Gary’s 'Que Pasa!' show yanked off the air

Hosts of popular bilingual public radio show claim censorship is behind the change.

September 23, 2011

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(Photo provided by 'Que Pasa!')
Lisette Guillen-Gardner (right) used to host 'Que Pasa!' with her mother Maria Guillen in Gary, Indiana.

It’s Thursday, and normally Lisette Guillen-Gardner would be getting ready to host “Que Pasa!”, an English-Spanish radio program on 88.7 FM WGVE, a public radio station owned and operated by the Gary, Indiana Community School Corporation.

The show broadcasts from the Gary Area Career Center in Gary.

The one-hour, twice weekly show is geared toward Northwest Indiana’s Latino population. Spanish pop and traditional music is mixed in with conversations on politics, business and matters of local interest. 

Guillen-Gardnerhas co-hosted the show with her mother, Maria Guillen, for the past seven years, the last five from 8 to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Given much of September and October are considered “Hispanic Heritage Month,” the show’s guest list was sure to be packed.

But without much warning, “Que Pasa!” was removed from the WGVE's line up.

“Last Thursday (Sept. 15) was our last show. We were surprised to learn that would be our last show,” Guillen-Gardner told WBEZ on Wednesday. “We were told beforehand to make it a good one.”

A school district spokesperson says the change  is one of scheduling.

But Guillen-Gardner believes it has more to do with censorship and retaliation.

In late August, Guillen-Gardner invited Tony Bennett, superintendent of schools for the State of Indiana, to be a guest on the show.

That day, Bennett was in Gary to announce that the Indiana Department of Education would be taking over Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy, an underachieving high school in Gary.

Roosevelt was one of five high schools that Bennett announced would be taken over by the State of Indiana for poor performance; the other four are in Indianapolis.

“Que Pasa!” had an exclusive with Bennett, or so it seemed.

Guillen-Gardner says Gary schools superintendent Myrtle Campbell and schools spokeswoman Sarita Stevens, who doubles as WGVE’s station manager, took her into a room before the show. 

She says they told  her not to talk about the school takeover plan with Bennett.

“I told them if Dr. Bennett allowed me to talk about that and allows me to do so, I’m going to ask him about that. Dr. Campbell said ‘No you’re not. You’re not going to ask him anything about the Roosevelt turnaround,’” Guillen-Gardner claims.

Even though she did not ask Bennett about the takeover, Guillen-Gardner believes the incident is what led to the show being cancelled.

Stevens denies she or Myrtle Campbell asked Guillen-Gardner not to ask Bennett a certain question.

In fact she says, Bennett has been on the station several times.

“Lisette and them aren’t the first ones to bring him on and they won’t be the last,” Stevens said.

Stevens says the show’s cancellation had to do with Guillen-Gardner refusing to move to a new time slot.

“It’s very unfortunate that they have no sensibility in terms of where they want to be placed. They don’t want to be placed in any other time bracket except for 8 o’clock,” Stevens said. “This is radio. This is media. Sometimes there have to make compromises. In media, sometimes your program is moved.”

Guillen-Gardner says Stevens mentioned briefly the idea of moving the show to a later time slot.

But she says because she runs her own business and volunteers to host “Que Pasa!”, moving the show from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays to 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. would interfere with her business.  She owns a public relations and bilingual translation firm based in Merrillville, Indiana.

“I strongly feel this is about politics and censorship,” she said.

Stevens denies the allegations made by Guillen-Gardner.

“I’m offended by the lie,” Stevens said.

Stevens says the district is looking for another Latino group or host to fill the time slot left by “Que Pasa!” because she is committed to  diverse programming.

Maria Guillen says she feels bad for their Latino listenership in Northwest Indiana who depended on the show for information on the community.

“We had a big audience. The non-profits would come in and do PSAs (public service announcements),” Guillen said. “This was the only way people found out. And we’d do it in Spanish. So, the community has lost out.”