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Blowup at KPFT Radio's "Prison Show" in Texas
David Babb, the host of Houston Pacifica Foundation radio station KPFT's well-known "Prison Show," resigned in protest of the station management's decision to prohibit him from having former radio talk show host Jon Matthews serve as co-host for the weekly program. Matthews had appeared on the show – which discusses prison-related issues and provides a forum for messages from prisoners' families – for three weeks prior to the station's decision to exclude him.
Matthews was a well-known local conservative talk show host on AM stations KPRC and KSEV prior to pleading guilty to a charge of indecency with a child for exposing himself to an eleven-year-old girl in 2004. He received probation, which was revoked in 2007 after he reportedly used alcohol, viewed obscene material and was removed from sex offender counseling. He then served three years in prison.
Although "surprised and flattered" when Babb asked him to co-host the Prison Show in mid-2012, Matthews warned that his political beliefs might cause problems at the progressive radio station.
"I cautioned him that I came with a lot of heat, and I am sorry that this has developed to where he has to leave the show," said Matthews. "I don't think they have been fair to him at all."
Former Prison Show host and founder Ray Hill, 72, who had retired in January 2011, returned to host the program for 90 days beginning June 1, 2012, while the station searched for a permanent replacement. He expressed sympathy for Babb.
"There is no precedent for this type of physical takeover of a program manager's internal business," Hill stated. "This is a very serious blow to David. It is a very hurtful thing to happen to him."
KPFT general manager Duane Bradley said that Matthews' participation had caused problems among some of the station's employees.
"Various people had concerns," Bradley noted. "One said that if a convicted sex offender was moving into their neighborhood they would know about it, so why, when a convicted sex offender was coming into their place of employment was [the employee] hearing about it back channel?"
Of course the rationale for sex offender notification laws is in theory to protect neighborhood children, which would not apply in a work environment.
Babb said one of the goals of the Prison Show is to assist in the reintegration of former prisoners.
"Once people serve their sentences, they should be allowed back into society," he stated. "But how can I preach that message when [KPFT] management says that is a great thing, but not on our turf? It is a mixed message, and it is massive discrimination."
Bradley noted that Matthews "has been a media person for a few decades and there is some notoriety attached to him that transcends the average volunteer who works on the 'Prison Show.'" He also said the listener-supported station was facing difficult financial times due to a looming six-figure bill for a new transmitter and potentially a new antenna to replace hardware damaged by lightning.
"There is a legitimate perspective that we are in a precarious position of living hand-to-mouth at KPFT, and the support base of the station may be jeopardized by the fact that here is a publicly notorious person with a checkered past who becomes a member of the production crew on one of the programs," Bradley stated. "There is potential for negative damage."
In other words it was politics and fiscal considerations, not merely Matthews' sex offense conviction, that led to his ouster. Which makes sense, because Babbs was also a convicted sex offender but KPFT apparently didn't have a problem with him serving as host of the Prison Show.
Hill said on air that the issue of program managers having autonomy over their show's programming had been resolved. Apparently it was resolved in KPFT's favor, since neither Babb nor Matthews returned to the Prison Show.
The new co-host selected for the program was Anthony Graves, who served 18 years in Texas prisons – including 12 on death row – before being exonerated and released in 2010. He had been wrongfully convicted of six counts of capital murder. [See: PLN, April 2012, p.22].
"Anthony brings a lot of interesting twists to the story," Hill stated. "First, he spent time on death row. Folks who did that and survived are rare. It gives him a special affinity with guys on the row. Second, it's really quite rare to have somebody on the 'Prison Show' who's actually innocent."
Graves began co-hosting the show in September 2012 with Kathryn Griffin-Townsend, a former prisoner and singer who is involved in substance abuse and prostitution recovery programs. However, Graves had to leave the Prison Show in late 2012 due to other responsibilities and Griffin-Townsend now hosts the program.
The Prison Show airs on 90.1 FM between 9:00 and 11:00pm CST on Friday nights, and broadcasts to 15 prisons in East and Southeast Texas.
Sources: www.kpft.org, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, www.instantnewsfortbend.com, www.myfoxhouston.com
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