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, cable television Channel 33 serving Inyo and Mono Counties, and Sierrawave.net online.
Originally from Ohio, Benett traveled out west when she was 26 years old after graduating from University of Chicago. By accident or perhaps fate, she ended up in the Eastern Sierra. There, she met local newsman John Heston and began collaboratively reporting with him in the early 1970s on local broadcast news features with a specific interest in issues related to LADWP operations and policies in the Owens Valley. Their reportage was increasingly focused on concerns related to the intensified groundwater pumping that the department was conducting throughout the valley to fill their recently completed second aqueduct. 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 activities in Owens Valley and traveled to Los Angeles to conduct investigative reporting and interviews with department administration on Owens Valley operations and related policies, in turn, feeding their news footage to Los Angeles area stations and news outlets in California and beyond. Heston and Kessler’s critical news coverage surprised 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 so no one was hurt. No person or persons were ever arrested or charged with the attempted bombing. Lone Pine KINC station managers cut their popular newscast out of pressure by local LADWP management in early 1977. In response, Heston and Kessler 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 refrain 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 away in 2007 at age 78 from a long battle with lung cancer and associated conditions; Keesler remains a vigilant and politically active presence with her continued detailed reporting in the Owens Valley. Listen to her newscasts or read her column online at: www.sierrawave.net.