Media Watch

KUAZ Firing Brings Possible End to Mortimer's 50-Year Career

Longtime Tucson radio listeners are probably very familiar with Bill Mortimer, who began a career in radio that started during Eisenhower's second term.

"I've been here since the summer of '58, right out of high school," Mortimer said, listing some of the stations where he worked: "KAIR, KCUB, KMRR (The Wave), an old jazz station, KIIM, KUAZ, KUAT and KUAT TV."

But it was Mortimer's most recent stint at the UA-operated Arizona Public Media outlet that has put the continuation of that career in doubt. Mortimer, who handled news broadcasts for the radio group, was fired last month, a little more than three months shy of reaching his fifth anniversary at the station, and two weeks shy of the new fiscal year.

These dates are important, because they potentially affected Mortimer's outgoing financial package and led to a great deal of misinformation and bureaucratic red tape to get the right answers, he said.

"They told me in the termination interview with the managing editor and the business woman, who was so ill-informed it was embarrassing, that my employment started with them five years (ago in) October," Mortimer said. "I asked about retirement, and she said you get nothing if you haven't been here for 10 years. That's totally wrong: Five years, you're vested. Human resources gave me misinformation as well, but the Arizona State Retirement System looked me up and said I was vested. It goes by fiscal year. October wouldn't have made any difference."

Despite his struggles to get the right answers, Mortimer feels bureaucratic issues are the least of Arizona Public Media's problems. Mortimer estimates the organization has parted ways with more than 25 people since general manager Jack Gibson took the reins more than two years ago. (At the time of Mortimer's firing, Arizona Public Media also released public relations specialist Dianne Janis, who worked diligently to make other media outlets aware of the organization's accomplishments.)

Mortimer also believes there's a simple lack of programming knowledge within the organization, especially on the radio end.

"I don't think they really have a handle on where they're going," Mortimer said. "I keep thinking they may just eliminate news. A year ago, they took a news station, KUAZ, and cut our newscasts in half. I went from doing seven or eight newscasts a day to three. They really don't care about radio. The equipment there is antiquated.

"This was a great place to work five years ago, and I had wished I had started there 20 years ago. We were doing some great things in news, and then all of a sudden, they had to bring in a managing editor, Peter Michaels, who in my opinion has managed to edit nothing. He's offered no support to staff. He never praised anyone, but if you happened to make a mistake, which everybody does occasionally, he was all over them.

"I feel the same about Jack Gibson. He knows nothing about radio; that's obvious. He came in and refurbished the lobby of the place, figuring a better-looking lobby would bring in more money. Here's a guy who cares nothing about radio. There's a carpeted hallway right in front of our studio as you come in, and he puts in tile. Do you know how high heels sound on tile? All these little things add up to someone who doesn't care." Like most organizations, APM tends to be mum on personnel issues, but Wendy Erica Werden, Arizona Public Media's director of marketing and brand management, said KUAZ remains dedicated to news. "We wouldn't say anything about employee issues, but there shouldn't be any question to our commitment to covering the news in Southern Arizona, nationally and across the region. That's the whole purpose of the station, to do just that--our commitment is to cover the news, that is," she said.

Mortimer is moving to a place near Green Valley within the month and will become the new caretaker at the historic Canoa Ranch.

"I'm looking forward to that. I was raised there as a kid," Mortimer said. "My grandfather and dad lived there. It's a very historic ranch, but nobody has lived there for 50 years, so it deteriorated quite a bit. It's 4,800 acres, and they're restoring everything on the ranch. They've already restored the house we lived in."

Mortimer said he still might expand on his 50 years in radio if an opportunity presents itself.

"While I have lost all respect for the people I worked for at KUAZ, I don't want to end 50 years of radio on a sour note," said Mortimer. "I will seek out another gig, perhaps part-time, and hopefully put a happy ending on what has been a wonderful career."

'DOUGLAS DISPATCH' TRIMS SCHEDULE Economic woes have hit the Douglas Dispatch, which will print just three issues a week instead of its present five, beginning in August.

"We faced a decision of whether to raise our subscription prices and our advertising rates, or reduce the number of editions while expanding page count and making greater use of our Web site," said editor and publisher Larry Blaskey in a Dispatch story announcing the change. "We know our customers are under the same economic pressures. So changing the number of editions made the most sense."

The Dispatch will publish on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

"We examined trends for the last six months, and with the lack of speed with which the state and national economy is recovering, and the continuing price increases we are seeing in every area, it has become increasing(ly) difficult to produce the newspaper we want for Douglas and remain a profitable operation," Blaskey wrote.

With the cutback, Blaskey hopes to include more pages per edition.

"We will be able to have more local news in each publication," Blaskey said. "Each of the newspapers should be 12 to 16 pages instead of the typical eight pages we have been publishing."

The Dispatch, which in some places still maintains a "Daily" moniker as part of its title head, is owned and operated by Wick Communications, which also owns the Tucson Weekly.