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August 2-9, 2006

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Hog of the Forsaken: The KPIG mascot in happier times

Hog Hell

Two more KPIG DJs leave the airwaves following corporate cutbacks

By Bill Forman

July was not KPIG programming director Laura Ellen Hopper's favorite month. First, word came down from corporate owners Mapleton Communications that overnight DJs Jessie and Terrance were being laid off and replaced by automated programming. The move caused a listener uproar that reached as far as the East Coast, where the time difference meant that Internet listeners woke up to personalityless programming that's decidedly at odds with the folksy ambience which has been the eclectic Freedom-based radio station's stock in trade.

Things got worse last week when two DJs left the station : Afternoon DJ Ramblin Ror had already been demoted to part-time status when the overnight staff was sacked, leaving him without benefits. Joining him in what may be a temporary departure was popular morning DJ Dallas Dobro who, like Hopper, is a veteran of KPIG's predecessor, KFAT.

"It would not have been the way I would have run this radio station,"says Hopper of the corporate cutbacks, which nevertheless placed her in an uncomfortable position between DJs and ownership. "So I can get trashed on by everybody,"she adds with typical drollness. "It's a lovely spot to be in."

Understanding how expensive it is to run a station, Hopper empathizes with Mapleton "even though I may not agree with them."

"I also understand and I empathize with the DJs that were hurt by this, but I don't necessarily agree with the means that they took to do what they did,"says Hopper, who is also a popular DJ at the station. "You're talking with somebody who has always struggled to keep the station going and--as much as people might argue--I've also tried to make sure that people who work here get a fair shake.

"I wished we could all have talked about it before it happened,"she says of the departures. "Frank [Caprista, station manager] and I, who pretty much run the day-to-day life here at KPIG, had no idea, we were not in the loop. ... I know that Dallas and Rory have their ways of thinking about this, but there was no dialogue between them and me, so I have no comment."

Reached last week by phone, Dobro said he couldn't comment on the specifics of his departure. "I felt horrible having to leave at this time,"he says, likening the station to a family. "I've seen what the stress of losing your family does, because it's like that, the listeners, everybody ..." As for the larger issue of radio industry conglomeration, the veteran DJ isn't optimistic. "You know, radio's turned into real estate,"he mused.

Mapleton, which took over KPIG in 2001, is not the first owner to do battle with the station's staff. "When Charlie Cohn and New Wave broadcasting came in and wanted to make a total format change, there was an uprising, including the listeners," recalls Hopper. "They wanted to change the format to a classic rock station and so we went back to them with a compromise and said, "Here!" And we gave them a format on paper which was, in reality, basically what we were doing anyway. It worked out very well. He [Cohn] never knew that."

At this point, Hopper's main priority is seeing to it that the abandoned shifts get covered by the remaining staff, including weekend DJs, who in most cases already have full-time jobs to attend to. "The people who are here have worked for the station for a long time and want to see the station continue,"she says, "and are putting forth the effort to make sure that the airtime is filled. It may be filled by sleepy tired people, but it's filled."

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