By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
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But the real damage has been to the station's creativity and initiative, they say. "Now she's surrounding herself with people.... who are going to do exactly as Patty says," Graham says. "You've got a lot of people coming in, going through the motions, trying not to upset Patty, and hoping to get through the day without getting yelled at."
If negative publicity such as newspaper articles appear, employees are encouraged to write positive letters to the editor rejecting the articles' characterizations, Lemai says. "These are the same people who, when you're working with them, are whispering to you at the copier, "Oh my God, I can't stand this, she's a nut job,' and then once you get fired, it sort of reinforces that fear. They're like, "Oh my God, I could be next I better toe the line, because I have kids in the house and prep school to pay for and whatever, so I can't afford to be fired,' so they just go along and toe the line."
Bennett repliesAs mentioned earlier, the first time we attempted to bring up the allegations, Bennett ended the interview. Later, Bennett reacted to the allegations with a few tears. And a week after that with the comment, "Ultimately what is making us a success is that people want this type of programming; they like what they're hearing and they want more of it, and they're staying tuned to it now."
Later in that conversation, she denies the allegations. "I'm a happily married person, and I don't recall doing any of these things that are being brought up now, a year after, especially, an individual left," she says. "I do think that Lester Graham has made it very clear that he is angry and that he is going to rally support to try and do what he can to make sure that I am no longer the manager at KWMU."
Across the board, employees failed to alert her to their concerns, she says. "There are venues for employees to utilize to express concerns regarding misconduct, and if there were concerns, they should have been expressed the time the actions took place," she says. "And they were not."
And she never prohibited employees from going to lunch together or meeting after work, Bennett says. "Absolutely not, and I could care less who they go to lunch with."
Likewise, Peter Heithaus, director of human resources for the UM-St. Louis campus, says that no KWMU employee has complained to human resources since he took over in April 1998. Had an employee done so, he says, the office would have protected his or her confidentiality. Deborah Burris, currently manager of employee relations and employee development, acted as interim HR director for seven months before Heithaus's arrival. Only one KWMU employee complained to her during that time, she says. Moreover, Heithaus says, the rate of employee turnover at the station is normal and on a par with that for other university departments.
Will the real Patty Bennett please stand up?Typical KWMU listeners live in places like Clayton and Creve Coeur, drive Saabs and Volvos, walk for exercise, and drink wine and microbrew beer, according to KWMU's market research. They are active foreign travelers and are twice as likely as all radio listeners to stay at bed-and-breakfasts. They read publications like U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek. One-third own stock options in a company they've worked for, and they are one-third more likely than all radio listeners to vote. They are three-and-a-half times more likely than all radio listeners to belong to an art or environmental organization.
In some ways, Patty Bennett fits right into her station's demographic. At 42, she's the same age as KWMU's largest group of listeners, who are 35-44 years old. Like 39 percent of KWMU listeners, she has a master's degree (in broadcast communications), and like two-thirds of listeners, she is married. She and her husband, Ray, spend the occasional weekend at a bed-and-breakfast, visit wineries and vacation annually in warm places like Cancun and Hawaii. She also took classical-piano lessons for 11 years.
But Bennett also reads Danielle Steel novels to escape the rigors of her work life, and she and Ray get to country-and-western dances when they can. Who'da thunk that a former Illinois 4-H'er would come to control the region's only radio station catering to the urban intelligentsia?
Bennett grew up in Champaign, Ill., where her father taught agronomy at the university there for 33 years. Growing up, she was a 4-H member for nine years. "This was your city 4-H your sewing, your cooking, your yeast breads," she says. Her mother was a 4-H leader who had previously taught home economics at the University of Wisconsin, where her parents first met.
Her mother is absent from a family portrait in Bennett's office, which shows Bennett, at about 20 years old, smiling and arm-in-arm with her three sisters and their father on a Florida beach. The subject of Bennett's mother is an emotional one; she died of cancer on Patty's 11th birthday. "I was never able to say goodbye to my mom," Bennett says. "And that really affected me for the last 32 years of my life, not having had the opportunity to say goodbye. Because she wanted it that way. The two younger girls, she didn't want them to know what was going on, because she didn't want them to be burdened with that. Now that I'm a mom, I think I understand it, but I didn't understand why she didn't say goodbye, and I couldn't say goodbye. In her own way, she probably did at her own time, but I didn't know it. So I'm very big on closure."