COLUMBIA — Protesters gathered at the south side of Jesse Hall in an attempt to convince Chancellor Brady Deaton and Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Jacquelyn Jones to keep KOMU/Channel 8's “Pepper and Friends” on air. The show is slated for cancellation on Sept. 18.
Around 30 protesters, most of them carrying signs, practiced chants and a song rendition before marching single-file to the front of Jesse Hall, where Deaton's and Jones' offices are located. As previously reported by the Missourian, KOMU General Manager Marty Siddall announced the decision to cancel the 27-year-old morning variety show in May, citing a high cost of production as the cause.
“I hope we get their attention to reverse the decision,” Nancy Atkinson, who has organized other protests against the cancellation, said. “If it's canceled on September 18, my TV will no longer be turned to Channel 8. Nothing else is worth watching.”
Atkinson, a dedicated viewer of “Pepper and Friends” for 27 years, said she has never missed an episode of the local program. She said she has sent several letters to Deaton and Jones requesting information, but many of her questions have still gone unanswered.
“We're here to show our love and support for the show,” she said. “If it got canceled and we didn't take a stand, then we didn't do all we could.”
Marie Robertson, co-owner of Dancearts of Columbia, has been a sponsor as well as a monthly guest on “Pepper and Friends” for close to 25 years. If the decision for its cancellation stands, Robertson said that she will pull her sponsorship from KOMU.
“Their motto is 'KOMU cares,' but it doesn't seem like it does,” she said. “Without the show, there is no community spirit.”
One of the protest's organizers, Mary Hussmann, led the group inside Jesse Hall to Deaton's office for a chance to speak to him in person. Although Deaton was unavailable due to a meeting, Hussmann did not hesitate to make the crowd's purpose known to an audience of Deaton's administrative assistants, who said they would relay her message.
“We are asking for a reprieve and we are asking Chancellor Deaton to use the authority we know he has to speak to Marty Siddall,” she said.
The protest then moved to Jones' office. Jones, who had previously met with Atkinson to discuss the cancellation, reiterated that the decision to cancel the show would not change.
“It was not an easy decision by any means, but it was the best decision we could make,” she said.
When asked by several protesters what it would cost to keep the show on air, Jones said the program had long-term economic issues and could not be saved by a one-year donation to cover the deficit.
“Nothing is that different with KOMU that's not happening everywhere else,” she said. “It is an issue that everyone is aware of nationally, but also in the broadcast industry.”
Among the many voices heard was Duane Burghard, Chairman of the Board of Directors for The MacXprts Network and advertiser for KOMU 8. After asking Jones several questions regarding the economic status of “Pepper and Friends,” Burghard said that he was closer to receiving what he sees as the real reasons behind the cancellation.
“People will go on and Paul and James will go on,” he said. “But they will go on without a particular program that makes Columbia unique and special.”