Michael Livingston and Sara Cromwell, co-hosts of the Tuesday edition of "Willamette Wake Up," pictured at work. The two co-hosts and Sarah Owens, who helped on the show, were fired last week. (Courtesy/Sarah Owens)
Volunteer hosts of a Tuesday segment on community radio station KMUZ have been fired after a staging an interview with an absent Mayor Chuck Bennett.
Michael Livingston and Sara Cromwell co-hosted the Tuesday edition of “Willamette Wake Up,” a program that digested regional news and events, and had slotted Bennett in as a regular guest every month.
Bennett, however, stopped appearing in October. He told Salem Reporter the segment had veered from its goal of talking about all city issues and instead focused on homelessness.
“I just suggested to them we get together and talk about where we’re going with this,” he said. “One of the biggest issues is homelessness. It’s not the only issue. And we seem to have gotten into a one-note discussion.”
Despite Bennett's absence, Livingston, a retired circuit court judge, decided to spend some airtime Nov. 6 to pose questions to the mayor anyway.
“What we’re going to do today and in the future… is we’re going to have questions for Mayor Bennett,” Livingston said on-air.
Over the next two minutes, Livingston rattled off questions to no answer. Questions revolved around the city’s plans for a sobering center and its programs to house homeless people. After the last question, Livingston reiterated he planned to do it again next month if the mayor wasn’t in the studio.
“Those are our questions for the mayor and as I said we’re going to continue on the first Tuesday for the foreseeable future to have questions for Mayor Bennett,” Livingston said.
Station managers Ken Adams and Pam Kelly terminated the show three days later.
In a statement to Salem Reporter, Melanie Zermer, executive producer of Willamette Wake Up, said the station “reserves the right to terminate a show for any reason when it is deemed in the best interest of the station.”
Adams, who joined the volunteer radio station in 2013, said the separation stemmed from a dysfunctional relationship between the station and the hosts. The faux interview was the latest incident, he said.
“I actually complimented them about their coverage of the homeless situation, which they had been doing on a regular basis and kept at it,” he said.
Adams said the hosts had rarely been “good team players” at the station. When disagreements came up, they did not change practices, he said.
“There’s been problems in the past. They haven’t been very communicative, and that was one of the reasons we (felt), in the past, that if we brought things up, they would not listen,” he said.
Sarah Owens, Livingston's partner and someone who helped on the show, said she was shocked by the firing. Livingston said they did "butt heads" sometimes, but he said they rarely communicated with management.
"Whatever the personality conflicts, they were set aside because of what we produced, and we also had a pretty standard protocol for whatever dealings we did have," Livingston said. "If there had been (problems) that wouldn't have prompted such a precipitous and unexplained termination."
A prior disagreement Livingston and Owens mentioned occurred in January 2017 after the hosts said Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson lied at a meeting of a regional task force to address homelessness.
"We were just reporting what we thought we had found," Livingston said. "But we went forward and resolved all that, I thought."
Livingston said the segment's approach was always to be direct in raising issues with community leaders.
"That scrutiny makes people uncomfortable," Livingston said.
Neither the hosts nor the management say Bennett had anything to do with the firing.
Owens said she and Livingston now hope to build a website to host a podcast to reach listeners and continue talking about issues in Salem.
“I think the most valuable part of what we did for the show — we did the news briefs and reported on (Salem) City Council and the occasional other-kind-of-meeting — he and I are going to want to support that,” she said.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected]