Last remaining KHSU employee quits

Natalya Estrada in the studio. Submitted photo

Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT STATE – Natalya Estrada, the last employee not fired by the Humboldt State administration as part of last Thursday's abrupt purge of KHSU's staff and volunteers, has resigned her position.

Estrada, who'd been retained as Morning Edition host, follows David Reed, who had been appointed as the station's new interim director, out the door.

She said she had stayed on to help ensure that station volunteers were able to access the wealth of content they had generated over the years. She had been the final remaining employee listed on the "staff" page at khsu.org, and now that page has entirely disappeared.

Asked Friday who would handle routine station business following Reed's departure, HSU spokesman Frank Whitlach, associate vice president of Marketing and Communications, said he was unsure. With Estrada's resignation, the station apparently now has only state employees of the university to operate it.

Former Station Engineer Kevin Sanders, a state employee, is known to be assisting with technical matters. Whitlach confirmed that former General Manager Peter Fretwell is still in the loop, conducting "work assignments." He said said rumors that Fretwell is still effectively managing the station are "not accurate."

In a letter sent to the news media and embargoed until 2 p.m. Saturday, April 13, Estrada wrote:

My father always told me: Do no harm, but take no shit. It appears I’ve been surrounded by a monumental amount of fecal matter within the past few days. But make no mistake; I will not be buried by this.

I came to KHSU in 2017, under the guise of needing to make a bit extra cash because I was paying double rent — my boyfriend at the time was helpful, but I still had two months left on my apartment lease. On the day of the interview, I had literally been under a fence. A large possibly, 300 pound wooden fence had fallen off of the rail on top of me as I was opening it so I could move my car out of the drive way. Was it a premonition? Was it a bad omen? I don’t know — one thing’s for sure, it made for a great interview topic. There were leaves in my hair, my red jacket had fresh mud stains and my legs were slightly swollen as I sat in the general manager’s office telling KHSU how much I love public radio. I got the job on the spot.

And then a week later, I quit the Times-Standard, which was and still is one of my favorite jobs. It was where I met my best journalism friends and how I managed to come back to “Homeboldt” after a disappointing stint as a reporter in Southern California.

Several months later, Katie was fired from KHSU; abruptly and without warning. It was chaos. I don’t have to remind everyone about how many sustainers canceled their membership, how much underwriting was lost to our bad reputation and how much of the community felt betrayed by the decisions of an institution. I was at a loss. Katie Whiteside was the first person I met at KHSU back during my internship as an undergrad at Humboldt State. She taught me how to manage the board during Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and Car Talk (RIP). She was the quintessential gem of KHSU, and I know I wasn’t the only person who felt like a piece of the station was forever lost with her dismissal.

More months had passed and staff meetings became less and less about the station’s content and more about what kind of station we were pressed to become. Who were we in the eyes of the community, of the university and of the higher ups who seemed determined to challenge the format of good vibes, good words and good people?

Natalya Estrada collected many a hug at today's KHSU protest on the Plaza during the Farmers Market. KLH.| Union

Eventually, we started having pledge drives again. None of us were sure we’d even get any kind of support—but we did. Why? Because despite the outrage, people believed we would come back, that we would get past this. And for I while, I also believed this. I was wrong.

Thursday, April 11, 2019 does not seem like it happened in real life, but it did. While two of us were told to attend a separate meeting, our friends, our colleagues and basically our radio family were told of their fates. The two of us were left scrambling to figure out why this was happening.

“David what do we do? “

“I don’t know honey. I had to go home.”

Those were some of the last messages David and I sent to each other before the following day, when I was informed via phone call about his resignation. A couple minutes later, after texting Thad Greenson, Marc Valles and Andrew Goff, I read David’s Facebook post. I cried hysterically as I toggled between Morning Edition and the California Report. I switched on the mic and read the weather report: mostly cloudy and chances of rain — the weather has never represented me so well.

It was done. KHSU was done.

I called my friends, my sister, my mother and several of my editors. The bulk of the text messages I sent were: “I am fine. Please don’t worry about me.”

But the reality was, I was crying to Carol King in studio A, and wanting to hide from the phone which kept ringing.

“Something inside has died and I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it.”

I think I answered close to 25 calls on Friday.

Megan Bender, of The Lumberjack messaged me. Not about work, but about emotional support. At noon, on Friday, we met in Gist Hall to talk. She handed me an iced matcha latte and a breakfast sandwich. Damien Jimenez, a KHSU intern, waved me down as I was driving and gave me a hug through my car window — I asked him to pretend he doesn’t notice how messy my car is. LJ reporter Freddie Brewster shook my hand and smiled warmly at me — it’s reassuring to know the future of journalism has compassion.

Then came the hard part: the official part. Three meetings and perhaps the most “Don Draper” attitude I’ve ever had, prevented me from openly crying in front of two men in suits and one on a speaker phone. I don’t understand their narrative or their reasons. Perhaps I never will.

Thank you all for letting me into your morning commute, for telling me your stories of hope, tragedy, triumph and love. Thank you for letting me speak your truths through an omni-directional microphone. Thank you for letting me take your photos and for calling me in the morning to let me know it’s White-THORN not Whitehorn. I will forever hold KHSU in my heart and memory as a place of acceptance, peace and home to the hardest working folks I’ve ever met.

What now you may ask will a local unemployed radio gal do in this crisis?

I’ll survive. I always do.

I know many of you believe I was indifferent to the situation and that my stairway to the “top” consisted of bricks made of manure. I advise you to check my shoes and notice they’re crap-free.

 







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