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Wruck wrecks radio

KHSU radio station is left in shambles under the Rossbacher administration

The decision to gut the KHSU radio station lays solely at the feet of the Rossbacher administration.

On April 11, 2019 HSU President Lisa Rossbacher along with Vice President of University Advancement Craig Wruck made the decision to get rid of all volunteers and terminate all but two paid positions.

The two paid employees have since resigned. Caught up in the firings were five student interns who were also let go due to the lack of professional mentorship. The decision was abrupt and took many by surprise.

Starting in the fall 2018 semester, Wruck began to have conversations with the Associated Students of Humboldt State about a desire for more student involvement at the station.

Former AS Administrative Vice President Bennett Perrault began having meetings with Wruck during this time period as well. Perrault said that his interest in KHSU was piqued after reading articles about the station in the Mad River Union.

Perrault said that in his meetings with Wruck and KHSU General Manager Peter Fretwell, they envisioned a station where students could work under the tutelage of some of the volunteers and paid staff, while working on content geared towards a younger audience.

Perrault said that he wanted to have more student-run shows filling the air waves from Crescent City to Garberville when the nationally syndicated shows from NPR weren’t running.

“The ideal situation would be that the very best students from KRFH would have shows and get professional experience,” Perrault said. “Why should the university spend money on stuff that students are not going to benefit from? I understand that we impose ourselves on a community, but if the students could be more involved and put out quality content that the community could appreciate, then that’s all the best.”

According to Perrault, Wruck said that one of the barriers for this vision to come to fruition was the large number of volunteers at the station and by freeing up volunteer positions, the university would be making room for more student involvement.

Perrault also said Wruck acknowledged that he and some of the people at KHSU were “butting heads” and President Rossbacher is “in a position that she could make big decisions” before she left.

“[Wruck] painted this picture of all these volunteers not allowing students in there,” Perrault said. “He said that the whole station was run by people that haven’t left since the 80s and that HSU is putting a lot of money into it.”

Given this background knowledge and after conversations with Wruck, Perrault began to draft what would become the Associated Students’ draft resolution No. 2018-19-08, “An Act of Formal Support for Increased Student Involvement in KHSU Radio Station.”

The goal of the resolution was to “encourage the KHSU station to increase student positions (paid and volunteer), student-produced content, student air time and more,” according to an email chain obtained by the Lumberjack.

Perrault also said that he and Wruck discussed budget issues surrounding that station. Budget issues were cited by President Rossbacher as one of the reasons for the gutting of the station.

A statement from the university on the day of the firings said they were eliminating the positions of general manager and chief engineer, “saving the University more than $250,000 annually.” The statement also said that they were eliminating five other paid positions.

The HSU University Senate voted to condemn the decision. State Senator Mike McGuire and State Assembly member Jim Wood along with two retired state representatives wrote a letter to California State University Chancellor Timothy White calling the decision a “slap in the face” to the local community.

One of the 59 volunteers that was let go is Halimah Collingwood. Collingwood hosted a radio show that played music from across the world since 1991. Collingwood graduated from HSU in 1990 with a degree in philosophy.

“When they said something about how the community wasn’t supporting the station, that isn’t true,” Collingwood said. “After Katie Whiteside was fired, the community acted and the station lost $80,000 to $90,000 because of membership cancellations and underwriting cancellations.”

Collingwood said HSU is misrepresenting the numbers and not owning up to their role in the situation. Since the day of the firings, the adminstration has been tight-lipped with any information regarding KHSU. Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Frank Whitlach did not respond to requests for a comment.

Wruck has been out of his office since at least the day of the KHSU firings, “Isn’t available for an interview,” and retired from his position on May 1.

Collingwood and Perrault spoke during the KHSU protest at the Arcata Farmers Market on April 13. They both agreed that more student involvement at the station would have been beneficial and the way the plan was implemented was problematic.

“I talked to Craig Wruck about this five months ago, and it’s just happening now because they wanted to fix some things before they left I guess,” Perrault said. “The way it was pitched to me, was that it was all too good to be true.”

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