Firing Line

Former Visotcky employees sound off.

Smith is hardly a newcomer to radio. She worked in various broadcast capacities in Colorado Springs for nine years, and after stints in Oklahoma and California, she returned to the Springs as a Metro Traffic correspondent. Before long, she was transferred to Metro Traffic's Denver desk, where she made a name for herself both on the radio and on KMGH-TV/Channel 7 under the tongue-in-cheek pseudonym Elaine Change. She joined the KOOL 105 morning team in April 1998, and during her sixteen months on the job, she says, "the Arbitrons were great. We were number one in our target demo."

In the midst of this run, Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she didn't let the disease slow her down. "It was caught very early, and the surgery went fine. I only took six days of sick leave through the whole thing and otherwise didn't miss any other work." When she returned to KOOL, Smith openly shared her experiences with listeners. "There are tons of people who have cancer or have had it who are living everyday lives; they need jobs and friends and everything else that other people need. And I thought it was important to talk about that. But we didn't dwell on it. I never got any calls that said, 'Could you stop talking about your breast cancer? It's bringing me down.' And I never heard of anyone else hearing something like that, either. Both men and women were overwhelmingly supportive."

So, initially, was station management -- and a profile of Smith that appeared on KUSA-TV/Channel 9 went over well, too. But by mid-summer, she says, she began to notice a subtle shift in opinion. "Toward the end, I think my talking about the breast cancer began to be perceived as a negative. All of a sudden, it was verboten -- don't mention it." Soon after, the hammer came down, ostensibly because management wanted someone who was, in Smith's words, "bubblier and friendlier" to fill her slot. (Terrie Springs, late of Las Vegas, subsequently replaced her.)

A big stick: After Bob Visotcky fired her, Terri Takahashi filed an EEOC complaint against Chancellor Broadcasting.
David Rehor
A big stick: After Bob Visotcky fired her, Terri Takahashi filed an EEOC complaint against Chancellor Broadcasting.

When Smith was canned, Visotcky wasn't present, but he has been the most vocal proponent of bubbly friendliness at KOOL; in his interview for Westword's recent article, he said he and his associates had increased the good-times quotient at the station by bringing in new, more upbeat personalities. Rather than formally accusing AMFM of dismissing her because her cancer wasn't fun enough, however, Smith is choosing to focus on the positive. She's optimistic about her odds of becoming a long-term cancer survivor, as are her doctors, and she's confident she'll land on her feet professionally as well. "Thank God that, for whatever reasons, the ratings have gone up wherever I've gone," she says. "I've got a good track record, and that's what matters to people in this business."

This observation is echoed by Visotcky, who notes, "I think Kit Smith is a great lady, and I have nothing bad to say about her." But while he declines to talk specifically about the reasons for Smith's firing, he strongly disputes the implication that she was sent packing for anything other than radio considerations. "It had absolutely nothing to do with her contracting breast cancer or talking about it on the air, and I'm in shock that she would even think for a minute that it did," he says. "We helped her out as much as we could when she was going through her health problems, and she knows that. Plus, we came to an amicable agreement with her when we had to make the change -- and she was a professional about it the whole time."

The Visotcky response to Takahashi's claims is a little more complicated. He says it's inaccurate to directly equate him with Skip Weller, her previous boss, "because I was the market manager, which was a newly created position. Terri's job responsibilities would have been completely different than they had been. And I didn't have two jobs available at the time." He also points out that the woman who was initially kept on board was subsequently let go -- something that Takahashi confirms. "I tried this other person out for a while, but I decided that I needed someone who was loyal to me," Visotcky asserts. "We ended up offering both of them the exact same package. One of them took it; the other one didn't."

The prospect of going to court against Takahashi doesn't worry Visotcky in the slightest, he says. "The truth always comes out, so if Terri wants to take it to the court system, I welcome that, because I never did any of those bad things. I never had a problem with her leaving early on Friday." He adds, "I don't like to try cases in the press, but if people are going to take shots at me that are inaccurate, I'm going to set the record straight."

In the meantime, Takahasi is still looking for a job -- but she vows to fight Visotcky and AMFM to the finish. "This is no big deal to them, but it is to me," she says. "It's a waiting game, but I'm willing to wait it out because I feel so strongly about what they did."

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