I became managing editor of the Chronicle, out of the more free-flowing Chronicle cooperative structure, largely because someone had to fire Jim Ellinger. This had more to do with ideology than personality. Ellinger covered radio for the Chronicle. No matter where his pieces began, it seemed, they always ended up in a discussion of community radio. A report on some happening at a commercial station would include a long coda on the general failures of commercial radio.
Ellinger was driven. I became managing editor. I fired Jim (it took three sleepless weeks to work up the nerve). Over the next few years our relationship was, at best, prickly. Even now, we are more friendly colleagues than friends. One of the things that drove everyone crazy about Jim was his obsession with community radio.
He envisioned a station that wouldn't have to play by commercial rules. It would be a station where all the different voices in the community could be heard, a station for new music and new ideas. The Chronicle supported it but doubted its practicality. Ellinger just didn't talk about the station; he obsessively worked for it.
He worked with others, many others, but Ellinger was the point person. He persevered when there weren't many others. He convinced the community to support their very own radio station when it wasn't that interested when he started. He battled the university. Everyone said he would lose. Everyone except Ellinger, who knew he would win. He had this vision, this thing about people's radio. Sometimes he was obnoxious and always forthright, but when he should have failed, he succeeded. When he should have given up, he gained momentum. For years, I watched, we all watched, not always with admiration. Determinedly, Ellinger went forward.
Against all the odds, with an ever-developing political skill, and a new learned ability to lie low at crucial junctures, Ellinger and the public radio community of which he was a part compromised their way onto the airwaves. When the KOOP license was awarded, Ellinger gave it to the Board of Trustees. He settled into his weekly show, in which he did what he loved doing, talking about media. The same criticism still held, though: Ellinger talked on many topics, but he really loved community, guerrilla, and co-op radio. He believes the airwaves belong to the people. Last week, the KOOP Board of Trustees kicked Jim Ellinger off of those airwaves.
The ludicrousness of KOOP placing any more restrictions than is absolutely necessary on air talent should be obvious. Ellinger's vision was for all members of the community to have access to the airwaves for almost anything of worth they wanted to talk about. Now KOOP deejays can't talk about what is going on inside KOOP.
I was listening the Friday before last, to Ellinger's "third strike" broadcast (see Lee Nichols' "Media Clips" piece this issue). Ellinger was reporting on the board's request for summary dismissal of suits brought against them. The judge granted some but not most. Here was a media show reporting on what is clearly the hottest media story for KOOP's listenership. I got to where I was going and stayed in the car listening. I was very interested in the topic. Even-handedly, Ellinger presented and explained the court's decision. He was careful not to editorialize. He urged his audience to continue to support KOOP no matter what. The station management found fault with the broadcast. They took him off the air.
I'm not bad-mouthing Jim when I bring up those earlier stories (imagine if he lets loose with what he knows about me); I just want to make it clear this isn't personal. I don't support Jim because he is a friend. I support him because he is right. The day KOOP radio takes Jim Ellinger, the founder of the station, off the air because he was too controversial is the day the Animal Farm comparisons begin to seem mild. In other words, last Friday, KOOP pulled a coup on itself and we, the listeners, are the poorer for it.
The Austin Film Society's summer-long tribute to film maven George Morris hits one of its peaks next Tuesday, July 27, when Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows is shown at the Texas Union. After a long and varied career, Sirk ended up as the pre-eminent melodrama director of the Fifties. I would argue this is his masterpiece. When widow Jane Wyman falls in love with gardener Rock Hudson, it sends family, friends, and neighbors into a tizzy. Delightfully subversive, Sirk played with both theme and color; this surprisingly tender romance often looks as though its action is set against a series of stunning postcards. The ending is Norman Rockwell America gone surreal, but the whole film is impressive. If you're waiting for the hidden gem, the still-to-be-discovered treasure in this series, this is it. Although critically celebrated, Sirk has yet to be rediscovered by all his logical constituencies, the audience.