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Folksy deejay balks at ban on editorializing, loses gig on Maine network

Originally published in Current, June 25, 2007
By Jeremy Egner

Maine Public Broadcasting Network ended a lengthy feud with jazz host Robert Skoglund June 13 [2007] by formally cutting ties with the 28-year fixture of its Friday-night radio schedule.

Skoglund was fired after he refused to sign off on network commentary guidelines that prohibit hosts from taking stances on touchy topics.

“On-air personnel should not make religious or political calls to action, editorialize, include content or showcase views and opinions on sensitive or controversial issues,” read the guidelines, which are posted at MPBN.org.

The Guidelines for Local On-Air Non-News Staff, includes this paragraph about "Political and Religious Neutrality."

MPBN maintains a very high standard of integrity in maintaining political and religious neutrality in its programming. On-air personnel are not allowed to use this public resource to further personal agendas of any kind. On-air personnel should not make  religious or political calls to action, editorialize, include content or showcase views and opinions on sensitive or controversial issues.

“Everyone was required to sign them and Robert Skoglund chose to return his unsigned,” say Lou Morin, marketing and communications manager. “He was unwilling to observe or acknowledge on-air guidelines.”

Says Skoglund: “The sole purpose of these new ‘guidelines’ that were suddenly generated and thrust upon me after 28 years of faithful volunteer service, was to enable MPBN management to remove The humble Farmer from the air without getting too much egg on their face.” (The lower-case “h” in the show’s title is meant to signal humility.)

Skoglund spun jazz recordings interspersed with folksy commentaries delivered in a thick Down East accent. Long a volunteer, he began earning $30 a week from the station a few years ago.

His eight-month spat with the nonprofit statewide network started in November when MPBN execs pulled a humble Farmer program, saying it was critical of an upcoming Maine ballot initiative and that the station didn’t want to seem it was weighing in on the issue (March 12 article). Skoglund responded by submitting his shows completely devoid of commentary and waging a letter and e-mail campaign that cast the pubcaster as an agent of censorship.

The ballot initiative episode wasn’t the first time Skoglund had flirted with political commentary. In a spiel in an earlier show, for example, he obliquely compared President Bush with Hitler. Station execs also reprimanded him last fall for taping campaign “robocalls” for local Democratic candidates, Skoglund says.

Network execs admit the situation with Skoglund moved them to revamp the rules of behavior for on-air, non-news hosts. “It would have happened regardless of whether Skoglund was on the air or not,” Morin says. “But certainly the humble Farmer situation expedited finalization of the guidelines.”

“I was the only person at MPBN who delivered up social commentary on a weekly basis,” Skoglund says. “So I am the only person to whom the ‘guidelines’ applied.”
The net is moving NPR’s Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz into the 7:30 p.m. humble Farmer slot and adding JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater to fill McPartland’s 8:30 p.m. spot.

Skoglund, who tapes his show from his home in St. George, Maine, will continue to provide it to WDNA in Miami and KGLP in Gallup, N.M. and post it online at www.thehumblefarmer.com.

Excerpt from guidelines added to this article, not in print version.

Web page posted June 25, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee

EARLIER ARTICLE

Maine network puts Skoglund on notice. Will the humble farmer become the fired farmer?

LINKS

Skoglund's program, The humble Farmer.

MPBN's guidelines.

The Kennebec Morning Sentinel editorialist misses Skoglund's jazz, but thinks the humble farmer wasn't humble enough: "His ego got the better of him."

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