News Hostage

Gone Where the Goblins Go

In many ways, Laura Morris's career at KTRH-AM was remarkable: She started as a receptionist in the lobby, moved her way up the ladder with astonishing speed and for the past 12 or so years has been the general manager of the city's top-rated AM station.

But when her reign ended last week, few tears were shed in the newsroom. And that muffled roar you might have heard October 26 contained the jubilant cheers of ex-KTRHers scattered across the city.

Morris, it seems, was not a very pleasant person to work for.

She had no background in journalism, but she meddled in the way reporters did their jobs. She changed her mind often and vehemently. She seemed to revel in making the simple process of getting paid or reimbursed a demeaning ritual for employees.

A half-dozen current and former staffers at the station say they can't really be sorry she's gone.

"She just micromanages in areas that she knows nothing about, like the phone system," says one, apparently not taking into account Morris's receptionist stint.

One alumnus who would speak on the record, KILT sports anchor Charlie Pallilo, says his relations with Morris were relatively sane. Relatively.

"She's tough; clearly there are people there who are not fans of hers," says Pallilo, who left KTRH two months ago to join Rich Lord, another popular sports host who used to work at KTRH.

"I'm certainly aware of people who had significantly more problems with her than meŠ.Whether I was lucky or had enough standing not to be shit upon by her, I don't know, but I'm aware of a lot of horror stories," Pallilo says.

The station's promos chirp that KTRH means "Keep Tuned Right Here"; those who work there griped that the letters really meant "Keep The Résumé Handy."

Reporters sent to cover a breaking story would charge hotels and meals to their credit cards, only to find later that Morris had thought they'd spent too much, two former staffers say. Some people were out hundreds of dollars.

Others got screamed at when, for instance, Morris ordered custom-made desks for the newsroom and decided at the last moment to change the layout, blithely uncaring that furniture custom-made to fit one spot can't necessarily fit in another.

People doing the pregame and postgame Astro shows weren't paid for the hours the games were being played, even if they were stuck at the stadium. The station has gone through four chief engineers in the last three years.

"It was not a pleasant place to work," says one former staffer. "But the fact that it was a good station made you stay."

And to Morris's credit, KTRH is a good newsradio station. Although it broadcasts a deadly dull (if lucrative) daytime schedule of garden tips and home repair, the news and sports coverage are generally excellent. (Like all radio stations, of course, much of the morning news consists of "rip 'n' read" recaps of that day's newspaper.)

The station has chalked up an impressive series of national awards, especially for its breaking-news coverage.

But its owner, AMFM Inc., formerly known as Chancellor Media, is merging with Clear Channel Communications, another media giant.

AMFM, which also owns KLOL-FM and KODA-FM here, has been encouraging a "cluster" strategy of having its stations in a given market share resources. Morris "was told she couldn't play well with others," one ex-staffer says.

Current staffers' relief at not having to deal with Morris is tempered by uncertainty at what other changes may be in store. "You never know whether they'll cut staff or decide they don't need the bureaus [at the courthouse and City Hall]," one says.

When the Press attempted to contact Morris, KTRH staffers said they did not know how to reach her.

The new GM, Marc McCoy of Sacramento, California, did not return phone calls.

Can't Stop the Love

Three years ago, when the powers-that-be were urging voters to build a baseball and football stadium, the Houston Chroniclehelped out by donating advertising space to the cause.

Somehow the carping naysayers who don't appreciate progress thought that might be a conflict of interest, so the paper is not giving free ad space to the current campaign to build a basketball arena.

Technically speaking, at least. The lower left-hand corner of the front page lately has certainly begun to give off the odor of political advertising.

On October 27 the Chron issued a thunderous scoop: If the arena referendum didn't pass, there might not be enough money to build the already approved football stadium. Seeing as how the NFL's decision to award an expansion franchise to Houston billionaire Bob McNair was treated as news only slightly less glorious than the Second Coming, this was a heavy card to play.

The next day Sports Authority officials said the football stadium was, ummmm, not in danger after all, in a story helpfully headlined "NFL Owner McNair Joins List of Arena Supporters." After quoting very extensively from McNair's statement of support, the bottom of the story mentioned that Harris County Judge Bob Eckels thought McNair's endorsement was the result of "extortion."

Having threatened the city with no football, the prime front-page space was devoted the next day to threatening the city with no basketball.

"NBA Chief Says New Arena May Be Pivotal for Rockets," the headline read. If the vote doesn't pass, the Rockets will either a) suck even more than now, because they won't be able to afford good players, or b) move to New Orleans or Baltimore, NBA commissioner David Stern said in yet another Chroniclescoop.

You can't really blame reporter John Williams for these stories, because he has been pretty good at keeping an eye on the Sports Authority in between referenda.

But when it comes to the higher-ups, it seems, you just can't stop generous hearts from giving.

E-mail the News Hostage at rich.connelly@ houstonpress.com.

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