The Morning Report

KVET-AM - All the News That's There to Air

KVET's Eric Blumberg

photograph by John Anderson

If you're not already in the habit of doing so, tune in to KVET radio when you wake up tomorrow morning. You'll hear an energetic news team that is both a pleasant listen and an informed source about the city it covers. The team presents the issues of the day without dumbing down the news. Waitaminnit, you say. On KVET? Sammy & Bob? No, not KVET-FM. Tune in to the AM side at 1300 where KVET's All News Morning team delivers a news show from 6-9am weekdays. Here local politics is treated seriously, rather than as an afterthought, and the reporters actually seem to know what they are talking about - which, when compared to local television news, makes for a refreshing contrast in what passes for broadcast journalism. It's good to hear reporters talk a bit about real news instead of ridiculous reports on things like men who wear cameras on their shoes to look up women's dresses (yes, that actually aired on a local TV station).

The KVET team's newscast is less than perfect - more on that later - but it seems to have a lot of potential, given that it's only been in existence for about a year. "KVET and KASE [KVET's sister station] have always had a strong commitment to news in the community, and we wanted to expand that," says Dustin Drew, the station's program director. "You want to provide what people are looking for, and so many people are moving into Austin from markets where they already have all-news mornings."

Anchor Tom Vinger credits reporter Eric Blumberg, who has covered city politics for 14 years on KLBJ and KVET, as the reason why KVET takes city issues seriously. "He's been around," Vinger says. "He has lots of experience and lots of inside info, and he thinks it's important. Most of the news we get is generated by him or initiated by him. He started out part time, and one of the reasons we made him full time was to develop that beat."

And Blumberg, of course, is grateful for the full-time gig. "I personally think it's important because the city spends our money," Blumberg says. "It's important to follow the money. This is an important part of our city. We want to report on stuff that impacts people, and I want to do the stuff that impacts the greatest number of people. Since everybody pays taxes and water rates and that stuff, that's what I feel is important."

KVET's Mike Pirtle

photograph by John Anderson

Asked what makes radio news different from television, Vinger says, "I think the main thing is that you can go more in-depth. Television tends to be limited by the fact that if you can't put pictures with it, it's not as sexy. Radio is, like they say, a theatre of the mind."

None of this should be construed to mean that KVET is a perfect newscast - its news coverage spends too much time on car crashes and murders, just like its television counterparts. And, as recently departed reporter Larry Cordle complains, sometimes reports don't go much beyond reporting what the Statesman has already delivered. "Anyone who holds a press conference becomes a story," Cordle complains (although that's a complaint for broadcast journalism in general, not just KVET). "Young reporters are coming out of journalism school and not even getting a chance to learn investigative skills.... The cart is before the horse. They say `We need lots of tape,' and it doesn't matter what that tape is."

And then there are those annoying spots by doddering right-winger Paul Harvey and the June Cleaver of the Nineties, Martha Stewart. But in between these flaws are news reports on the actions of city council, often with relatively lengthy (at least compared to TV soundbites) interviews with councilmembers or other city leaders and activists. And in addition to the more generic Wall Street Journal Report, KVET tosses local business news into the mix with daily pieces from Daryl Janes of the Austin Business Journal.

It's not a stellar newscast, but it's a competent one, and in broadcast journalism, sad to say, that's saying a lot. Hopefully, new KVET owner Capstar Broadcasting Partners - which thus far has devoted most of its attention to the FM stations - will recognize the potential of these reporters and give them the resources to beef up their journalistic endeavors, instead of cutting back in the name of profit, which is the more common trend.

Now for a plea, one that you've read in this column before: Cordle was the creator of a show called Reporter's Roundtable. Despite his departure, "Media Clips" implores KVET to bring back Reporter's Roundtable in some form. The show was a perfect follow-up to All News Morning, and was so much more entertaining than the annoying, syndicated Susan Powter, who now occupies the 9am-noon slot. Powter's manic, ranting style is completely unlistenable (think Joan Rivers on speed), and surely sends many listeners reaching for the dial as soon as her screechy "Helloooo!" comes out of the speakers. (One recent episode had Powter wanting to discuss an Austin event, and begging Austinites to make a toll-free call to her show. It took nearly 15 embarrassing minutes before anyone finally dialed her up.)

KOOP Adopts

Ever since it took the air in 1994, KOOP (91.7FM) has been a leading source of news from the Chiapas war, and a champion of the Zapatista rebels. Now, it may become an even more direct participant in the Zapatista's cause. In February, KOOP's community board endorsed a resolution to "adopt" five Zapatista radio stations and help them get the equipment they need to keep broadcasting to their communities in Chiapas. The community board is an advisory board to KOOP's board of trustees, which will have to finalize the deal for it to become official.

The Mexican stations sent out a call around the world for help in obtaining equipment and other needed supplies, and it was only natural that KOOP would respond, since pro-Zapatista activist Eduardo Vera is also a KOOP programmer; he produces a show, Radio Tierra y Libertad, which features news on the Zapatista struggle every Sunday, 4-4:30pm, and also produces a Latin American music program every Wednesday, 11am-1pm.

Vera, who is also a member of the community board, says he has been helping Zapatista radio programmers for some time now in his work with the Comite de Solidaridad con Chiapas. "Through different sources, we have delivered at least two transmitters to them," Vera says. "They have a lot of different needs." He adds that all items of radio production, such as microphones and recorders, come in handy. "The [Mexican] military would like to crack down on us delivering this stuff, but they cannot stop the huge network throughout the world that wants to help the Zapatistas."

Vera says that the stations' "communications are mostly to serve the needs of their communities. It differs from other revolutionary [communication] sources, which are for propaganda purposes of reaching outside the community. They want to make sure they operate and will be accessible to the community, things like making sure people have little radios to listen to. They are part of what the Zapatistas are doing to create their own autonomy, just as they create their own government, their own clinics, their own schools. The stations may be used for the music they like, and communicating in their own language. They rarely broadcast in Spanish."

The Grassroots News Network (GNN), a new collective composed of broadcasters from KOOP and other community stations around the nation, has announced that two as-yet unnamed Zapatista representatives will attend its Grassroots News and Media Conference in June, and directly address activists who want to aid their cause. Vera says he plans to present the proposal at an upcoming KOOP board of trustees meeting.

On a related note, Vera claims that he was recently the victim of excessive force when UT police arrested him at a speech at the Texas Union by Mexico City Mayor Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas on February 28. Vera and his attorney, Scott Smith, both say they are limited in the comments they can make on the case since criminal trespass and resisting arrest charges are currently pending, but did say they will plead not guilty to those charges. And Smith says, "The use of force was excessive and unwarranted."

UT assistant police chief Silas Griggs says Vera was passing out unauthorized flyers at the event, and organizers asked him to leave. When Vera did not comply and refused an offer to distribute his literature out in the lobby, police reports say, the cops were called and he was led out. In the lobby, police claim, he began swinging his arms and legs. "He was warned to stop or he would be sprayed with pepper spray," says Griggs. "He was sprayed, and then we summoned EMS, which is our policy after someone is sprayed."

Vera claimed his wrist was injured, and so he was taken to Brackenridge Hospital. After treatment - Griggs says Brack doctors determined there was no sprain or break, but a splint was applied - Vera was arrested. "Our officers were not able to overcome his resistance with open-hand methods, so our policy then is to spray or use a blunt instrument, and we chose to spray. "He really didn't give us a choice," says Griggs.

On another related note, the GNN is seeking financial help in getting potential conference attendees to Austin. Anyone wishing to donate money to help the community radio programmers and activists come to town can send contributions to: Grassroots News Network, 4522 S. Second St., Austin, TX 78745.

Hightower Update

The on-again, off-again saga of Jim Hightower's attempts to be heard on Austin airwaves is on again. In fact, he will literally be on Austin Airwaves, the KOOP program hosted by Jim Ellinger every Friday, 6-7pm. Hightower produces daily, nationally syndicated, two-minute commentaries, and beginning May 1, Ellinger will air the Friday commentaries at the beginning of his show, from 6 to 6:02pm. Hightower's two-hour Chat 'n' Chew Cafe program, which found itself off Austin radio again when host station KNEZ went to an all-Spanish language format, is still looking for a new home.

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