Track 10: Benett Kessler, Sierra Wave Media
Benett Kessler is a broadcast journalist who has been reporting in the Owens Valley for over 37 years. She is the owner and operator of Sierra Wave Media, which includes KRSW FM and cable television Channel 33, serving Inyo and Mono Counties with Sierrawave.net online.
Originally from Ohio, Kessler traveled out west after graduating from University of Chicago. By accident or perhaps fate, Bennet ended up in California’s Eastern Sierra by age 26. In the early 1970s, she met local newsman John Heston, learned the trade and began to collaboratively report with him on local broadcast news features with a specific interest in issues related to LADWP operations and its policies within the Owens Valley. Their reportage was increasingly focused on concerns related to the intensified groundwater pumping that the department was conducting throughout the valley after the second aqueduct completed in 1970. By 1976, Kessler and Heston had formed the Eastern Sierra News Service and began producing the first daily radio show in the region out of Heston’s home in Independence, CA.
The duo began to aggressively report on LADWP operations within the Owens Valley. They followed up with interviews of departmental officials in Los Angeles on their Owens Valley related policies. These reports were syndicated to SoCal area stations and other news outlets in California and beyond.
Heston and Kessler’s critical news coverage were noticed by the department and eventually led to outward tensions; in the spring of 1976, a mysterious pipe bomb was planted at Heston’s newsroom/office but fortunately did not detonate properly causing no damage or injury. No one was ever charged in the attempted bombing.
Lone Pine KINC station managers cut the popular Heston/Kessler newscast out of pressure by local LADWP management in early 1977. In response, the duo plastered “sharp-tongued” flyers all up and down the Owens Valley and were successful in spreading the news of their untimely firing to regional news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times. Ample support and coverage by the SoCal news media led the local LADWP management to back down from open intimidation, but, in turn, created a “dynamic in the community that was tense.”
Throughout their reporting Sierra Wave Media was, and is still careful, not to criticize the department’s employees; Kessler in her interview stresses that LADWP workers are “our friends—our neighbors.”
Although John Heston is no longer at Sierra Wave Media—he passed in 2007 at age 78 from a long battle with lung cancer; Kessler remains a vigilant and politically active presence in the community with her continued detailed reporting in the Owens Valley. Listen to her newscasts or read her column online at: www.sierrawave.net.