Tuesday June 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- In his first extended public comment outside the blogosphere, the program director of the Taconic High School community radio station, Larry Kratka, has shed some light on why he derailed a previously approved plan to offer departed WBRK talk show host Bill Sturgeon a spot on WTBR radio.

Kratka, who works part-time for the School Department on top of his position as Vox Communication’s news director for its Berkshire stations, including WBEC and WUPE, cited incoming political pressure for the decision, but asserted he’s not sure where it came from -- though not from the corner office at City Hall.

As Kratka put it, "certain people in the political system and some out of the system" protested Sturgeon’s planned arrival on WTBR FM 89.7 for an 8:30-10 a.m. interview program.

"So I had a funny feeling -- wait a minute, a whole bunch of people don’t want this to happen," said Kratka. "There was so much coming at me, the pressure was getting to me, so I got to thinking about what’s going on here."

Kratka said he first told Sturgeon he wanted to delay the program’s debut for a week.

"I told him, I believe you’re going to do a good show," Kratka said, "but there are those who are terrified of what you’re going to be talking about. Others don’t believe you’re going to do a good show."

At that point, he related, Sturgeon wondered if the project should be abandoned, and Kratka agreed.


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Sturgeon told The Eagle recently that while he was unhappy about the outcome, he has moved on and is considering other opportunities. His version of events paralleled Kratka’s account, and he also denied any knowledge of who his critics might be.

Kratka has taken heat about his decision -- some have even suggested that only students should be broadcasting on WTBR. But, he pointed out, school policy forbids students from doing shows during class time -- 7:20 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.

Kratka emphasized that he did not want to have the school "dragged into the mud" by hiring Sturgeon in the face of powerful opposition.

Several names of prominent Sturgeon critics have surfaced, but Kratka said that while he has heard that discussion, he has no way to verify the accuracy of the speculation.

"I don’t have the facts about who was doing this," Kratka said, "but I was getting all kinds of grief. They don’t pay me enough to go through that."

Kratka said he remains comfortable with his decision to abort the talk show -- which would have been confined to interviews, with no call-ins -- and he pointed out that he only earns a School Department stipend of $1,000 a year for his supervision of WTBR.

The exact reasons for Sturgeon’s departure from WBRK last month remain somewhat murky.

Willard "Chip" Hodgkins, president of WBRK, told The Eagle on Monday that "negotiations broke down for the next phase of his employment" but not as a result of political or legal pressure.

City Councilor John Krol, whose "Good Morning Pitts field" airs from 7:30-8:30 a.m., said he had encouraged Sturgeon to host a show on WTBR.

"I’m as perplexed as anyone" about the reasons the green light for the deal turned to red, Krol said.

"There is a dearth of real, high-quality discourse and content in the world of news, public affairs and storytelling locally," Krol commented. "As a community, we need to do better. The popularity of my little low-budget radio program shows that people will consume quality content."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto