Jerome Davis, the velvet-voiced fixture of Colorado Springs public radio, abruptly resigned from the station last Friday, July 6, after a five-year stint, claiming he was forced from his job.
Davis, an unrepentant liberal, said he had been reprimanded for making what management construed as on-air editorializing.
"They've been kinda mad at some of the stuff I've been saying on the air," he said. "I wasn't supposed to make a comment on any story I may have heard."
In addition, Davis said he has been criticized for his non-communicative approach with co-workers at the station, whose license is owned and operated by Colorado College. The station, at 91.5 FM, carries syndicated National Public Radio programs and news shows, including All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Colorado College has repeatedly rejected efforts to incorporate any local news programming into the mix.
Davis, 46, has been under fire from superiors at least since March, and said he suspects his popularity -- both from supporters and detractors -- contributed to his demise.
"This is a very conservative town and while some people did express pleasure at what I say, there is a small, yet powerful minority, that wanted me to shut up," Davis said. "There wasn't a week gone by that someone wouldn't call for my head.
"They'll tell you I resigned, which technically I did. But when your boss comes and says, 'When do you want to be fired, July or August?' what am I supposed to do?"
Bewildered for days
This week, KRCC station manager Mario Valdes adamantly insisted that Davis had resigned. Valdes declined to discuss the issues surrounding Davis' departure, including whether other employees had complained about Davis' attitude. "Perhaps, perhaps not," Valdes said. "You know I can't talk about personnel issues to you."
Asked whether he is disappointed in Davis' departure, Valdes said, "I am disappointed in Jerome on a variety of levels.
"I have been bewildered for days by Jerome; I do not understand the man," said Valdes, declining to clarify those statements.
Davis said on July 3, he left the station for several hours to spend time with friends who were visiting from Chicago. When he returned, Davis said Valdes approached him, and asked him whether he preferred to be fired in July or in August.
"I said, 'Since it's inevitable, why delay it?' " he said. "So here we are."
Davis' official title was production director at the station, a job he has held since November 1996. His was the voice of the underwriting and promotional announcements and could be heard during program breaks, most notably during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Davis' voice will continue to appear on promotional and other advertisements until those announcements are eventually phased out, Valdes said.
According to internal memos obtained by the Independent, Davis was warned as early as 1998 not to editorialize his personal opinions on the air.
In a memo dated Nov. 11, 1998, Valdes warned Davis that he had crossed the line, though he didn't specify the alleged breech.
"You were trained that it is unacceptable to make personal commentary on program content, NPR hosts, their interviews, or any aspect of programming -- as a matter of fact, you've been corrected numerous times by [former operations manager] Craig Koehn and myself concerning inappropriate commentary," Valdes wrote.
KRCC holds a strict position on editorializing, which states: "Colorado College policies prevent KRCC from presenting editorials, station positions on public issues, endorsements of political candidates or pending legislation. Individual editorializing is absolutely not permitted since there is often a fine line between editorializing and libeling."
However, in recent times, Davis said he was sometimes stymied by what constituted editorializing. For example, he was recently criticized after NPR reporter Nina Totenburg reported a story in which she referred to the U.S. Supreme Court as "a wacky bunch." During a program break, Davis repeated Totenburg's words, characterizing the Supreme Court as a "wacky bunch," and said he was criticized for the comment.
In May, Davis said he was called to a meeting with Valdes and Colorado College spokesman Todd Wilson, where he was punished for editorializing by being removed from his on-air duties for a week. He was told that the meeting was confidential, and warned not to tell anyone about it.
In the several weeks before his departure, Davis said he found a "foolproof solution" to ensuring that he would not inadvertently push the edge of the opinion envelope: He simply wouldn't listen to the programs and therefore couldn't make comments on content.
The cervix is dilated
In his March evaluation, Davis was also criticized for lacking effective communication skills with co-workers. "I've seen you be pleasant and sociable, so I know you're capable of it -- but apparently it's too much energy to expend on the folks you work with every day," Valdes wrote.
Davis said though he didn't always engage in interoffice discussions about personal issues, no one complained to him when he failed to exude a bright cheery "Good morning" when he arrived to work.
"I didn't talk about how far my cervix had dilated [during pregnancy], or the latest on my proctology report, because I don't talk about my private stuff," Davis said. "But I thought I was nice to everybody; I don't stand at the top of the stairs and quote Louis Farrakhan."
Davis said during the station's annual fund drive campaigns, he regularly was identified by listeners as one of the most popular fixtures at the station. However, Valdes, who has been station manager at KRCC for more than 20 years, said he had "no idea" where Davis rated by way of listener popularity.
Similarly, Valdes said any listener complaints about Davis were "irrelevant."
"No person on the air at KRCC is permitted to make spontaneous commentary in any manner," Valdes said. "The station is about providing its listeners with the best editorial content provided by National Public Radio and other public radio sources, not an avenue for any individual's private, personal views."
Everyone pays poorly
In his March evaluation, Davis received ratings of effective in all but three of the 13 performance factors rated. Improvement was needed, he was told, in the categories "cooperation/relationships," "communication" and "leadership."
Davis asked for a raise, and noted he believed his job performance has warranted it.
"I like to consider myself an asset of KRCC, one that is valued. And while the praise and recognition I've received are greatly appreciated, more money is what I need. Perhaps the College, with its vast resources, could find some kind of way to increase my salary and put my financial compensation more on a par with those local professionals in similar positions."
Valdes said, depending on experience, the job pays $25,000-plus a year. He rejected Davis' request for a raise.
"Unless you provide comparable salary information, I am hard-pressed to find any disparity in the national salary data provided by [Colorado Public Broadcasting]," he wrote in his response to Davis' request. "This information is collected annually from all stations just like KRCC and in the same budget range -- and I can assure you that at this time there is no disparity."
Davis said he's unsure of his long-term job prospects, but in the immediate future, he plans to vigorously pursue the marketing of his recently completed book of poetry. He is also scheduled to serve as moderator at several upcoming community events.
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