had on
the wall. It was of a woman's body and it
started at her ankles and went up to her
neck. No head. He flew back to the states,
picked up a copy of the New York Times
with a story announcing Bella Abzug's entry in the U. S. Senate race. The photo
v/as the back of her hat. Again, no head.
He looked at the audience and said grimly,
"That's the way the media regard you."
That did it. I realized nothing had
changed or would ever change unless the
image of women in the media changed. I
had tried films. Television. Now it was
time to try newspapers. But this time it
would be different. We would own the
paper. We would no longer be dependent
on the media to cover women's news.
We'd cover it ourselves. Anais Nin was
right. All this activity by women made
for a very interesting, well balanced culture.
Next month: The Breakthrough story. An
interview with editor Gabrielle Cosgriff.
Plus Breakthrough Personal Account stories by other staff members. And more.