LA Weekly writer Tessa Stuart, listed on the masthead as the "editorial fellow," has this week's long cover story on what happened to two of the most popular shows on KPCC, the ones hosted until recently by Madeleine Brand and Patt Morrison. As readers here should know, Brand left KPCC shortly after her show gained a new sports-loving co-host, A Martinez, and she is now a top-billed interviewer on KCET's SoCal Connected. Morrison is a roving on-air personality at KPCC but no longer has the afternoon show she held down for six years. The changes led to much more public upheaval and criticism than KPCC is usually associated with, though the story says the early ratings and fundraising dollars are both up.
It all began, says the Weekly, when KPCC's leadership fixated on two things: the shrinkage in public radio listenership, overwhelmingly white and older; and the offer of a big grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting if KPCC would take serious steps to broaden its audience to include more Latinos — especially the established second- and third-generation Latinos who hunger for news but who eschew the narrowly white-targeted subject matter and tone of most news and banter on public radio.
This led KPCC, of course, to aspire to take its top-rated show, Madeleine Brand's morning hour of interviews, news and NPR-y banter, national as a two-hour show with more of a Latino flavor. That desire led the station's bosses to Martinez, the ESPN Radio sports personality whose biggest claim to fame until his hiring was his odd, outspoken advocacy for the use of performance-enhanching steroids in sports. He also has been a paid endorser of steroids, the Weekly says. He was identified by program director Craig Curtis and hired by Russ Stanton, the former LA Times editor-in-chief who is getting his feet wet in public radio as KPCC's chief of content.
Martinez wasn't their first choice, according to the Weekly. That was CNN's Nick Valencia, an Eagle Rock native and USC graduate. But in June he turned down the six-figure job, the story says.
Just about every rising and established Latino journalist in Los Angeles, including some already employed by KPCC, applied for the job.
There was a sense within the community that "whoever would get this job would become the preeminent Latino reporter in Southern California," says O.C. Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano, who pens the "Ask a Mexican" column that appears in this newspaper...."Because of all the attention paid to it, because of all of the money behind it and, frankly, because there is no leading, crusading voice out there."
About two dozen applicants were considered for the job and given interviews with top management. Candidates were asked to write the introduction to the show that is read at the top of the hour, along with a script for a one-on-one interview that the applicant was asked to conduct live. And they were tested on how well they could banter with Brand.
As months went by without a consensus candidate, the selection process became increasingly scattershot. Staffers grumbled that Craig Curtis, the program director who led the hiring effort, would hear someone on the radio once and then bring in the person for an interview.
By this time, even from the outside, it was clear that Brand was not enthusiastic about the prospect of hiring a co-host....Enter A Martínez.
Like Brand, Jorge Martínez grew up in Los Angeles — in his case, Koreatown. But that's where their similarities end. Where Brand attended Berkeley, then Columbia for her master's degree, Martínez played baseball at L.A. City College before transferring to Cal State Northridge, where he received a journalism degree.
"He doesn't sound like public radio, which was by design. We feel very strongly that the population and therefore the audience of Southern California has been changing pretty dramatically and pretty rapidly over the past decade or so," Stanton says.
There's an alternate take on that impressive-sounding talk: The station was desperate. It had been almost a year since KPCC began talking to CPB about the One Nation grant. Station insiders say the nonprofit was starting to breathe down Southern California Public Radio's neck to find a co-host or lose its grant money.
The steroid stuff about Martinez is interesting. "I have strong feelings about steroids and HGH [human growth hormone]. I think everyone should be on something. I like the game better. I like sports better that way," Martínez said July 14... He admits using steroid himself to improve his results in the gym, and according to the story he had to sit out KPCC's coverage of the Lance Armstrong because of his views and his role as a paid endorser of steroid products.
More in the Weekly story.