Veering off-topic, outspokenness led to meteorologist's split with KUOW radio
Seattle public radio station KUOW has given the boot to popular meteorologist Cliff Mass' Friday weather segment.
Seattle Times science reporter
Cliff Mass blog: http://cliffmass.blogspot.com
KUOW letter: www.kuow.org/letters/cliffmass.php
Cliff Mass is the closest thing to a celebrity scientist in Seattle, and he got that way by being opinionated about a lot of things — including the need to communicate science.
Now, Mass' outspokenness has cost him the forum that propelled him into the public eye: his weekly weather segment on public radio station KUOW.
Steve Scher, host and executive producer of "Weekday," gave Mass the boot this week because the University of Washington meteorologist kept veering away from weather and into commentary.
"I wanted to do a segment that focused on science and weather ... and Cliff didn't want to do that," Scher said Friday.
Mass said the station was particularly peeved over his occasional forays into math education and the controversy over which textbooks to use in local schools. But the final straw came last month, when Mass weighed in to defend and clarify UW's admission policies after The Seattle Times reported some straight-A local students were being rejected in favor of higher-paying out-of-state applicants.
KUOW issued an ultimatum.
"They basically read me the riot act, saying I could only talk about weather, and if I talked about anything else they would kick me off," Mass said. After he replied he couldn't promise to keep mum, Scher notified Mass on Monday that his segment was discontinued.
"Although we value Cliff's opinion, I do not want the weather segment to become an opinion and views segment," Scher wrote in a letter posted on KUOW's website.
On his weather blog, Mass appealed to his fans to ask the station to reconsider. They responded by bombarding Scher and other KUOW officials with hundreds of emails. Two Facebook pages sprung up Friday, one called "Put Cliff Mass back on KUOW" and another urging the station to fire Scher and producer Katy Sewall.
"I'm hoping they realize their listenership doesn't agree with what they're doing," Mass said.
Mass has been presenting his weekly weather segment for more than 15 years as an unpaid volunteer. When he joined the station, he says, he made it clear he intended to go beyond basic forecasts and explain the science behind meteorological phenomena.
"I'm a science educator, not just a weather guy," said Mass, who considers science-populizer-extraordinaire Carl Sagan a mentor.
Mass also used the segment as a platform to advocate for a new radar station on the coast, which soon will be installed. He blasted Pacific Science Center for tired exhibits that didn't reflect local research.
But it was when Mass ventured into the debate over math textbooks and education that folks at KUOW became concerned he was crossing a line. Mass advocates a rigorous approach to teaching math and disdains the "fuzzy" approach favored by some local school districts. He and other critics sued the Seattle school district over its choice of textbook.
When Mass used his weather segment as a soapbox for his views, people on the other side of debates complained to KUOW that they deserved equal time, Scher said.
About three years ago, the station warned Mass to stop voicing his opinion about math education. Mass argued that travel guru Rick Steves, a frequent KUOW guest, is allowed to talk about one of his favorite causes — the legalization of marijuana.
But Mass agreed to tone it down. He also started a blog where he's free to air his opinions, as well as offer the mini-tutorials on weather, climate and meteorology that have earned him a devoted following.
"The last few years, we've had this uneasy truce at KUOW," Mass said. "I guess I disagreed with them about my role."
Scher said the decision to sever ties with Mass was his alone. KUOW is affiliated with the University of Washington, which holds the station's license. There was no pressure from the university to jettison Mass, Scher said.
He's shopping around for another meteorologist and hopes to resume the Friday weather segment soon.
Mass said he'll do a weekly podcast on his blog if he's not reinstated at KUOW or recruited by another radio station.
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or email@example.com
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