Backstory: A farmer who tills the airwaves
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But his humor is not for everyone. Officials at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) say that Skoglund's over-the-top accent and parochial sensibility produce equal numbers of detractors and admirers. Lou Morin, MPBN's marketing and communications manager, says, "You either like it or you don't."Skip to next paragraph
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The idea that people may not like him cuts Skoglund particularly deep. The admiration of listeners is what has sustained him through years of meager pay. The other evening here in Florida, Skoglund left more than an hour early for a stand-up act at the nearby Tropical Palms mobile-home park. "I like to be the first one there," he says in the car, Maine license plate HOHUMB, "so I can shake every hand that comes through the door."
Skoglund has saved little for retirement, and has large credit-card debt. His wife was recently diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, forcing her to cut back her work hours. They could no longer afford payments on their mobile home here, so they moved in two years ago with a 92-year-old neighbor, who lets them stay free in exchange for cooking and care.
Last year, for the first time in nearly three decades on the air, Skoglund asked MPBN for pay – $30 a show. Yet finances seem less worrisome to him than his show's uncertain future. In a number of "rants" in recent years, Skoglund strayed into contentious political territory. A few weeks before the launch of the Iraq war in 2003, he hinted on-air at what he saw as parallels between President Bush and Adolf Hitler.
More recently, while reflecting on "what is happening in our country today," he read from an encyclopedia entry on Mussolini-era fascism. And just before last November's elections, he taped a rant that MPBN managers saw as a veiled attack on a local antispending initiative on the ballot. The network pulled the show before airtime.
In November, MPBN's vice president of programming, Charles Beck, sent him a letter warning that "The humble Farmer" was in peril. Mr. Beck noted Skoglund's repeated defiance of warnings against on-air political talk, and listed seven "points of understanding" whose violation would lead to the show's cancellation. Beck ordered Skoglund to never again opine on politics, companies, commercial products, or organizations, and to say nothing in public of his affiliation with MPBN without prior approval.
Skoglund says those rants were like many others over the years – just one man's reflections on life and the news. But in a time of polarization over the Iraq war, Maine Public Broadcasting Network – an NPR and PBS affiliate with an $11 million budget, five TV stations, and seven radio stations – saw them as intemperate and inappropriate.
"We have him on the air for his humor and jazz show," says Mr. Morin. "When it becomes a political program, it ceases to be the reason we have it on board."
Since late last year, Skoglund has taped two programs: a music-only edition for the Maine airwaves, and the traditional jazz and humor show for his website and two other public radio stations – WDNA in Miami, Fla.; and KGLP in Gallup, N.M. – that recently picked it up.
Morin says Skoglund's decision to pull rants from the Maine show was his own. "His position is, I want to be able to say anything outrageous or say nothing at all," Morin says. "Our position is, Can't you just go back to the show you've been doing for 28 years?"
Skoglund's wife, Marsha, says her husband hasn't been himself lately. In a small studio in the breezeway of a mobile home here, he consoles himself by reading e-mails from listeners as baffled and angry as he is at the fate of The humble Farmer. "I have more friends than anybody in the state of Maine," he says. "That to me is the greatest thing – to have someone drive up to your dooryard and say, 'I've been listening for 15 years.' What a flattering thing to be the clown for the most intelligent people in northern New England."