Glendale, CA — The Armenian National Committee-Western Region (ANC-WR), joined by community organizations and activists, met with KFI640-AM radio show host Bill Handel and station management today regarding offensive comments that aired on Handel’s radio show on May 13 and 14 during a discussion between Handel and Lara Hermanson. Acknowledging that a line had been crossed, Handel, KFI and Clear Channel management apologized to the Armenian American community. With Handel himself being a descendent of Holocaust survivors, he also made it clear that recognition of the Armenian Genocide is something he has been aware of and passionate about throughout his career and promised to continue raising awareness about the issue.
“We deeply regret the inappropriate comments that were made on Bill Handel’s show last month which deeply hurt the Armenian American community. The comments were wrong,” said Robin Bertolucci, KFI Program Director. “We take responsibility for this offense as any genocide, including the Armenian Genocide, are serious topics that should not be used as the basis for humor.” KFI will be issuing an on-air apology on June 12 at 6:30am. KFI also released a video apology from Hermanson and Handel.
The issue began on May 13th, during the late morning segment of the show when Handel made an off- hand comment to “get rid of the Armenians,” as well as other groups, as a humorous solution to the cost of healthcare in America. Greg Garabedian a local listener who heard the comment wrote to the station to express his concern and disappointment with the remark. However, in responding to the letter on the air the following day, the situation was made worse when studio colleague Lara Hermanson quipped, “what the Turks started, Bill will finish.” The statement referenced the Armenian Genocide and outraged the Armenian American community.
“I wrote the letter because that comment immediately drew me to the Armenian Genocide and my family’s experience,” said Garabedian. “For me, here was another situation where Armenians were being used in the context of a joke, but on an issue that is of extreme importance to the community.”
The ANC-WR requested a meeting with KFI management to convey the community’s outrage and ask that the situation be addressed. In the meantime, the ANC-WR reached out to dozens of activists and community organizations, such as the Armenian Bar Association, eager to work together on the issue.
“Today’s meeting with Bill Handel and KFI-640AM and Clear Channel management made it clear that genocide is not a joking matter,” said Zanku Armenian, member of the ANC-WR’s KFI Task Force. “Handel and station management recognized that a very serious line was crossed in a poor attempt at humor and are truly apologetic for the pain they have caused to the Armenian American community. In addition to their apology, the meeting led to a constructive discussion about the importance of educating the public about the Armenian Genocide. This is a positive outcome to a very unfortunate incident.”
In addition to Bill Handel, present at the meeting were Program Director Robin Burtolucci, Director of Marketing Neil Saavedra as well as Greg Ashlock, President and Market Manager of Clear Channel, Los Angeles which is KFI’s parent company. Joining the ANC-WR for the meeting at the KFI studios in Burbank were representatives from the Armenian Youth Federation, Unified Young Armenians, the ANC Glendale, and Glendale City Council Member Ara Najarian.
“Of course the comments on May 13th particularly conjure up the emotions tied to the Armenian Genocide, but the May 14th show was an opportunity to take a step back and address this problem but instead bolstered our interpretation of the first day’s comments,” says Vache Thomassian, Chairman of the Armenian Youth Federation-Western Region.
In the days following the incident, the community learned about it through the efforts of Greg Garabedian and others such as Burbank resident and columnist for Asbarez Daily Newspaper, Garen Yegparian who wrote about the matter in his May 22nd commentary. As KFI was slow to address the matter, news about the incident and the inappropriate comment spread rapidly throughout the community spurring chain e-mails, online petitions, and even a group on the popular social networking site Facebook.
“Genocide is not a joking matter and this issue should have been addressed from day one. However, this episode showed us that our community is alert and ready to take action to counter such inexcusable comments,” notes Aroutin Hartounian, President of Unified Young Armenians.
The positive outcome was a result of many community organizations and supporters working together. “The message was heard thanks to the efforts of thousands of community activists and other organizations who voiced their indignation over the past several weeks,” said Stepan Boyajian, chairman of the ANC-WR KFI Task Force. “We deeply appreciate everyone’s efforts.”
The complete transcript of Hermanson and Handel’s the video apology is provided below.
“Hi, my name is Lara Hermanson. I’m the board op on the Bill Handel show. And I want to apologize for something that happened a couple of weeks back. I regret that I took so long to apologize for this but during the course of conversation I made a really hurtful remark about the Armenian genocide. It was meant to be satirical but I know that as it stood, it didn’t come off that way. It came off as hurtful and I really regret this comment. And I appreciate our Armenian listeners sharing with me their feelings about this and I’m really glad that I get the opportunity to apologize for it. I feel horrible for the comment and once again I’m really, really sorry.”
“Hi. I’m Bill Handel and you just heard our board operator on the morning show apologize for a comment that simply shouldn’t have been made, that clearly went over the line. And this is the Bill Handel Show, it has my name on it, and inevitably the buck stops here. We should have, I should have, cleared that up within a couple of days, if not the following day, and it simply wasn’t done. But more importantly than that, I want to point out something that has been part of my entire broadcast career, frankly part of my entire life, I have always been fanatic about not forgetting the Armenian genocide. I have been a champion of never ever letting that be forgotten in history. My grandparents perished in the Jewish holocaust. My dad is a Holocaust survivor so I’m particularly sensitive to this issue. And if you ever listened to my show, now or 20 years ago, it has never changed, I always will, I always have, been a champion of the fact that we can never forget, ever.”