Radio host Georgia “Peach” Beardslee—a self-proclaimed “racist”—went on a rant via the KSCO (1080 AM) airwaves last week, complaining about the ‘liberal globalist techies’ trying to control everyone’s lives. It was a spiel that began sounding rather routine—for her, anyway.
It was part of a diatribe against GT for what she called a “hit piece” about her twice-weekly show (“Shock Waves,” 9/13). Beardslee also complained on her Sept. 13 broadcast that good news stories have a footnote citing every fact. Soon after that, co-host Sam Quinten chimed in, looking to add something to her point about techie liberals.
“Bill Gates owns all the local newspapers,” Quinten remarked, ironically—although not unsurprisingly—without citing anything whatsoever, “the [Santa Cruz] Sentinel, the [Monterey] Herald, the San Jose Mercury News. And guess what else he owns: Good Times.”
Well, allegations that the Microsoft cofounder suddenly owns GT were honestly news to us. In fact, as anyone who did even the most basic bit of research would learn, GT is locally owned by Nuz, Inc.
We tried checking with Quinten, curious to hear where he got his information. Quinten didn’t get back to us, but we also called KSCO owner Michael Zwerling, who didn’t take kindly to the misinformation that his employee was spreading around.
“That’s real horse shit. That kind of stuff is just not acceptable,” Zwerling said. “Maybe he was confused, but it doesn’t matter. Don’t shoot your mouth off about stuff you don’t know.”
Zwerling, who was listening to the show at the time, says that even he believed the tidbit when he heard it—illustrating, he admits, how easily misinformation can spread. As Zwerling and I talked, he suddenly remembered chatting with GT co-owner Dan Pulcrano nine years ago. As for the Sentinel, Herald and Mercury, they are all owned by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that’s squeezing every last penny it can out of media conglomerate Digital First Media. Not local, but still not Bill Gates.
“When other people take it at face value, that’s not good,” he says. “It makes us look not credible.”
Of course, this was not the first controversial on-air moment for Quinten and Beardslee, who frequently whines about “white genocide” and that “white people are being replaced.”
Michael Barkun, a political science professor emeritus for Syracuse University, says openly racist broadcasting is pretty rare for radio—though it’s more common on YouTube channels or other fringe outlets.
“What’s unusual is not the content, but the medium,” says Barkun, who’s authored books on racism and also read GT’s previous story about Beardslee. “The ideas are pretty basic right-wing extremist material.”
Last week, Beardslee, who could not be reached for comment, also invoked conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds, a German family that anti-Semites believe controls the world’s political and banking frameworks, and she openly criticized Zwerling’s Zionist views.
Zwerling, who himself is Jewish, admits that such comments often hurt his feelings. But he adds that he still wants his embattled, cash-strapped radio station to be a place where people can speak freely.
“You’d better believe it hurts me to hear these things on the radio station that I own,” he says. “I don’t have kids or grandkids, so I pour my money into KSCO.”
He admits that maybe in 1991 or 1992—shortly after he bought the station—he probably would have yanked a host off the air for good if they said things like the ones he hears now from Beardslee—who owns a construction business based in a Capitola home, according to online listings.
He adds that if Beardslee were to “cross the line, in my mind,” which, he adds “is really a much harder line to cross for me, than for most people,” he would still fire her. For instance, if she were inciting violence, that would get his attention. But anything beyond that, he fears, could spell trouble.
“I think it’s very dangerous to step on the Constitution,” he says.
But this begs the question: What does the Constitution have to do with what people say on the airwaves, really? Or with inflammatory hate speech, or whether or not someone’s bosses discipline them for things they say?
Nothing at all, Zwerling admits. “I can’t hide behind the First Amendment. As some email said, ‘Don’t hide behind the Constitution or freedom of speech,’” he says. “I just wish to God that we had more of a variety of opinions. It hasn’t been the forum I wanted it to be.”
Often on KSCO, Zwerling adds, the call-in portion of any given show turns into “mostly a slobberfest.”
But does Zwerling at least worry that maybe Beardslee could be inciting racism locally?
Listeners, he has decided, are above that.
“Give people some credit for having some intelligence,” Zwerling says. “But God, I think it’s really dangerous when people are protected. Let people be open to everything and let them make up their minds. I wish more non-conservatives would call the station and take advantage of the station. It’s mostly wingnuts—I hate to say it—who take advantage of the radio show.”
Thomas Pettigrew, a psychology emeritus professor at UCSC, has studied racism for decades. He says via email that overwhelming research shows “that such far-right episodes do tend to galvanize bigots,” and can even manifest themselves in incidents of violence in extreme instances—although he doesn’t “fear that a bombastic radio show will have a major overall opinion effect” here in Santa Cruz.
Zwerling, who sometimes goes by his initials, “MZ,” has openly talked about bankrolling his station—something he does with money from a health supplement company he created 21 years ago. Part of him now wishes he hadn’t been so open about his personal support for KSCO because he fears, as a result, few people support it by purchasing ads—and his staff, he thinks, doesn’t feel a sense of fiscal urgency.
“People know,” Zwerling says, “that Daddy Warbucks—MZ—will make up the difference.”