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Battle Intensifies as Rival Station Hires Commentator

March 24, 2004|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

Radio commentator Sandra Tsing Loh, fired this month from Santa Monica-based KCRW-FM because of an on-air obscenity, was hired Tuesday by rival public radio station KPCC-FM in Pasadena.

Meanwhile, the battle between the radio personality and her former station continued.

KCRW (89.9) accused Loh of tarnishing the station's reputation and its employees with "misleading statements." Loh responded by accusing the station's general manager, Ruth Seymour, of "character assassination" and conducting "a reign of terror."

Meanwhile, management at KPCC (89.3) called the issue "a personal matter between Sandra and KCRW" that would not affect her hiring. Loh's commentaries will begin airing on the Pasadena station in June.

She was fired from KCRW for a four-letter obscenity broadcast during two airings of her weekly commentary, "The Loh Life," on Feb. 29. Last week Seymour offered Loh her job back after learning that the word had been inadvertently left in by Loh's engineer instead of being bleeped. Loh declined the offer, calling KCRW "toxic ground."

With the termination, the relatively unknown Loh became part of the national debate about broadcast indecency that began after the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during this year's Super Bowl.

Bill Davis, president of Southern California Public Radio, said Loh would be doing weekly segments on "Morning Edition" that also might be broadcast at other times, including during the early-evening newsmagazine "All Things Considered."

"In broadcast parlance, we'll be giving her a lot of play," Davis said.

Loh said she was thrilled to be joining KPCC.

The job offer marked an upbeat conclusion to a roller-coaster month in which she had experienced both despair and vindication, she said. But the ride wasn't over yet.

KCRW, saying it had previously responded in only "limited fashion" to Loh's account of the firing and to her later statements, went on the offensive Tuesday afternoon.

A KCRW statement said Loh had retained a public relations firm 48 hours after her firing.

"In the ensuing weeks, Ms. Loh and her representatives fanned a media storm with negative remarks about the station that led to personal attacks on its employees," the statement said. "She made misleading statements about her own culpability in using 'indecent' language on the air."

The station also released a letter that Loh wrote to Seymour the day she was fired in which Loh apologized for the "foolish and ill-timed mistake" and took full responsibility for the broadcast of the word. She also expressed her "gratitude to Ms. Seymour for the success she's enjoyed because of her association with KCRW," the statement read.

In the same statement, Seymour said that "the discrepancy between the content and tone of this letter and the subsequent attacks on KCRW have yet to be explained. I guess Sandra figured that attacking KCRW gets far more attention than a three-minute commentary. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the station that had given her a home for six years."

In an interview, Seymour said she was unaware of Tuesday's announcement by KPCC, which competes with KCRW for donations and funding.

"We just wanted to set the record straight," she said. "KCRW has really been maligned."

Told of the KCRW statement, Loh said, "It repeats the station's habit of lying to the media and underscores, on a personal level, how frightening it is for individuals to take Ruth Seymour on for battle."

She added, "This character assassination business -- that KCRW is suggesting that I am some publicity-mad opportunist, when in fact Ruth started it by firing me and telling the world, including subscribers via e-mail, that my airing of the expletive was intentional -- is unfortunately typical of KCRW, which I think of as a reign of terror."

KPCC's Davis said he had no hesitation about hiring Loh, who continues to do a monthly commentary on Public Radio International's daily national business program, "Marketplace," which airs both on KPCC and KCRW.

"From our perspective, Sandra acted appropriately," he said. "She gave her engineer instructions that the language would be bleeped."

He added, "We feel that Sandra's commentaries are not only humorous and funny but that they show considerable insight. They are not frivolous or trivial. They will be a very strong fit with our news programming."

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