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KUAT: LOSE, WIN SOME

On Monday, the Arizona Daily Star's Accent section finally published news of Bob Edwards' imminent ouster from NPR's Morning Edition, nearly a week after the story broke. The announcement has been decried in newspapers far and wide; even gentlemanly Jim Kiser, the Star's editorial-page editor, on Saturday published what was by his standards an angry response to Edwards' questionable reassignment. (When the editorial page scoops a paper's features section, what are things coming to?)

Press response has been firmly negative, and radio listeners have been quick to complain to NPR. Here in Tucson, though, things are quiet. By the end of last week, KUAT Radio (KUAZ 89.1 FM) station manager John Kelley said he'd gotten only one e-mail on the subject so far.

Kelley and other station managers had been taken by surprise--they have nothing to do with such decisions--and those who are embarking on pledge drives were not happy about the bad publicity. Kelley, at least, didn't have that to worry about, and on Friday, he was very careful not to take a position on the issue.

Praising Edwards' work during the first 24 1/2 years of Morning Edition's existence, Kelley added, "My personal feeling is that NPR doesn't hinge on personalities, like commercial talk radio does."

He said that e-mail circulating among other station managers indicated that they're less disturbed by Edwards' reassignment to senior-correspondent oblivion (that's not Kelley's phrasing) than by its potential impact on local fund-raising.

You see, the majority of public-radio station managers these days are content to let national research analyst and consultant David Giovannoni do their thinking for them. Now, you can bet the managers would be calling for some NPR vice president's head if Giovanonni predicted that Edwards' ouster would sink their daypart cumes--meaning there would be fewer listeners available to call in during pledge breaks.

Kelley's a more independent fellow than that, even though a year ago, he did, with good reason, follow a Giovanonni-pushed national trend and replace KUAZ's daytime jazz with network news programming (see "Harmony Lost," April 24, 2003). This week, Kelley upgraded the station's commitment to local news by hiring Peter Michaels, KUAT radio's first managing editor for news since Jeff Rice left about three years ago. Monday was Michaels' first day in the office.

Michaels has strong credentials: director of acquired programming at NPR, executive producer of the networks' Talk of the Nation, senior editor of NPR newscasts, news writer and producer for NBC radio and television, and, early on, an employee of the Mutual Radio Network. Michaels was already living in Tucson, a consultant for the UA journalism school.

With Michaels added to the current three-person staff and another half-timer due after July 1, KUAZ and KUAT-FM may again become those rarest of things: a radio station with reporters who actually leave the building to chase stories.

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