When Westy Weaver, a radio announcer at Albany’s rock station 106.3 KLOO, had a four and a half minute music break on Tuesday, March 26, she decided she would use it to clarify Facebook’s “Sea of Red.” She explained that people were changing their profile pictures to red boxes with white equal signs inside as a show of support for marriage equality; she alsoexpressed her support of the movement.
“KLOO’s listening audience—the demographic—is adults. The low end of it is adults in their 30s, high end is adults in their 60s,” Weaver notes. “I’m not talking KDUK where 12-year olds listen and stuff like that. It’s definitely an adult station, and it’s rock and roll. So you know those things, and you figure that such topics are okay.”
“I felt like it was an important and relevant topic to touch upon—if anything to explain what the hell all the red was about,” she says. “The phones didn’t light up, I didn’t get any immediate response or anything like that. The next day, I get a phone call from [the program director] and she’s like, ‘We need to talk.’”
Weaver was told the station received two emails complaining about the discussion of marriage equality on her show. Furthermore, Weaver says she was also informed that KLOO’s station manager, Larry Rogers, felt it was not an appropriate topic of discussion for the station. Weaver was put on a 1-week suspension. “The funny thing is, I’ve said so much worse stuff… I’ve talked about sex, masturbation… I’ve talked about an eel that crawled up a man’s anus and killed him… I would have taken a suspension over talking about vaginas more than [marriage equality].”
During the week of Weaver’s suspension, KLOO received emails and Facebook feedback from listeners supporting Westy. A Facebook user even created a KLOO-themed marriage equality image that several users adopted as their profile pictures (the social media comments have since been purged from the station’s Facebok profile). And at KLOO, reports Weaver, all interaction from the public must be recorded in a public file; meaning KLOO’s higher-ups would have had access to the feedback supporting Weaver’s reinstatement.
“I’m very grateful to KLOO and Bicoastal Media for giving me the opportunity to work in radio. I love everything about radio and all I wanted was to do something I love… even if I didn’t make much money at it,” she says. “I know that I helped contribute to the growth and popularity of the station.” Weaver put in six pre-recorded afternoon shows per week, Monday through Saturday, and did live morning shows on Fridays with Debi Starr. “I got positive feedback not only from my supervisor, Debi, but from listeners out there, and complete strangers,” says Weaver. She remembers how Debi Starr (who is also the program director), noted an increase in listener interaction on Friday mornings and at “remote” (off-site) events.
“I was paying my dues and trying to prove my dedication to the company and station in hopes of moving up. I believed in them and hoped that someday they would believe in me,” says Weaver. For her labor, she earned less than $500 per month.
On Wednesday, April 3rd, the last day of her suspension, she had a meeting scheduled with the station manager. Instead she received a forwarded email canceling the meeting. Adding insult to injury, Weaver says, the same email said she was now included in the station’s budget cuts. She had been terminated. “I never got to meet [the station manager] face-to-face and tell my side;” says Weaver. “I don’t even know if he’s even heard the actual break.”
“A lot of people have lost their jobs from Bicoastal in the last week or so,” she admits. “I’m not the only one, but I’m part of the budget cuts? Because I’m sure [about a couple hundred dollars] a month was really hurting them.” Aside from the incredulity of firing someone who put in so much work for so little financial cost, the timing of the firing so soon after the suspension raised questions, and the hackles, of Weaver’s many fans. The KLOO Facebook page was hit hard with comments of upset listeners swearing to boycott the station.
It was ironic, considering that KLOO’s actions regarding Weaver may have been an effort to protect the station from controversy. KLOO’s parent company, Bicoastal Media, has only recently emerged from a court battle against a litigious former employee. Although Bicoastal Media won the case, the experience and cost of the legal defense may have made them more wary of lawsuits. Weaver admits that her show did not shy away from edgier topics; however, she says, “[the marriage equality complaints] might have been just an excuse, but if so [the station manager] picked the wrong kind of excuse.”
For their part, the station’s representatives stand firm that Weaver’s termination was solely due to economics. KLOO’s program director (and Weaver’s friend), Debi Starr, said on the station’s Facebook page: “There is no conspiracy, ethical or political issue regarding Westy being laid off. Westy was a part-time employee that the company allowed me to have at additional expense. When budgets change you have to make difficult decisions… I loved working with her and am going through my own process dealing with loss of co-worker that made me laugh so much on the air.”
Station manager Rogers is more tight-lipped, commenting that, “…As a result of these recent economic circumstances, we have had to make some changes that have resulted in personnel reductions in hours and in some cases layoffs. These are always difficult decisions. We remain committed to live and local radio and will always do the best in that regard with the resources afforded us.”
Considering the interest Weaver brought to the station at little financial expense, many of her fans and supporters of marriage equality find the budgetary reasoning behind her firing questionable. “They can say what they want,” says Weaver, “but I was suspended after talking about marriage equality, with two complaint emails. I was eventually let go due to ‘budget cuts,’ but my suspension was over the topic of marriage equality. And that’s apparent.”
A Conflict of Values: Boycotting Local
Many people who support marriage equality have threatened to boycott KLOO-FM. But KLOO-FM is owned by Bicoastal Media, one of the few regional radio companies left in America. Sure, the company runs about 50 different stations ranging up and down the West Coast, but compared to media conglomerates like Clear Channel (which owns 850 stations nationwide), or music apps like Pandora (which defy the boundaries of radio frequency), Bicoastal Media is practically like your go-to neighborhood grocery.
So what is a local radio supporter who also is in favor of marriage equality supposed to do about KLOO? Boycotting the station and its advertisers, if done effectively, could seriously harm the station. Not boycotting them could send the message that discussions of marriage equality should be verboten. Listeners can triage their priorities; some may consider that standing up for marriage equality outweighs the benefits of having a local classic rock station, or vice versa. Others may petition action on the station’s part, and boycott until demands are met (such as a donation to an LBGT group). One thing’s for sure—when values conflict, it’s important to engage in meaningful conversation, and ultimately think outside the box.
By Mica Habarad