WCQS Board to react tomorrow to offer from Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio

Here’s the message from Fred Flaxman, writing on behalf of the Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio, sent to the group’s email list:

The WCQS Board of Directors has promised to react tomorrow at its regular bi-monthly meeting to a letter that was sent more than two months ago from a group challenging its license renewal : The Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio. The full text of the letter is reproduced below.

Fred Flaxman, the Committee’s organizer, criticized the station’s on-air announcements for their Board meeting for not providing the street address for this meeting, and WCQS’s website for initially not indicating at all where the meeting would take place.

The WCQS Board meeting will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, March 21, at 12:30 p.m. in the board room of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, located in the BB&T Building, 16th Floor, Suite 1600, 1 West Pack Square, in downtown Asheville.

Only a few members of the Ad-Hoc Committee are expected to be present as the meeting time and day eliminates many people who work for a living and have limited time for a lunch break. All WCQS Board meetings are open to the public.

The Ad-Hoc Committee offered to withdraw its objections to WCQS’s FCC license renewal if the station agreed in writing to follow the Committee’s recommendations for making the station more responsive to the public it is supposed to serve. So far, the station’s Board of Directors has not offered to meet with the Ad-Hoc Committee to discuss its proposals, and the Board meeting tomorrow will be the first opportunity to hear WCQS’s reaction to the Committee’s suggestions.

The FCC has not yet made a decision on the Committee’s petition to deny WCQS’s application for license renewal.

Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio
36 Pickens Lane, Weaverville, NC 28787

January 13, 2012

Mr. Bryan Smith, Chairman
Board of Directors
Western North Carolina Public Radio
73 Broadway St.
Asheville, NC 28801

Dear Chairman Smith:

I write with the hope and expectation that the Board of Directors of Western North Carolina Public Radio and the members of the Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsive Radio share a common goal: helping Western North Carolina to have the best, most responsive, public radio station it can have given the financial resources available. Assuming that is the case, we think it would be far better that we work together to reach this goal rather than to engage in a battle with each other as we have been doing.

The Ad-Hoc Committee members are all pleased to have public radio service in our area. We definitely do not want to do without it. We want to improve it. We want it to be more responsive than we have found it to be in the past, as documented in our FCC petition.

So I write to you today with several suggestions that we think would greatly help to bring about this improved responsiveness and service to the community. We sincerely hope you’ll agree with all of them. We don’t think they are controversial. There are other public radio stations and nonprofits in the United States that operate in a similar fashion to what we are proposing. And these suggestions, if carried out, would deprive us of any reason to challenge your license renewal and lead us to ask the FCC to withdraw our Petition to Deny. Our proposals are as follows:

1. The Board of Directors of a public radio station, in our view, should be elected by the members of the station, rather than being self-elected and self-perpetuating. We therefore suggest that the changes to the articles of incorporation and bylaws necessary to bring this about be made as soon as possible and elections held at the next annual meeting.

2. We suggest that the station’s Community Advisory Board meet quarterly, rather than twice a year, and be open to any resident of the station’s coverage area who wants to join the CAB and who attends at least three meetings each year.

3. We suggest that the CAB’s bylaws be changed to no longer require Board of Directors approval of CAB members, to better assure the independence of the CAB.

4. We suggest that the CAB’s advice be sought prior to any program changes, and that the Board of Directors make this a station policy. In suggesting this we emphasize that management does not have to follow the advice of the CAB, only to seek it, consider it, and follow it where practical and desirable to do so.

5. We suggest that all station employees be individuals who believe strongly in the mission of the station and of public broadcasting, and who are sensitive to and responsive to the needs of the communities served by the station. We suggest that they work hard to involve the public in public broadcasting, and never forget that they are paid by the public they are hired to serve. We are sorry to report that this hasn’t always been the case in the past.

6. We suggest that final programming decisions be made by people who are qualified by training or background to make those decisions. We also suggest that a one-paragraph biography of each station employee be posted on the staff page of the station’s website, so that listeners and members can see at a glance the qualifications of those holding decision-making positions at the station.

7. We feel that the broadcast of locally-produced news, public affairs, and talk programs by local public radio stations is more important than ever. We think it is essential to their very survival, as modern technology makes it possible through satellite and internet radio to listen to stations all over the world as well as network programming from NPR without tuning in to local stations like WCQS. Therefore we strongly suggest that WCQS make local news, public affairs, and talk programming an essential part of their mission statement, and hire the right people to carry it out.

8. Nevertheless, we also suggest that the broadcast of classical music, folk music, and jazz remains an important part of the public radio mission in communities like ours where it is the only free, over-the-air source of such programming. We think that the station should continue and improve such programming by identifying and broadcasting the best such programming available. We don’t feel that this has been evident in the past. Many years went by, for example, before WCQS offered “From the Top” to their listeners. “Performance Today” from American Public Media and the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts are still not available to listeners here.

9. We also feel that part of the mission of WCQS should be to encourage the production of high-quality programming for broadcast on the station by local, independent producers. Some of the best programs on public television in the U.S. come from independent producers. The same is true for public radio. We suggest that the mission statement be revised to encourage such production and acquisition, particularly from your coverage area.

10. We suggest that WCQS conduct annual surveys of its members to determine their reaction to the programs being broadcast and their suggestions for improvements. We further suggest that the results of these surveys be discussed at an annual WCQS Listeners Meeting, which would be broadcast live and permit live input from the public by telephone and electronic means.

11. We suggest that WCQS produce and broadcast a regular, half-hour, daily local public affairs program, perhaps immediately following NPR’s “All Things Considered” at 6:30 PM, Monday through Friday, and using the same radio magazine format. Grants from local foundations, companies, and individuals could be sought to make this concept financially possible.

12. We suggest that, in order to be more responsive to the communities it serves, WCQS should voluntarily conduct community ascertainment of the communities’ needs by interviewing community leaders each year. Also, we suggest that the station respond to and tabulate all programming comments and requests, whether they come by telephone, e-mail, via the station’s website, or by letter, as is common at other public broadcasting stations. The logs of comments should be distributed weekly by e-mail to management, the Board of Directors, and the Community Advisory Board.

13. Because radio is a sound medium with no pictures, we believe that a station’s sound is very important. We suggest that WCQS commit to hiring the best on-air personnel that they can find, so that the station always sounds like a professional, world-class operation, and not like a college training station. We think that the station has some excellent announcers on its staff, but we have heard many complaints from our members and others about some announcers who fall short of professional standards.

14. If low pay and benefits is the reason for the lack of a totally professional announcing staff at present, we suggest that the station establish a pay scale with benefits that is generous enough to attract first-class, professional, experienced talent.

The Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio feels that, if our suggestions are taken and implemented, these improvements will pay for themselves in increased listeners and increased donations of financial support. They will certainly make the station a more responsive and essential community resource.

We would like to meet with you to discuss these suggestions and to see if we might reach a written agreement and affidavit required by the FCC for us to withdraw our Petition to Deny WCQS’s license renewal. We would appreciate your bringing this proposal up at your meeting on Wednesday, and I look forward to your reply shortly after that.

Sincerely,

Fred Flaxman
on behalf of the
Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio


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