Volunteers at Asheville’s low-power community radio station have proposed a new management structure for the station.
The plan was presented during the Feb. 10 meeting of the Mountain Area Information Network’s board; the Asheville-based organization, a nonprofit Internet service provider, holds the station’s broadcast license. MAIN’s board oversees WPVM, which broadcasts at 103.5 FM from offices in the Vanderbilt Apartments in downtown Asheville.
The proposed structure aims to solve ongoing operational issues and keep the station going in the wake of months of turmoil, the volunteers said. “What we’re trying to do is address structural and operational issues as we see them,” Managerial Board Chair Edwin Shealy told the board. “It’s freedom for volunteers, within guidelines.”
The multifaceted plan would create: a subcommittee of MAIN’s board to oversee the radio station’s policies and budget; a community advisory board that would provide feedback and help promote the station; an engineering group that would keep up with equipment needs and other technical issues; and five committees that would oversee operations, outreach, finance, programming and volunteers.
Shealy said the volunteers had developed their plan by looking at what’s worked at other community radio stations and by interviewing WPVM volunteers with experience at other stations. The goal is to resolve some chronic issues that “are long past due to be addressed,” he said, while ensuring that the station remains in compliance with Federal Communications Commission rules.
After listening quietly, the MAIN board thanked the volunteers and then voted to go into closed session. Outside the meeting room, the volunteers said they want to see the board take action.
“What we really hope is that this isn’t rejected out of hand,” said Mark Ritzenthaler, a station volunteer for two years who hosts the Saturday-night show Absolute Slacken. “We’re trying to make it easier for the MAIN board to do its job,” he added. “For a nonprofit, the human capital is sometimes greater than its financial capital. The organization can gain strength from the talent and the time of all these unpaid people.”
At press time, the board had made no public response to the proposal. On Feb. 12, however, MAIN board Chair Robin Smith sent an e-mail to volunteers, saying the board has asked Bowen to develop a structure for station management. “The board cannot conceive a structure where the E.D. is not in charge of the management and daily operation,” Smith wrote.
The controversy began last fall when MAIN’s executive director, Wally Bowen, dismissed volunteer Gillian Coats, saying she’d continually questioned MAIN’s right to manage the radio station. That upset a number of WPVM volunteers, some of whom protested on the air during their shows or simply stopped volunteering. In the wake of the controversy, the station’s lone paid employee—Station Manager Jason Holland—resigned.
In September, MAIN’s board apologized to both Coats and Bowen, saying it was responsible for failing to address issues in timely fashion. In addition, the board announced a new governance structure for the station, establishing a managerial board made up of volunteers that would report to a subcommittee of MAIN’s board rather than to Bowen. In December, however, the board announced that Bowen was back in charge of the station. Since then, the volunteer committee has operated the station under Bowen’s supervision, but the volunteers now say that’s not a sustainable model.
On Monday, Feb. 23, Bowen will present “MAIN 2.0: Next Generation Community Network” at 6 p.m. at Pack Library’s Lord Auditorium in downtown Asheville. The talk was re-scheduled from Feb. 4, when the library closed due to inclement weather.