The board that oversees WPVM, Asheville’s low-power community radio station, accepted responsibility for the removal of a station volunteer, issued an apology and adopted a direct role in overseeing the station’s management during a meeting last week.
But while the board’s action defused the recent controversy, it’s apparent that those involved believe there’s more work ahead to get the station back on track.
It all started after Mountain Area Information Network’s executive director, Wally Bowen, dismissed long-time station volunteer Gillian Coats following the Aug. 22 broadcast of her WPVM show, 7 Layer Dip. Bowen, who also cancelled the show, said the broadcast was the most recent example of Coats’ record of thumbing her nose at MAIN’s control of WPVM. MAIN, a nonprofit Internet-service provider, holds the broadcast license for the station, which is licensed to broadcast at 100 watts.
Bowen’s move triggered protests on the part of other volunteers, some of whom temporarily refused to speak on the air during their programs or stopped volunteering all together. The station’s one paid employee, Operations Manager Jason Holland, also resigned in the wake of the show’s cancellation.
In a statement issued by MAIN’s board chairman, George Peery, after the board’s Sept. 8 meeting, the board thanked Coats for her work and apologized to both Coats and Bowen, saying that board members held themselves responsible for the situation, “since we failed to take action to resolve a longstanding disagreement over station policy between Ms. Coats, MAIN” and Bowen.
The board also announced that it planned to adopt a new governance structure that would require WPVM to report directly to a subcommittee of the board, effectively removing Bowen from station oversight. And MAIN board members rejected Holland’s resignation.
It’s too early to tell just what impact the board’s actions will have on the station, but Peery’s optimistic. “I have been encouraged by the new channels of communication that seem to have opened and the mutual sense of responsibility that has been affirmed all around,” he said in an e-mail to Xpress. “There are, of course, lots of details to work out.”
Holland, who has served out his two-week resignation notice and no longer works at the station, told Xpress that he would have to talk to the board before deciding whether to return to his job. “I still plan on being involved at WPVM and had planned to be involved in a volunteer capacity,” Holland said. “But I can’t say at what capacity I’ll be involved.”
Coats said she’s thankful for the apology, but wants to see the board “take action and take responsibility for what did happen—that would be my show getting cancelled without any review,” she said. “My show wasn’t reinstated. I wasn’t asked to come back, and my co-host wasn’t offered the show back.”
Recent developments have had a positive impact, though, Coats said. “It’s motivated the board. I think it’s inspired the volunteers to come together. I think it remains to be seen in terms of what everybody does with what I think of as the first steps toward resolution.”
For his part, Bowen said he’s relieved that his board has urged him to focus on MAIN’s broad mission, which includes citizen access to media. The controversy and accusations have “done serious harm to our organization,” Bowen said, “but at least it’s out in the open now.” He said the station had “become an insider’s game, a place of privilege,” but now he believes “the board is committed to making WPVM more open to local producers.”