WPVM dials in new interim director, temporarily tunes out nine volunteers

A new interim station manager started last week at Asheville’s low-power FM community-radio station, but the news did little to quell ongoing tensions that have roiled the station since last fall.

For months, station volunteers have lobbied to have Wally Bowen, executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network, removed from direct control of the station after Bowen dismissed volunteer Gillian Coats, saying she’d continually questioned MAIN’s right to manage the station.

MAIN, a nonprofit Internet service provider, holds the radio station’s broadcast license. MAIN’s board oversees WPVM, which broadcasts at 103.5 FM from offices in the Vanderbilt Apartments in downtown Asheville.

On Feb. 10, volunteers presented a management plan that would have reduced Bowen’s role at the station, a proposal that MAIN’s board rejected.

On Feb. 16, news that Kim Clark, the former program director at the popular public-radio station WNCW, had been hired as the new interim WPVM manager arrived with a notice from Bowen asking nine volunteers to stay away from the station for a six-week “cooling off period” to give the new manager room to operate. Bowen said the volunteers “simply don’t seem to be able to accept” the MAIN board’s decision regarding management of the station.

Barry Summers, one of the nine, said the move was a slap in the face.

“This is his way of cleaning house. He’s purging this place of volunteers he doesn’t like and doesn’t trust,” Summers said, adding that Bowen “is sweeping aside any notion of volunteer participation in the station.”

Several of the nine volunteers asked to keep away from the station defied the request and appeared on a WPVM show the night of Feb. 16 to talk about the situation. The show, which included criticism of Bowen and the MAIN board, also included Mountain Xpress associate editor Nelda Holder.

The next day, Bowen posted a note on WPVM’s Web site, apologizing to listeners for a show he said “contained multiple violations of core journalism standards of fairness, accuracy and balance. It was riddled with inaccuracies, half-truths, hearsay and innuendo, none of which were challenged due to the program’s one-sidedness.” Bowen said he was “especially troubled” by Holder’s participation, which he said lent credibility to the show.

“This lapse in judgment among long-time WPVM volunteers is precisely why we called for a six-week cooling-off period for this group,” Bowen’s note said.

Holder said she she’d been invited to the show before the controversy erupted over the nine volunteers to talk about the proper functioning of nonprofit boards and open-meetings law.

“For some reason, Mr. Bowen perceived my presence on the show as one-sided, when I was invited there to be a neutral voice of board experience—and with no anticipation of the eruption that was to take place with the station’s volunteers that afternoon. I did my best to inject thoughtfulness and reflection. Rather than adding credibility to someone else’s statement, I would think that presented some contrast worthy of deeper consideration.”

On Feb. 18, Bowen introduced Clark to a meeting room on the second floor of the Public Service Building packed with about 75 station volunteers. Bowen said the meeting came at “a critical moment in our history, and we’re going to need all the support we can muster to get through this.”

Clark told the group that she saw the radio station as “mind-blowingly original” and that it was “poised to be one of the most relevant” media outlets in the area. Clark stressed that she was hired to work six to eight weeks.

“I want to help you rebuild and regain your momentum as an incredible radio station,” Clark said, explaining her experience at WNCW, which, she said, went through about three years of “internal turmoil and conflict that that station has yet to recover from. I am here for this interim time because I think I can help that not happen to you.”

Clark said she’d try to accomplish that by focusing on station operations and internal communications. She urged everyone to put aside their disagreements and move forward.

“Passion, when it gets turned in a less than positive direction, it can start to tear everything from the inside,” she said.

During the question-and-answer period that followed, volunteers peppered Clark with questions about her role and directly asked Bowen to reinstate the nine volunteers, action Bowen declined to take. Volunteers also asked for a mediation process, which Bowen said he was amenable to.

Outside the meeting, volunteer Kindra Phillips summed up a sentiment a number of volunteers expressed.

“I love WPVM and I want it to succeed, and I want it to succeed in a way where there’s community involvement.”

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30 thoughts on “WPVM dials in new interim director, temporarily tunes out nine volunteers

  1. Jesse Junior

    As a former host of a music program on WPVM it saddens me to see the spin that the ED of WPVM has put on the turmoil at WPVM, Wally Bowen has tried to stifle dissent, divide and alienate the volunteers and denigrate their contributions.
    He has corrupted the very mission statement he claims to espouse, namely independent,community based and reflective radio.
    His hand picked board rubber stamps his decisions without dissent and those that do either leave in frustration or are ignored.
    Make no mistake this is about nothing more than one person’s ego and almost pathological need for control, sadly to the detriment and dysfunction of a true Asheville asset, WPVM
    Jesse Junior
    Former Host of the “Jazz Caravan”

  2. the dj

    I had the privelege of working under Kim Clark and feel she will bring sound leadership experience to WPVM. Her commitment to local music became the catalyst for “Local Color” on WNCW and her wide range of musical taste helped support shows like “Camp ‘NCW” and the “Morning Becomes Ecclectic” series. Kim’s appreciation for WNC extended beyond music to regional artists and newsmakers. We covered local election results, and interviewed poets, authors, and artisans. I look forward to hearing WPVM during her brief tenure and hope she provides a shot in the arm the station needs.

  3. dm

    Jesse says, “Wally Bowen has tried to stifle dissent, divide and alienate the volunteers and denigrate their contributions”

    I would like to hear some specific examples of this happening. You don’t need to name names if you don’t want, but some examples of alienation, dividing, etc would be nice.

    Even with the tidal wave of dissent by the volunteers, the only complaint we hear about is the removal for a “cooling off period” and one other person being fired. We have heard no details about the circumstances leading up to this. It is like the volunteers are saying out of nowhere this Wally guy came along and just started randomly firing people.

    Unless I just haven’t seen these details … in which case my apologies.

    dm

  4. Barry Summers

    dm – click on the small ‘wpvm’ under Jason Sandfords name at the top of the page. It will take you to a list of MountainX articles going back to Sept. 08., including the ones where the Board promised to let the volunteers craft a new management model for the station. Lots of good comments from volunteers and listeners on those articles. Also, check out http://www.wpvm.blogspot.com , the volunteer’s new blog.

  5. Ex-Pat

    What an incredible shame that the two arguably most significant outlets for public access (WPVM and URTV) should be suffering such severe, potentially damaging, but understandable scrutiny.

    For the sake of preserving these indispensable, local treasures, it’s essential not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just nix the bathwater (bad management).

    I was hoping late, last summer -against hope- that Wally might engage in some serious self-reflection and redeem himself somehow. Clearly that has not happened.

    This comes as no surprise. But it’s sad because to my knowledge, there is nobody else in our community who is as on top of important local, state and national media developments in the legal sphere of regulation.

    That aside, Wally has by now established a long-running reputation amongst local progressive media makers as being an extremely competitive megalomaniac. Fact: admirably, he’s done more than most to promote independent media in Asheville.

    BUT, this has often translated into promoting his own projects or agendas, not only to the exclusion of individuals and groups doing similar things and who would otherwise be great allies, but sometimes involving outrageous sabotage and usery.

    Wake up, already. You’ve finally been caught with your pants down, Wally. This latest Stalinist purge is only the latest example.

    And it’s not smart to alienate what by now is a swelling lesion of disaffected people, willing to devote so much time and energy. This is a small city after all.

  6. Matt Howard

    Im a WPVM volunteer, and I have never met Wally face to face. Im offically on the sidelines in this whole thing. But many of the criticisms people make about how Wally goes about things I have heard long before this made the news. Word, weather you agree with it or not, can spread fast in this town.

  7. Laura Hope-Gill

    WPVM and the volunteers have got to stop bringing down listeners and the community with this. It is clear that a long way back a bad play was made for control of the station. The people who wanted to wrest it from MAIN did not approach the situation rationally, nor did they play it smart. In order to effect positive change, we would all do well to learn from Wally himself who over the course of twenty years in Asheville has slowly, steadily laid firm groundwork on which MAIN and WPVM now stand. He started with Citizens for Media Literacy–one employee and a comic book–and grew it carefully into a program that stands shoulder to shoulder today with Dell and Google in an effort to secure independent media. Wally is doing so much for people–not just Asheville people, American people. What we can learn from him is a methodology–patience, diplomacy, networking, imagination, the list goes on, filled with qualities that the disgruntled ones at WPVM need to learn. My father taught me long ago that once you get emotional, you lose the argument. As much as I hated that growing up, I see it now as a vital lesson. The whole WPVM situation reeks of unbridled emotion now.

    What dignity and point of negotiation the “volunteers” once had are lost in the “angry mob” fury. People aren’t tuning in because they are tired of being sucked into the drama and sensationalism they used to listen to WPVM to avoid. Even when a whole host of hosts called on listeners to call in and voice their rage against Wally, only two listeners did and by day’s end one of them had changed his mind.

    What have we learned from the great revolutionaries in history? It is a worthwhile question since the verbiage of the anti-Wally/ anti-MAIN campaign certainly borrows from them. It’s safe to say there are two paths–those taken by Ghandi and MLK Jr. and those endorsed by pro-violent revolutionaries such as Malcolm X. Granted, these people aren’t really fighting for anything so grand as equal rights. (They’re asking someone who made something to hand it over.) And the means they are choosing, and which are pronouncably compounded by manipulation of public sentiment to stand up for the workers, is the latter approach. Ill words lead to ill actions and do not lead to improvements. They don’t. Only well-chosen words and calmly executed actions lead to resolution.

    Finally, don’t we all at some point learn that if we don’t play our cards right and we lose, it’s time to leave the game? There are beautiful and amazing ways to manifest transformation–the real goal of the volunteers. The way this has been handled though, isn’t one of them. It’s a botched job. It could have been handled very well, but wasn’t. Like a failed marriage proposal, the proposer should know when it’s time to return the ring and lick one’s wounds in private, not to sing angry punk rock songs under the beloved’s window.

    This town should be celebrating Wally Bowen’s achievements on the National stage. The volunteers need to figure out ways to win back our listening, if it’s possibly, maybe by being really creative and using some methods for change we can admire.

  8. Barry Summers

    Matt, for my first year or so at the station, I wasn’t on the sidelines. I was a hardcore Wally supporter. After a year or two of seeing him operate up close, that’s when I moved to the sidelines. After a couple more years, I’ve moved to oppose his management of the station. Now, I’ve been shoved out the door.

    I regret to say that this is what happens. I don’t want to wish any bad luck on you or anyone else, but I would count on a similar progression for you, if Wally is allowed to control the station.

  9. Jesse Junior

    Laura, If you knew the history of WPVM I think you might have a different pespective, but that aside, do you think that all the volunteers just decided one day that Wally Bowen was a dictatorial, micro-managing, bully? these issues evolved over a long period of time. The volunteers at WPVM put up with Wally because they loved what they do. Wally neither valued or appreciated them, even now many of the volunteers continue to keep the station running, under considerable stress and uncertainty.
    I chose to leave because I have no patience with petty, mean spirited, vindictive people and being a volunteer I could no longer support a station and leadership that I no longer respected and that did not respect me. Personally I respect what Wally accomplished, what I dont respect is his treatment of his fellowman/woman.
    I wish Wally no Ill but there are some people you need to deal with from a distance,When you leave certain people do you feel better or worse,
    I miss doing my show but I feel much much better.
    “To thine own self be true”

  10. Barry Summers

    Laura -

    You have been around the station for a while, so I know it’s not simply total ignorance that leads you to insult us here. If you’re a fan of Wally, fine. I used to be, also. If you hold to Wally’s vision of the way the station should be governed, fine. What is not fine is twisting and misrepresenting what has happened over the past half-year.

    There was no ‘play’ made for control of the station, and no one tried to ‘wrest it from MAIN.’ This is absurd, and you know it. The volunteers have always known that the license for WPVM belongs to MAIN, and unless MAIN goes out of business, it always will.

    What happened in September was that a long pattern of disputes finally came to a head with the abrupt firing of a longtime volunteer. A petition was signed by 90% of the onair volunteers, and MAIN’s Board (Wally’s boss) agreed to hear our grievances. They listened, talked among themselves, and then removed the Executive Director from station operations, leaving the volunteers to run it, with tight Board oversight. A proposal was finally put forward by the volunteers last month, and heard by the Board, that would put station oversight permanently under a committee made up of The Executive Director (Wally), the Station Manager, three MAIN Board members, and two volunteers.

    These facts are well documented and beyond dispute. Why do you call that trying to ‘wrest it from MAIN’? That’s pretty dishonest, and I’m disappointed that you are contributing to this dysfunctional circus by misrepresenting us this way.

  11. shadmarsh

    This town should be celebrating Wally Bowen’s achievements on the National stage. The volunteers need to figure out ways to win back our listening, if it’s possibly, maybe by being really creative and using some methods for change we can admire.

    I just threw up in my mouth a little when I read this.

  12. Piffy!

    I’m sorry. I’ve been in a cave for a while. When did MAIN “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Google and Dell”, Laura?

  13. Laura Hope-Gill

    To see how Wally has stood shoulder to shoulder with Dell and Google:

    http://www.wirelessinnovationalliance.org/index.cfm?objectid=A25E1FC0-F1F6-6035-B3635EA7D5386BE0

    This site details the work MAIN has done with Dell and Google and PIRG and more in Washington regarding white spaces. No need to “throw up in” your “mouth a little.” It’s quite amazing what he’s done.

    To all, I do recall a group of us asking to meet with the board privately when Wally was out of town to lay groundwork for volunteers to secure the license “should MAIN fail.” I also am aware that we have typed such words on our discussions as “let’s make it so uncomfortable for him that he’ll leave.” These are not things that make us pure victims here.

    There is a way through this. I know there is. What seems to have happened is the language became hostile and inflated. People that have never even stepped foot in the little rooms on Haywood St. are hating Wally Bowen. That seems strange to me.

    Language shapes outcome. I believe that. We have to dislodge ourselves from a place of hate and loosen our attachment to the tactics of hostility. What Scott Sessoms says in his letter in Xpress, what many are saying is that they loved Wally, supported Wally ONCE upon a time and no longer do. I’ve been following the WPVM upset AND I’ve been following what Wally’s been doing in Washington D.C. for independent media. That the WPVM events have been concurrent with the Federal Gov’t attack on indie media is a cruel game. And if people hadn’t been attacking him locally while he’s been working for MAIN on a federal level, if people had remembered they respect him and have at one time or another had enough faith in him to sign on to support WPVM, we would not be in this mess.

    I think what people forget is that when all the emails and blog posts and discussion msgs have the same tone, they can all sound like a horrible wall of hostililty. Imagine being the person that is directed at? A lot of hurt has gone on yes. And in my experience, hurt usually stems from a misunderstanding–and it escalates as people feel increasingly unheard and threatened.

    Soon, no one is listening but everyone is talking. I would so love to see compassion re-enter the picture.

    It is truly tragic that both WPVM and URTV are suffering from similar problems. And what a great opportunity to try new models for working through things. People should be asking more questions, accusing less and checking invective at the door. I really appreciate, for one, how kindly I am challenged in the notes above. It is this kind of kindness that will get us through to a new way of doing things. Someone above (who has posted a message–I don’t mean God) has faith that I really don’t mean to misrepresent the volunteers. I was a volunteer (before I got uncomfortable). I still consider myself a volunteer, just at a distance. I am a long standing student of workers rights, Woody Guthrie, IWW, Viva Zapata and all. I would raise a fist for a good cause any day of the week, and I have. I just sense there’s a sour note being played out here way too long, and I’d love to get it back in tune. Pardon my metaphor. Alas, a poet. . . Everyone who has stepped foot in that little crazy studio next to the Vanderbilt has a reason they wanted to work with Wally in the beginning. The man’s been alienated and isolated and called terrible names. This is called internet bullying in the news and myspace has been held accountable for it. Why are “we” doing it?

    Under all the anger, there’s still a shared interest and even kindness. But it’s buried under so much of the power lock of boss and worker. I don’t know what to do about hierarchies, but I do understand they can be useful in the flow in information and in the operation of good programs. Something has happened in the flow of communication here. Obviously. And I think a lot of people aren’t sure where exactly it occured. There are too many points of reference. Many of them on either side.

    I’m going out on a limb here to say maybe when workers cease objectifying en masse the bosses, and stop seeing themselves as victims, real communication can begin. And maybe Directors can trust that the people they work with won’t cut them out of the discussion and call secret meetings. Seems like a broken record how the past keeps coming up–I really think only a compassionate approach from both sides can resolve this. Sorry to have insulted the volunteers. I just get sad when I read all the anger instead of something more. . . human?

    Sincerely and best to everyone,
    Laura

  14. Ex-Pat

    Laura, your attempts at mediation might be taken a little more seriously if you didn’t consistently and overtly try to undermine or distract from peoples’ very real (and simple complaints) with overintellectualized linguistic deconstructions. Ironically this pontificating, whether you realize this or not, comes off as patronizing and condescending. To claim some elusive high ground over this conflict while simultaneously dismissing others’ concerns and choosing a blatant side in the matter at the same time is disingenuous at best.

    And this isn’t about the past. The “cooling off” of so many loyal volunteers was a purge. This just happened and it is is an ongoing problem that has only intensified and obviously has threatened the foundations of a precious, valuable, local resource. And it should come as no surprise that Wally would suffer a backlash of vilification and bitter feelings as a result. There is cause and effect at play here. And what you’re doing is playing “blame the victim.”

    You are correct that much of the problem revolves around a lack of communication and consideration of others’ feelings. But you would seem to suggest that this conflict was some sort of inevitable result of a group magnanimously to blame for poor conflict resolution skills, and mostly worsened by the volunteers who’ve directly felt it’s effects, who then in turn have made the unproductive decision to complain about it. I’m sorry, I don’t expect you to take me seriously either, but that is patently ridiculous and ironically insensitive.

    The whole “let’s move on” approach you’ve been advocating is not unlike those who claim to seek progress by glossing over injustice.

  15. Bowen is a visionary and the successes of MAIN are regarded as a wonderful model by media reform folks across the nation.

    Bowen is an autocrat and his failures as a manager are not new news. Former employess of MAIN have repeatedly told me about his shortcomings in this regard. Interestingly, even Bowen has acknowledged his failures as a manager. (At a public meeting a few months ago he blamed bad wireless system choices made by MAIN on “bad management decisions.” Hmm. And that means whom?)

    We volunteers were intent on making WPVM a successful community radio station. We worked at that for five years or more. Sadly, Bowen was unwilling to let the community run a community station. During a couple of months when we operated as a true community station (when the MAIN board granted us wiggle room by avoiding a clear mandate) we conducted the best station funder ever and successfully managed to keep the shows rolling. Bowen reasserted his grip and is now in control. That’s just fine. But it isn’t community radio.

    Good night and good luck.

  16. Matt Howard

    “Everyone who has stepped foot in that little crazy studio next to the Vanderbilt has a reason they wanted to work with Wally in the beginning.”

    Um… My deciding to do a show on WPVM had nothing even remotely whatsoever to do with Wally. Like I said Ive never even met the guy.

  17. John

    Laura-As an onlooker, I have to say you really sound like your telling a very one-sided story. If Wally didnt want volunteer, community input, why would he ask a bunch of volunteers to basically run the station for him?

    It sounds like he wants a different orientation of power, based around his control. I dont see much wrong with this, but he needs to drop the “Community” schtick if he wants to avoid the backlash of using a bunch of people’s idealism to run his station for free, apparently as placeholders until something better comes along.

    The non-profit/volunteer-driven world is full of people who take this approach, and the animosity rarely subsides overnight.

  18. Laura Hope-Gill

    Asking people to be compassionate in their approach is not a deconstructionist mindplay. When fear rules a situation, ego takes over and that creates a roadblock to resolution.

    I think everyone wants a resolution. Including Wally. Call him. Talk with him. Not just about him. Break the spell of the anymosity. Otherwise, fear wins.

    Poor communication can be healed. And you’re right–moving on may not be possible until we map the whole of the injustice and that means tracing it to its source in miscommunication. Wally is opening the door to mediation, as he has before. “Moving on” to me means working from a shared intention to resolve issues. This requires moving on from the place where many people understandably are emotionally.

    It means committing to consideration of others’ feelings and to a genuine pursuit of best communication practices. To me, that’s compassion.

  19. Barry Summers

    Wally Bowen will only accept a ‘resolution’ that puts him back in complete control. That’s not someone interested in dialog. I’m sorry to say it, but all of you who are talking dialog and compassion, etc., Wally is taking unfair advantage of your higher intentions. If you really need more evidence:

    Last night, a pair of WPVM show hosts had Wally on for an extended interview, in the hopes of resolving things, improving communication, etc. Wally was asked a question by a listener regarding the September 8th resolution. The show host actually read a line from that resolution, which was reported in print, here in MountainX, (in a story that Wally was actually quoted in):

    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2007/091708buzz3/

    This resolution was issued as a press release, and everyone at MAIN/WPVM, including Wally, received a copy of it. It’s short, to the point, and unmistakable. The line that was read to Wally on WPVM last night was:

    “The Board…Recommends a new governance structure requiring WPVM to report directly to a subcommittee of the board.”

    Wally’s response was, and I quote: “That doesn’t sound like the statement that I saw come out of September 8th – I just don’t think that’s an accurate statement.”

    He’s claiming that this is a matter of opinion – he doesn’t THINK that’s what was said (although it appeared in print, in email, etc., and we have been tussling about this for five months), so he just refused to answer the caller’s question. Is this someone you can have a constructive dialog with?

  20. In the “Drop Beats Not Bombs” interview, Mr. Bowen states:

    “The statement of September 8th was that there would be this interim period”

    Looking at the press release statement on MAIN’s website: http://main.nc.us/spotlights/main-board-wpvm.html – I do not see the word “interim” anywhere within the statement, nor do I see any reference to an interim period.

  21. stephenm

    Laura’s right. Bowen seems to have a lot to fear, and his ego certainly seems to have taken over. Now he’s tangled up in his own cumulative fictions, and every statement he makes only serves to illustrate this.

    But she’s wrong about his willingness to “talk,” at least according to her idea of “healing” and “compassion.”

    Bowen’s method is to step on anybody who disagrees.

    The proof is in his serial purges of both WPVM volunteers and MAIN board members, of which there is now a significant list.

  22. stephenm

    Read the following from MAIN’s website and take note that Bowen has since destroyed the subcommittee, unless one remaining member counts as a “committee”:

    MAIN Board Acts on WPVM

    Press Release:
    From Mountain Area Information Network Board of Trustees
    9 September 2008

    In action taken 8 Sep. 2008, the Mountain Area Information Network Board of Trustees:

    Refuses the resignation letter of Station Manager, Jason Holland;

    Recommends a new governance structure requiring WPVM to report directly to a subcommittee of the board;

  23. Wondering

    Cecil: perhaps a good investigative piece that lays out the entire history of the issues at hand is in order?

  24. I’m afraid I am too close to the situation for any reporting I do to be regarded as impartial.

    I have passed along some information to other reporters who, hopefully, will follow up.

  25. Barry Summers

    Interim Station Manager Kim Clark has resigned, citing problems that are “deep and systemic, and need to be addressed by MAIN’s Board of Directors before progress can be made.” She prominently mentioned the nine “banned” volunteers as being central to WPVM’s success, and her frustration that Wally Bowen refused her requests that we be reinstated. Read her entire statement at the volunteers blog: http://www.wpvm.blogspot.com/

    She was diplomatic and encouraging to all parties, including Wally, but recommended that MAIN’s Board of Directors “consider carefully to what degree it is healthy (for the organization and its people) for the Executive Director of MAIN to be involved in day-to-day operations of WPVM.”

    I couldn’t have said it better.

  26. veronika gunter

    New information: Interim Station Manager Steps Down and Makes Recommendations for Moving Forward
    see it at wpvm.blogspot.com

  27. Tonight from 6-8pm @ Rosetta’s
    Join the Asheville ABC Series to discuss:
    Community Journalism & Indy Media in Asheville
    URTV, MAIN, WPVM, WRES, blogging, tweeting, & more.
    Where are we standing & what are our opportunities & challenges?

    If you miss tonight’s meeting keep in touch with the (coming slowly but almost ready to function fully)
    http://www.AshevilleABC.com

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