By BRIAN HULL,, Rocky Mountain Chronicle
But the political commentator will still “agitate” for the Larimer Dems at their annual dinner.
(link to original sory)

Ever since community radio station KRFC 88.9FM first hit local airwaves, in 2003, a familiar voice with a Texas twang and a scathing wit has been taking the Bush Administration and his Washington cronies to task, two minutes at a time. But time is precious on the radio waves, and the KRFC news team has decided they no longer have enough of it for Jim Hightower’s daily political commentary.

Hightower, a national radio commentator, public speaker and former Texas agriculture commissioner, is also an author, with titles like Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush and If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. His commentary is broadcast daily on more than 150 commercial and public radio stations. And like other former editors of the public-interest newsweekly The Texas Observer, including the late and revered Molly Ivins, he thrives on being an agitator.

“Being an agitator is what America is all about,” Hightower has said. “If it were not for agitators circa 1776, we’d all be wearing powdered wigs and singing ‘God Save the Queen’.”

As the Larimer County Democratic Party prepares to host Hightower as a keynote speaker at its annual fundraising dinner in March, KRFC’s move to eliminate his segment resonates with political overtones. But Chris Kennison, KRFC’s interim station manager, says Hightower’s anticipated local appearance is totally unrelated to the news team’s decision. According to Kennison, it comes down to shifting priorities at the station.

“Our news team has been evolving and focusing more on local news,” Kennison says. “We needed those two minutes.”

Adam Bowen, Larimer County Democratic Party chair, questions the justification.

“That doesn’t seem believable,” he says. “They have 24 hours a day to work with — with lots of music-oriented programming.”

Clearly, time isn’t KRFC’s only motivation in axing Hightower, whose satirical approach tends to ruffle conservative feathers. A concerted effort to appear politically unbiased and nonpartisan has also played into the decision.

“We want to give people balanced and informative local news,” Kennison says.

Kennison adds that the news team wants to focus more on news rather than opinion pieces, like Hightower’s. Also, Kennison argues, the station didn’t have a two-minute segment from the other end of the political spectrum to use as a counterpoint.

For Laura Ehrlich, Hightower’s research and communications director, taking the radio segment off the air to foster the appearance of being “fair and balanced” rings false, especially considering the political climate on American radio.

“From my standpoint, it’s frustrating,” Ehrlich says. “The only time you have a counterpoint to right-wing, commercial AM radio is on community radio. When compared to stations that carry Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, community radio is more likely to air conservative and liberal viewpoints.”

Providing “a forum for discussion of important and controversial issues” is exactly what KRFC’s Political and Editorial Policy purports to do. On the airwaves, however, programming from a liberal perspective has tended to get shuffled around or outright eliminated in recent years, including “Alternative Radio,” Free Speech Radio News and “Counterspin,” which have been removed from KRFC’s public-affairs and news lineups.

Former KRFC news correspondent Paul Bame questions KRFC’s partisan analysis of Hightower’s program. Along with two other KRFC board members whose memberships were revoked by the board in March of 2006, Bame claims that KRFC dismissed them illegally and violated stated protocol in the process. (The website explains their position explicitly.)

“I wonder if people bothered to listen to Hightower’s critical commentary during the Clinton Administration,” Bame says. “In my view, he’s an equal-opportunity satirist, who’s more populist than partisan.”