The Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies teaches students to become the next watchdogs of journalism — something the school could have done a better job of itself.
Last month UNLV’s radio station announced a major format shift that eliminated many of its community programs from the station’s weekly schedule as well as student programming under the station’s new slogan “Jazz and more.”
After a marketing study, the change was decided due to recommendations made by the volunteer counseling services of Randy Fitzsimmons, who was charged with making terroristic threats, threatening the use of explosives, and attempting the theft of $5,000 or more, when he tried to rob the U.S. Bank branch in Lincoln, Neb., in 2016. It was a bluff — no explosives were found. He pleaded no contest to attempted theft and was sentenced to 4 years probation and fined $2,500.
According to court documents, Fitzsimmons owes over $20,000 in tax liens from 2015 to the state of Ohio and over $60,000 in tax liens from 2013 to the federal government.
Fitzsimmons was also accused of faking his death in 2015, according to WHIO TV.
The use of Fitzsimmons services despite his criminal history provoked anger and criticism from KUNV alumni on social media.
“Let’s put this in perspective. This man couldn’t get clearence (sic) to work at a daycare center, but was able to consult a University. Blows my mind. Anyone that had a show longer than his sentence, Should’ve been allowed to stay,” wrote Roy Leon, the DJ for KUNV’s program Word Up before the show was canceled due to the new format.
Fitzsimmons was brought into KUNV as a volunteer radio program director because of his experience as a pop and Christian radio program director in Ohio, and through the recommendation of his wife KUNV’s director of underwriting and corporate sponsorship, Leslie Fitzsimmons.
Frank Mueller, the general manager of KUNV said he was not aware of Fitzsimmons criminal background when he came to volunteer for the station.
“Between our student volunteers and our community volunteers we have well over 200 volunteers at different times so we don’t necessarily run a criminal background check on all our volunteers,” Mueller said.
Kevin Stoker, who was hired last July as the director for the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies, said Fitzsimmons “worked very closely” with administration to develop the new format.
Stoker said new changes were then made with three goals in mind, to increase revenue, to increase audience, and to develop student educational opportunities.
KUNV alumni claim Fitzsimmons involvement at KUNV constitutes a conflict of interest.
“A bank robber and convicted felon changed the format of the college radio station to help his wife the underwriter who is horrible at her job to hopefully sell advertising for a station that is violating its FCC community and Student licence because it has little student or community involvement at all,” wrote John Slaughter, a former music director for Rock Avenue at KUNV, on Facebook.
Stoker said Fitzsimmons “ran into some problems a short time ago but he got the help he needed at the time and that doesn’t affect what he’s doing” at the station.
While Stoker said Fitzsimmons has not been working with students sources familiar with the station said in his time there he has worked directly with students as their superior.
“People who are unhappy are going to find something to look at and say that that’s a problem but the changes we’re making are based on basic programming principles,” said Stoker. “There’s nothing unusual about what we are doing.”
Disclosure: Jeniffer Solis was an intern at KUNV before joining the Nevada Current.