By Michael Roberts
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By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
Bob Visotcky, who was recently profiled in this space ("The Man You Hate to Love," August 26), continues to be among the hottest topics on the Denver radio rumor mill, in part because of the many hirings and firings at six local stations he oversees for Dallas-based AMFM Inc. Keeping up with such changes is a challenge: One insider estimates that around eighty employees have lost their jobs at AMFM properties since November 1998, when Visotcky took over -- that's a big number even by the standards of the notoriously fickle media business. Some of these folks were disappeared because of format shifts; for instance, when KVOD was moved from 92.5 FM to 1280 AM, talk station KRRF was wiped out, along with most of its staff. But there have been plenty of individual sacking victims as well, including Terri Takahashi and Kit Smith -- and since the former was a poster child who still wears a leg brace and walks with the help of a cane and the latter recently went through treatment for breast cancer, their dismissals have surprised even some radio unshockables.
Vistocky insists that there was nothing untoward about these terminations: "Neither of them were discriminated against," he says, "and no one else has been discriminated against, either. Period." But Takahashi, who refused to sign a post-employment confidentiality agreement with AMFM, and Smith, who initially did so but later revoked it, are singing a different tune. "He just threw me out like I was garbage," Takahashi maintains, "and it's time people knew about it." As for Smith, she says, "I would prefer to believe that my cancer didn't have anything to do with what happened, but it may have. Everybody I talk to about it tells me, 'Come on, Kit. Grow up.'"
An Ohio native, Takahashi, 46, moved to Colorado with her family when she was a toddler newly diagnosed with polio. Between the ages of four and ten, she served as the March of Dimes poster child for the Rocky Mountain region because, in her words, "I was really cute." Later she worked in marketing capacities at a couple of record retailers (and, briefly, as a Westword salesperson) before landing a series of radio gigs. In 1996, she was named executive assistant to Skip Weller, then a regional manager for Chancellor Broadcasting, AMFM's predecessor, and general manager of the Peak.
Because Takahashi has post-polio syndrome, a fatigue-related malady that began afflicting her when she was 32, she requested that Weller let her leave early on Fridays under the "reasonable accommodation" clause of the Americans With Disabilities Act. "By the end of the week, I'm pretty well toasted," she says, "and Skip was fine with it. There was no problem."
More than two years later, Weller was sent packing and Visotcky came to town. Takahashi's first impressions were favorable. "He called me up and told me, 'I'm your new boss,' and we had a nice conversation," she recalls. "And the day when he came to Colorado, we had a big party for him, and as he was leaving, he kissed me on the top of my head and said, 'Thanks, hon -- thanks for all your help. I'll see you tomorrow.' I thought, this guy will be cool." She was so confident they'd have a good working relationship that she didn't worry in the slightest when she mentioned to him on November 12, Visotcky's fourth day in Chancellor's Denver offices, about her early departure on Fridays. But perhaps she should have. "I talked to him on a Thursday, and after that, he went back to California for a few days. The next time I saw him was on Monday, when he fired me."
Takahashi says that Visotcky, in the presence of KVOD general manager Pam Kenney (who has since left the station), told her that her position was being eliminated because of job duplication; Graham Satherlie, previously in charge of four Chancellor properties, would be leaving by Thanksgiving, thereby freeing up his assistant -- "a really great-looking young girl," in Takahashi's words -- to work for Visotcky. "I asked Bob, 'Why me?' and he didn't answer my question. All he told me was, 'These things are never easy.'"
Immediately after being ousted, Takahashi began looking into her legal options, and in December she secured representation with Mark Rau, a local attorney who promptly filed a charge of discrimination against Chancellor with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). "We felt after an investigation that there was more than enough evidence to show that Mr. Visotcky got rid of Terri because she didn't look right to him," Rau says. "It was a perception of disability rather than any actual disability, which is one of the stronger elements of the case."
At this point, Takahashi's complaint remains in limbo: Chancellor representatives offered a written response to the EEOC just over a month ago, and Rau is assembling a reply. If the EEOC doesn't take action in a timely manner, Rau will ask for the right to sue the company, a request he says is routinely granted.
Thus far, Smith, who was the morning news personality at rock-oldies outlet KXKL-FM/105.1 (KOOL 105) until early last month, hasn't followed Takahashi's example. "I'm a single mom and the sole support of my family," she says. "I need the severance pay, and if I start bringing lawsuits against the company, the severance pay goes away -- and I can't afford that." But, she notes, "a lot of people have been very outraged that I was fired, and I can understand how they feel."