Skip to comments.Veteran host, public radio at odds
Posted on 03/21/2007 6:34:19 PM PDT by NewHampshireDuo
Over the past 28 years, Maine humorist Robert Skoglund has built a loyal following for his weekly music show on public radio, less for what he plays than for what he says: his stories, his anecdotes, his meanderings on everything from women's shoes to the Internet.
But Skoglund, known as "The Humble Farmer," has kept mostly quiet lately because of a battle with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network over what the 71-year-old humorist can say.
His show has continued airing at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, with Skoglund introducing old jazz records, as he always has. But since mid-November, it has aired without any of his stories, which he calls "rants."
Skoglund says he'll send in taped shows without commentary until MPBN revokes conditions on what he's allowed to say, which were outlined in a November letter. MPBN will continue to air the programs in the hopes that Skoglund, who receives $30 per show, eventually will adhere to the guidelines and resume his commentaries, said Lou Morin, marketing and communications manager for the network.
Morin said MPBN's "patience is not without limits" but that no action on Skoglund would be taken before the next Board of Trustees meeting, planned for April 12 in Lewiston.
Though Skoglund is not talking much on the air, he has been providing a blow-by-blow description of his battle with MPBN on his Web site (www. thehumblefarmer.com). And he has been telling his story to the media, including the Christian Science Monitor.
Last week, officials at the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter to the MPBN board voicing its concern, after seeing the Monitor story.
Justin Goldberg, the coalition's communications coordinator, wrote that MPBN's restrictions on Skoglund "compromised core principles of free expression" and that the broad scope covered a "vast range of civic ideas and issues."
But Morin said the issue is not censorship.
"To MPBN it boils down to this: Does MPBN retain the right to program the station as it sees fit, and in a way that upholds the trust we've carefully built up over the years with our audience? We think we do," he said.
The impasse between Skoglund and MPBN began last fall, when Skoglund sent a taped show scheduled to run the Friday before the November elections. In it, Skoglund read a letter from someone in Maryland who said that a tax "ceiling" placed on government spending there resulted in Prince George's County's becoming "one of the worst counties in the nation in terms of student achievement."
One of the major issues on the Maine ballot last November was the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a defeated spending-cap measure that opponents said would have decreased spending for various public services and schools.
MPBN officials saw the letter as being too one-sided on an issue voters would face in days, so the show was pulled and replaced with one that aired previously. "Our political neutrality is our best brand attribute. People trust us to give them the straight scoop," Morin said.
"We are not averse to political commentary, but we restrict it to certain parts of the day, when it is labeled."
In late November, Skoglund received a certified letter from Charles Beck, MPBN's vice president for programming, detailing "points of understanding" -- a missive that Skoglund saw as censorship.
They included a prohibition against material that "can be perceived as endorsing, dismissing, or taking a stand on controversial issues."
Another point says Skoglund "will not endorse, compare or criticize, directly or through perceived intent (or by including such content from others) commercial products, institutions, companies or organizations." Skoglund said that for most of his 28 years doing a show on MPBN, he was given no restrictions on what he could say.
"I was pretty much ignored for a quarter of a century," he said Tuesday.
Morin could think of only one other time that MPBN officials had been upset over the political content of Skoglund's show. In a 2003 "rant," Skoglund mentioned an unnamed "wimpy-looking, weasly faced war monger from way down south who didn't even get most of the popular vote." Skoglund says he was talking about Adolf Hitler. Morin said that "99 percent" of Skoglund's rants are not political but are more about "the absurdities of life."
After the 2003 war rant, Skoglund said he was told to stay away from politics but wasn't given any written warning.
Morin said radio surveys estimate Skoglund's weekly audience at 8,000 to 12,000 listeners. Top-rated shows on MPBN, such as National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," draw more than 80,000 listeners.
Since Skoglund began withholding his commentaries -- which he still writes every week and posts on his Web site -- MPBN has received about 80 calls or e-mails on the issue.
Skoglund said he's received hundreds of e-mails of support, but until recently had asked people to voice their support by writing to newspapers and legislators. Now he tells them to contact MPBN as well.
Skoglund began his show as a volunteer producer for MPBN, but a few years ago he asked for the pay of $30 a week.
The letter Beck sent to Skoglund in November also reiterates restrictions placed on him several years ago about not using his radio show to promote his paid appearances.
But they were just upset over this.
He should play the music and STFU. The schools in PG are bad, but it has nothing to do with the amount of money spent. Just look at the students, parents, and teachers.
Something ironic abut the station being willing to take public tax money to keep themselves going but not being willing to honor the First Amendment of the Consitution of the government which provides that money for them.......
I guess Maine NPR wants to present their biases in their way.
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